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Weight Loss
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Weight Loss with Cerebral Palsy

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Hi all,

I've searched and founded no question exactly like this, so here goes.  I'm 23, female, 5'4", and I have what's called spastic hemiparesis.  Basically, many of the muscles on my left side, especially in my left calf, ankle/foot, wrist and hand are spastic.   I walk with a limp, and don't run or jog very fast.  I do cardio five to six days a week with an elliptical machine and not a treadmill, because it's easier on my ankles and knees.  I also very informally use free weights and resistance tubes.

I'm ten pounds overweight by BMI calculation.  Besides going fully vegetarian, what should I do within my abilities to lose this weight?


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Have you and your doctor(s) determined that the 10 extra pounds is a health concern for you? For example, is your cholesterol level or blood pressure not in an ideal range?

The reason I ask is that 10 lbs. is unlikely to be a serious health concern and there can be health benefits to having a small amount of extra fat stores for those with chronic debilitation. You have to expend more energy to do usual things throughout the day and, depending on the full scope of the damage, may be more prone to certain infections. Fat stores are useful as a ready source of energy for you when you are under-the-weather and/or fatigued.

That's not to suggest you cannot work towards a healthy BMI range, but just confirm that you and your doctor feel the cost/benefits are all in your favor.

What is particularly valuable for spastic hemiparesis is ongoing physiotherapy with specific exercises that ensure continued bone strength despite lack of gravitational load forces.

The resistance tubes are great and just a couple of visits to a physiotherapist would give you more options for at-home exercises that continue to maximize your mobility through life (plus you'll be burning calories of course too).

The elliptical trainer is a great cardio workout for anyone, so you don't need to worry about not being on a treadmill at all.

I'm going to assume you are 155 lbs. (my apologies if that is off). With your current workouts and the fact that your hemiparesis requires you use slightly more energy than others to do the usual things throughout the day (chores, errands, etc.), you burn around 2300 calories a day.

By creating a small deficit (200-400 calories) between what you burn and what you eat (i.e. eating 1900-2100 calories a day) you will lose weight slowly and steadily. It will ensure your body takes the energy deficit from your fat stores (and not your muscles and bones -- pretty important for you) and will greatly improve the chance you will keep it off once you reach your goal weight.

If you have decided to go fully vegetarian for moral and ethical reasons, you can certainly be healthy and well-nourished but you will need to be attentive to easily digestible protein being in your diet.

You if have moral and ethical concerns about the treatment of food animals, you can still eat meat but in a more responsible way. Choose pasture-fed, free-range and organic meats (in that order of importance to the animal's welfare); consider smaller portions (1-2.5 oz. in a meal); and eat meat far less frequently (a couple of times a month or once a week).

If you are choosing vegetarianism because you believe it to be a healthier diet, then I can tell you it is no more or less healthy, as human beings are built to be omnivores. While eating a diet rich in vegetables is healthy, the absence or presence of meat is only relevant in its quality and amount for human health.

Hope this gives you some ideas to work from. Best of luck!

Thank you for that info, hedgren!

I am at 155 lbs, yes.  My blood pressure is actually on the lower side of normal, genetically if I remember right.  My cholesterol levels, LDL, are on the lower side of the normal range too.   So, weight loss is and would be more about how I look, and other social factors. 

I didn't know that I actually expend more energy than an able-bodied person -- I'd thought it was less.  Good to know. 

I'm not looking at vegetarianism for ethical reasons.  It's health, and also I (probably irrationally) don't feel very confident cooking meat. 


That's great your BP and LDL are excellent right now!

Because you do what an able-bodied person does (as opposed to being sedentary and unable to move around), you actually do expend more energy. You function at an energy level more equivalent to an amputee.

Unfortunately, while it is understood that spastic hemiparesis requires more energy and a patient fatigues quickly due to the energy requirements necessary for everyday tasks, I have not come across a specific trial that indicates the percentage increase. There are plenty that provide the exact impacts for amputees, so it gives you some idea of the range at least:

"In Physical Therapy Management of Lower Limb Amputations by Gertrude Mensch and Patricia M. Ellis, quoted studies indicate that an amputee who walks the same distance as a non-amputee will have a higher level of oxygen consumption. For example, quoted figures for amputees with vascular deficiencies compared with non-amputees indicate an increase in oxygen consumption for:

  • below-knee amputees from 9% to 20%
  • above-knee amputees from 45% to 70%
  • bilateral above-knee amputees up to 300%

This increased oxygen consumption is the reason amputees seem to get out of breath much more quickly. They need more energy to do tasks - even simply walking across a room requires more oxygen. Of course, the higher the level of amputation, the more energy required to walk." gy.html

Also much of the trials of spastic hemiparesis is related to stroke-victims and not cerebral palsy. However, for stroke related spastic hemiparesis it does seem as though aerobic exercise lessens the body's energy requirements for voluntary movement over time -- hopefully this is good news for your efforts on the elliptical although the origins of your condition are not the same.

As you would prefer a vegetarian diet, I'd recommend yogurts and cheeses in moderation and you may find quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) a good option for getting a complete protein in your diet.

Quinoa is a grain and it's just boiled in water -- looks a bit like couscous and you'd serve it instead of rice. Or you can find quinoa breakfast cereals in the grocery store as well.

Obviously nuts and seeds are great too either on salads or by themselves as snacks -- or using the nut or seed butters on crackers too.

Best of luck!

3 Replies