Living Healthy with a Disability: Goals and Myths

By Tracy Williams, Tracy's Plate

Healthy lifestyle goals are crucial for people with varying types of disabilities. Everyone has their own journey with healthy living and these goals help disabled people feel accomplished and strong in their own way. The myths that revolve around nutrition and healthy lifestyle myths can make setting healthy lifestyle goals confusing. Take advantage of these helpful insights and seek guidance from licensed medical professionals experienced in working with folks with various disabilities.

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Myth: All Food Allergens Should Be Avoided

automatically be avoided; don't assume you are allergic unless you know for sure.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says about 32 million people have food allergies in the United States—about 26 million (10.8%) are adults and about 5.6 million (7.6%) are children. The United States Food and Drug Administration says the ten most common allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, sesame, gluten and color or food additives.

Theresa Gentile. MS, RD, CDN, owner of Full Plate Nutrition, says, "Only people who believe they are allergic to particular foods need to consider an elimination diet." Consider booking an appointment with a local registered dietitian to receive guidance on an elimination diet.

According to Beyond Celiac, an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population, has celiac disease. However, recent screening studies point to a potentially higher prevalence than 1% in the United States. The American Gastroenterological Association says a new survey finds that digestive issues impact 40% of Americans' daily lives. Ms. Gentile helps her clients know that only those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or irritable bowel syndrome must follow a gluten-free diet. She persuades her clients that they may lose some adequate nutrients if they try avoiding gluten when they do not need to go gluten-free for a digestive medical condition.

Myth: Rapid Weight Loss is No Big Deal

People with disabilities may struggle with weight gain because they are less likely to be physically active, even in an adaptive way.

Another myth may be how quickly people should lose weight in one week. Ms. Gentile recommends that losing one to two pounds a week is safest. If individuals lose weight too quickly, they may also lose bone, muscle and water weight.

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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that it is healthier not to follow meal plans that remove entire food groups or an entire macronutrient from your healthy lifestyle and food choices.

There is no wrong combination of foods. A fad diet may suggest that any food can positively change body chemistry. Ms. Gentile says, "Fad diets are comparable to snake oil salesman. That is why registered dietitian nutritionists try to let the public know they should be looking for qualified professionals and science-backed research to guide them in their health journey."

Myth: Nutrition Advice is Always Good, Regardless of the Source

Another myth is that anyone can give the community nutrition and healthy lifestyle advice. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a registered dietitian can help any community member create measurable, action-orientated, time-bound goals.

Some people with disabilities may need their goals to be open-ended because they may need extra time to learn new skills to achieve new goals. Getting involved in any adaptive fitness level is a good idea. Any level of adaptive fitness is better than none.

Fiber can help people living with disabilities prevent constipation and improve bowel health, which is a concern for many folks living with various disabilities. Ms. Gentile strongly recommends consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist because these professionals go to school to learn advanced skills in motivational interviewing as well as how to personalize general nutrition advice for everyone on an individual basis.

Fact: Drink up! It's Vital for your Healthy Lifestyle

Proper hydration causes people to be more alert, have fewer aches and pains, and have better organ and brain function. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined an adequate daily fluid intake of about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) daily for women.

The more attainable goal for folks with disabilities is 8 glasses of water per day since, most times, people with disabilities require help to access a public bathroom. Even finding an accessible community bathroom can be a challenge!

Keep in mind that some fruits and veggies are 100% water by weight. You can also find hydration in milk, juice and herbal tea. Coffee and soda may even help you with your hydration goals, but watch out for how much soda, sports and energy drinks you may consume daily as they are not the strongest hydration choices. Ms. Gentile likes to remind her clients that hydration is crucial, along with food and other health goals. It is especially vital during these summer months for any population susceptible to dehydration.

Friends and family can be great support in your healthy lifestyle journey. Everyone close to you in life should want you to make slow improvements toward a healthier and stronger you.


About the Author:

Tracy Williams has a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University. She is a food advocate, disability advocate and mental health advocate. She has moderate cerebral palsy and other chronic conditions. She will be speaking on June 23, 2023 at Abilities Expo Chicago. Her topic will be about healthy living goals for her peers with disabilities. You can connect with her on

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