APEX Brain Centers

Obesity and Disability: How to Lose Belly Fat if Disabled

The Obesity and Disability Connection

Disability and obesity are often considered two separate issues, but they are actually very much intertwined. For most people, reducing belly fat when disabled can be more difficult than for those without. One of the primary reasons is being unable to engage in the levels of physical activity required to lose weight.

There are several alternative options for those unable to lose weight due to their disability. Recent advancements in cold laser technology have made it an excellent option for a comprehensive weight loss program. But, before we explain why, let’s understand the connection between disability and obesity.

Obese Man In electric wheelchair Image

Unfortunately, people with disabilities are more likely to be obese than others. Current research shows that adults with a disability are 53% more likely to be overweight (38.5 percent vs. 25.1 percent) than people without a disability, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

It’s a similar story for children with disabilities. Children with developmental disabilities (29.7%) and autism (30.4%) are also far more likely to be overweight or obese than non-disabled kids. And, obesity rates in children with chronic problems were between 58% and 93% greater than in those without them. Sadly, those with disabilities are also at an increased risk of developing numerous linked comorbidities and serious health issues associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and heart conditions.

The bottom line is that it’s harder for disabled people to lose weight.

So, why are the disabled more likely to be obese?

For most with a disability, losing weight can be more difficult than for those without. Some of the main reasons for this disparity include:

  • Lack of healthy food options
  • Living in restrictive environments
  • Difficulty with chewing or swallowing food
  • Medications
  • Physical limitations
  • Chronic pain
  • Energy imbalance
  • Lack of accessible environments to exercise

Maintaining a Healthy Weight in a Wheelchair is Challenging for Most

Woman exercising to maintain a healthy weight in a wheelchair

Maintaining an ideal weight can be challenging for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for those who need to lose weight in a wheelchair.

According to a study, 78.6% of adults in wheelchairs are obese. The study found that the prevalence of obesity was especially high among wheelchair users with certain chronic health conditions, such as diabetes (92.9%) and cardiovascular disease (90.5%).

There are several reasons why wheelchair users may have difficulty losing weight. Many have various physical limitations that contribute to them needing to use a wheelchair. For example, obesity was especially high among wheelchair users with certain chronic health conditions, such as diabetes (92.9%) and cardiovascular disease (90.5%). Other research has shown that obesity rates among wheelchair users are even higher. African Americans (82.4%), Hispanics (81.8%), and those with an annual household income of less than $15,000.

Additionally, physical limitations often reduce a person’s level of physical activity, making it more challenging to exercise. Also, if wheelchair users live in a restrictive environment, they may not be able to get out and about to exercise.

Another factor that can contribute to obesity among wheelchair users is their diet. Many times, wheelchair users cannot prepare their own meals and must rely on others for help. This can make it difficult to control what goes into their food, how many calories they consume a day, and the quality of calories. In many cases, fewer calories are required due to lower levels of physical activity.

With obesity rates among wheelchair users being so high, finding safe and effective ways to lose weight in a wheelchair is important.

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Why is it harder for the disabled to lose weight?

Most weight loss programs focus on diet and exercise, but for those with disabilities, these may not be realistic options for the reasons already stated. Losing weight is simply harder for disabled people. So what does a person do if they can’t exercise enough to lose weight and body composition?

The three common options for those who are unable to exercise enough to lose weight in order of risk and invasiveness are:

  • Balanced Diet
  • Cold Laser
  • Vibration Therapy
  • Nutrition Therapy
  • Injections
  • Surgery

What are the options for losing weight when you can’t exercise?

Balanced Diet

Woman in wheelchair eating a healthy diet

While a healthy diet alone is not a guaranteed way to lose weight, it is certainly a necessary component. For some, simply eating fewer calories does the trick, but for most, eating healthy foods is the key to maintaining an optimal diet. A nutritious diet helps to regulate metabolism and hunger hormones and provides the body with the energy it needs to function optimally. It also helps to reduce inflammation. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables can also help to reduce the risk of developing obesity-related comorbidities, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

There are many different ways to eat a healthy diet, but some general tips include:

– Eating fewer calories

– Consuming mostly whole, unprocessed foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables

– Limiting sugar intake

– Incorporating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein

– Avoiding excessive amounts of saturated and unhealthy fats

– Incorporating healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil

– Drinking plenty of water

A healthy diet that provides the proper number of good calories a day is key, particularly for a wheelchair user. However, diet alone is rarely the complete answer.

Cold Laser Options

Elderly Disabled Woman Losing Belly Fat with Cold Laser

Cold laser therapy is a promising, FDA-approved, non-invasive, and painless weight loss alternative for those with disabilities.

Low-level lasers (or “cold” lasers) are a type of light therapy used for over 50 years in various medical applications. When applied to the skin, these lasers penetrate the tissue and stimulate fat cells to release their contents. This process is called “lipolysis,” and it works by shrinking fat cells. Cold laser therapy is an effective obesity treatment, with many studies reporting significant reductions after just a few weeks of treatment.

How Cold Laser for Fat Loss Works

Cold Laser Machine for Fat Loss Image

The treatment works by penetrating the skin with low-level lasers that emit a wavelength of light that is absorbed by the fat cells. This absorption of light energy causes the fat cells to break down and release their stored tissue, which is then naturally excreted through the lymphatic system.

Cold laser therapy is an alternative for those unable to exercise because it’s passive and painless. It may be most helpful to those with disabilities who struggle with obesity because it does not require active physical engagement by the person receiving treatment to be effective.

Typical cold laser therapy for losing weight involves laying on a table while laser light is focused on the targeted areas of the body. Treatments are generally 40 minutes long, 20-minutes each laying on your stomach and back. 10-20 treatments are usually required to see results.

Vibration Therapy Options

Vibration therapy is a cutting-edge weight loss treatment that is showing significant promise. This therapy makes use of a machine that delivers vibrations to the body. The vibrations cause the muscles to contract and relax rapidly, which leads to an increase in muscle activity.

Vibration therapy is a good option for those with disabilities who are seeking a non-invasive weight-loss treatment. But, unlike cold laser therapy, vibration therapy requires the person receiving treatment to be actively engaged in the process.

Vibration therapy is typically done for 10-15 minutes, one to three times per week. There are no major side effects associated with vibration therapy, although some people may experience mild muscle soreness. There is no downtime associated with vibration therapy.

Nutrition Therapy Options

Image of doctor preparing nutrition therapy plan for disabled patient

Nutrition therapy is a broad term that covers everything from dietitian services to bariatric surgery. It is important to meet with a qualified provider to assess your individual needs and develop a plan specifically for you.

For the disabled, nutrition therapy may be the most important factor in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. This is because many chronic health conditions associated with obesity are improved with good nutrition.

Nutrition therapy may include education on healthy eating, cooking, grocery shopping, meal planning, and behavioral counseling.

For individuals with disabilities, it’s common for nutrition therapy to include taking supplements or other nutritional aids to help them absorb nutrients or lose weight.

Injections Options

AdobeStock 178236449

Injections are a common weight management treatment but are not without risk. These can range from appetite suppressants to hormonal treatments.

Appetite suppressants may be an option for those with disabilities who have difficulty controlling their appetite. These medications work by decreasing hunger or making you feel full sooner.

Hormonal treatments for obesity, such as leptin therapy, are investigational and are not yet FDA approved. Side effects of injections can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, and dizziness. Injections can also be expensive, and many insurance companies do not cover them.

Surgical Weight Reduction Options

AdobeStock 212817962

Surgery is a last resort for weight management. This is because surgery carries with it a significant risk of complications, some of which can be life-threatening.

Surgery is a fit for those with disabilities who are morbidly obese and have been unable to lose weight through other means.

The most common types of surgeries are gastric bypass and gastric sleeve surgery.

Gastric bypass surgery works by creating a small pouch at the top of your stomach and connecting it directly to your small intestine. This bypasses the rest of your stomach and limits the amount of food you can eat.

Gastric sleeve surgery is another common type of surgery. It involves removing a large portion of your stomach, leaving only a small sleeve of your stomach remaining. This limits the amount of food you can eat and also reduces the hormones that make you feel hungry.

Surgery is a major decision with many risks and potential complications. However, surgery may be an option to consider if you have a BMI of 40 or more or 35 or more with obesity-related health problems like diabetes, sleep apnea, or high blood pressure.

This is because obesity can have a more profound effect on health when someone has a disability. Obesity can worsen the symptoms of a disability and make it more difficult to manage.

What’s the best weight reduction option for those with disabilities?

For anyone looking to lose weight, maintaining a healthy diet and doing plenty of regular exercise will always be the best option. But, for those with disabilities that make exercising difficult, the combination of nutrition and cold laser therapies are much better options than injection or surgery when you consider the risks, side effects, effectiveness, and cost. Be sure to talk to your doctor or other qualified providers to understand the best weight management program for you or your loved ones.

What weight loss therapies do APEX Brain Centers offer?

Because patient safety and well-being drive everything we do, we only offer cold laser, vibration, and nutrition therapy for weight loss. And we believe cold laser weight loss therapy is one of the best options because it is FDA-approved, drug-free, painless, non-invasive, side-effect free, and often less expensive than injections or surgery.

We combine cold laser with nutrition and vibration therapy to create individualized plans designed to achieve maximum results.

How can I determine if cold laser weight loss therapy is right for me or my loved one?

The first step in finding out if you or someone else is a good candidate for cold laser weight loss therapy is to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of our board-certified physicians.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, obesity and disability go hand-in-hand. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what the best weight reduction option is for those living with disabilities. It depends on the individual’s unique circumstances. However, cold laser fat reduction therapy is generally a safe and effective option for people who are struggling to lose weight. If you think cold laser therapy might be right for you or your loved one, be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare provider to learn more.

Dr. Michael S. Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Neurofeedback Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the practice of advanced functional neurology. He is one of the most highly sought-after brain rehabilitation specialists because of the life-changing outcomes his patients consistently experience. After over a decade in private practice and working alongside other pioneers in the field, Dr. Trayford developed his multimodal intensive brain training and rehabilitation program built around the science of Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to learn and grow dependent upon the stimulation it receives from its environment. He later founded APEX Brain Centers to combine his ground-breaking rehabilitation approach with a unique patient and caretaker-centered care model. Under Dr. Trayford’s leadership, APEX Brain Centers has successfully treated thousands of patients and earned the reputation of a world-renowned brain training and rehabilitation practice. Since its inception, Dr. Trayford has been a leader of the Brain Training revolution treating patients worldwide. In addition, he is a published journal contributor and international lecturer. His experience with various patients of all ages and neurological conditions has given him a unique perspective on brain health and human performance. He is also well-versed in collaborating with other health care professionals, making him an invaluable asset to any care team. Dr. Trayford was awarded the Functional Neurologist of the Year distinction by the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, where he is a proud member and conference lecturer. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Dementia Society of America and the Board of Directors for the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research. He is also a servant leader who has dedicated his adult life to serving multiple communities through Rotary International and other notable causes. When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Trayford usually reads or researches anything related to the brain, human performance, and leadership. He also loves spending time outdoors with his wife Denise, their two daughters, and dogs in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaeltrayford/


  1. Laura on February 1, 2024 at 4:48 pm

    Hello Doctor,

    My name is Laura, I’m 61 and I have always been around the 130lb weight. I am now 175 lbs. due to having major back issues and I have arthritis is my hips and shoulders. I also have 2 bulging discs in my neck. I have had surgery on my back in October 2023 and it has helped my back a little, I still feel pain everyday and have a difficult time exercising. I am interested in the cold laser therapy but I don’t know who I should speak to first. Also does insurance cover this type of procedure (I have United Healthcare)? I know that if a lose at least 30 to 40 lbs. it will help my back some so I can start to enjoy the years I have left to live. I have always been active and I really do miss it.

    • DR. MICHAEL S. TRAYFORD on February 5, 2024 at 6:15 pm

      Hello, Laura. Sorry to hear of your struggles. Please call us at 828/708.5274 to discuss options for you. Re: insurance, there may be possibility of out of network coverage for laser related to pain, although not for fat loss. Hope to hear from you soon.

  2. Tabitha Williams on June 4, 2023 at 12:18 am

    Hello my name is Tabitha and I have been in a head on collision against a drunk driver and the driver was also high on cocaine. I had a stroke and my brain was bleeding. I haven’t walked in nine years. I don’t have much energy. I am given medicine constantly all day long. I live in a nursing home. I weigh 168 pounds and I trying to lose weight. Please help me.

    • DR. MICHAEL S. TRAYFORD on June 9, 2023 at 12:25 pm

      So sorry to hear, Tabitha. Best to call us at 828.708.5274 to discuss with one of the doctors. Take care!

  3. Linda Shabazz on May 20, 2023 at 1:57 am

    I did Doctor hello, I am 68 years old. I had polio at the age of four, and they repeat the post-polio at age 60. I walked with full length braces and front forearm crutches till 60 and went into a wheelchair. At that point I started gaining weight and now of today I weigh 200 and 6 lbs and 4 ft 8. So morbid obese that’s where I stand today in my electric wheelchair because I don’t have the use of my legs, there paralyzed and my arms will affect the second time around.

  4. Serena Perry on January 10, 2023 at 4:09 pm

    Will Medicare + Bluecross cover Laser therapy? I became disabled 30 years ago from a life threatening car accident. For several years I barely gained any weight and I stayed skinny to average weight. Then came a time that I started gaining weight and I gained weight from 130lbs to 220lbs. It is harder for me to breathe especially since I have Asthma and seasonal allergies and being overweight makes it even harder to breathe. I’ve tried different diets, but nothing seems to help for very long if at all. Also, I have the stomach disease called Gastroparesis where my stomach digests foods EXTREMELY SLOW. A lot of people with Gastroparesis lose weight, but I’ve only gained weight. I know that it’s not healthy being this overweight, but I don’t have what else to do to lose weight. I’m on medications for severe depression, anxiety, and mood swings which slow down my metabolism also making it harder for me to lose any weight. I don’t know what else that I can do to help me lose weight. Do you think that I’d be a person who is a good candidate for Cold Laser Fat Reduction Therapy?

    • APEX Brain Specialist on January 22, 2023 at 2:04 pm

      So sorry to hear of your struggles. As far as insurance, you would have to ask your companies; although they typically do not reimburse for what are considered cosmetic procedures – even though we know they are much more than that. Please call us at 828.708.5274 to discuss.

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