Weight management is important after sustaining a spinal cord injury. The Shepherd Center provides the following tips for maintaining a healthy weight post-injury.
Poor Appetite And Weight Gain
“Initially after a spinal cord injury, you may experience a decrease in appetite and dietary intake. This can be because of medical problems, changes in mood, poor appetite, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and taste changes,” says the Shepherd Center. A decrease in appetite can lead to poor nutrition which paired with decreased mobility can lead to weight and muscle loss. Consuming an adequate amount of calories and protein helps with maintaining energy and muscle mass, fighting infections, and preventing skin breakdowns.
The Shepherd Center states for people who are underweight, the goal for healthy weight gain is a ½ pound to 2 pounds per week. This can usually be accomplished by eating 250-500 more calories a day than you normally do.
The Shepherd Center gives some tips for healthy weight gain. Consult with your doctor before practicing these suggestions.
- Start by eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.
- If you are not usually hungry or have a hard time remembering to eat, set an alarm to remind you to eat.
- Try to include more energy-dense food into your diet such as nuts, avocados, cheese, and granola bars.
- Make sure to eat protein with each meal and snack.
If you are experiencing vomiting or feeling nauseous the Shepherd Center suggests eating smaller frequent meals/snacks every 2-3 hours. They also suggest avoiding hot foods or foods with odor if you are sensitive to smells.
Trouble Finishing Meals
The Shepherd Center gives the following advice if you have trouble finishing meals:
- Play soft music or watch TV while eating.
- Eat your energy-dense foods like meats and starches before lower calorie foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Drink liquids one hour before a meal, instead of with a meal.
Changes In Taste
The Shepherd Center recommends the following if you experience a loss of appetite due to a change in taste:
- Experiment with different seasonings.
- Eat food cold or at room temperature.
- If you have problems consuming meats, add chopped meat to casseroles or salads or try eating meats in a sandwich.
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Post SCI you may experience a decrease in physical activity and muscle mass. Therefore, your body may require fewer calories than before your injury. “If you continue to eat the same as prior to your injury, you will likely gain weight over time so it is important to adjust what and how much you eat,” says the Shepherd Center. Adjusting eating and exercise habits is necessary to achieve permanent weight control.
How Much Do You Eat?
The Shepherd Center states, “Cutting back on serving sizes, seconds, sugary drinks, and unhealthy snacks can help you lose weight gradually.” The center gives the following tips for watching what you eat:
- Tune into your hunger cues. Are you really hungry? Are you eating out of boredom? Stop eating when you feel full.
- Eat smaller, more frequent balanced meals throughout the day.
- Eat off a smaller plate to help with portion control.
What are you eating?
“Foods that are high in unhealthy fat and sugar tend to be high in calories and low in healthy nutrients,” says the Shepherd Center. Make sure to choose balanced healthy meals so that your body gets nutrients from all the food groups. The center gives the following tips for choosing food:
- Choose lean protein such as fish, poultry, eggs, or beans. Trim away all fat on meat and avoid frying foods. Proteins should take up about one-quarter of your plate.
- Avoid adding any special dressings to vegetables because it will increase their caloric and fat content. Choose fresh fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
- Choose low fat or fat-free dairy products to cut down on the calories and unhealthy fat.
- Monitor grain portion sizes. Grains should take up one-quarter of your plate. Choose whole grain as opposed to refined grain.
- Limit the amount of saturated and trans fats in your diet by limiting fried food, packaged food, and high-fat meats. Include heart-healthy fats like oils and nuts/nut butters in your diet.
- Stay well hydrated.
- Along with consuming a well-balanced diet, it is important to exercise!
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