Does Bed-Rest Mean Guaranteed Weight Gain?

“After my operation, I couldn’t walk for 4 weeks and I gained so much weight”

Does bed rest = weight gain?

It shouldn’t.

hospital bedIf you’re injured or have surgery and need to have bed-rest, you don’t have to resign yourself to inevitable weight gain. Indeed, I have had clients who were able to use the negative experience of being bed-bound to actually fire up their weight loss. More on that later.

First, let’s take a different look at what bed-rest means for your weight.

The Real Cause of Weight Gain when you’re bed bound.

Most people assume that if they’re consigned to the sofa post-surgery or injury, that the lack of exercise is what makes them pack on the pounds. Being less active should theoretically mean that they are not burning as many calories as usual, and so their weight tends to increase.

This might be a small factor, but it’s not the whole story.

What usually happens in this scenario, is that when you’re laid low with an injury, surgery or illness, there is nothing to do but sit on the sofa, watching bad TV. And what do we associate with sitting on the sofa and watching TV? Snacking.

smorgasbordI have heard stories of people turning the coffee table into a veritable smorgasbord with all manner of tempting snacks.

Even at the best of times, with a cast-iron discipline, most people faced with this kind of temptation would find it hard to resist.

But these aren’t the best of times. Depending on how long you’re stuck on the sofa, there will almost certainly be a hefty dose of boredom. The more bored you get, the more likely you will partake in random snacking.

And depending on the circumstances of your enforced rest, there might even be a bit of self-pity and lowered mood. This all makes you vulnerable to the calls of temptation emanating from the food on the coffee table.

donutsOver a period of 2 weeks, you could consume many hundreds of calories more than usual. If you really got on a roll, it could be thousands. This alone, without being less active, would be enough to cause you to gain considerable amounts of weight. And that’s just after 2 weeks.

Depending on the nature of the surgery or injury, you could be on the sofa for many weeks. Each extra day is further opportunity to eat more calories.

So that’s the downside. But don’t get too depressed, because as I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be the way.

So let’s look at what needs to happen to prevent this calorie disaster.

The Other Side of Bed-Rest

1. Accept that many people lose weight when they’re immobilised.

It is definitely possible to be immobilised and maintain or lose weight. You must be willing to entertain this thought and not assume that it’s a foregone conclusion that you will gain weight.

2. Think about the consequences of gaining more weight.

It’s bad enough that you are bed-bound. Imagine what gaining another 5 -10 pounds would do to your stress levels?

I ask my clients this question all the time. Does gaining weight make you better or worse placed to cope with stress? Of course it generally makes stress worse. Not only has something stressful happened, but the increasing weight makes you feel more stressed.
It’s another problem to deal with. And it can be very depressing.

This makes it very important to help yourself manage stress better. This is a strong reason to not let one stressful event create a knock-on effect of adding weight and therefore creating more stress.

3. Opportunity cuts both ways

Situations can be looked at in different ways.

For instance, a daughter’s wedding could be so stressful that you end up over-eating and gaining weight. But it could also be very motivating, so that you focus more on losing weight.

In the second scenario, the wedding can actually make losing weight easier than it would be under normal circumstances. This makes the wedding a fantastic opportunity.

Every situation presents a threat and an opportunity. Look for the opportunity.

4. It’s a good thing

This may not be applicable to everyone, but it can be very helpful.

For many of my clients, work is a source of stress . Not just that, but the time demands of work, make their schedule very demanding which is in itself a source of stress. This can all make sensible eating difficult.

Can you see how this bed-rest plays to your strengths? You’re away from work. You’re not under the same time pressures. You’re not under the same kinds of stress.

Some clients respond very well to this. Not having to be at work, makes life easier and less stressful for them. If this is you, then you should definitely use the bed-rest to your advantage.

It’s the Environment, Silly.

As we’ve discussed, your mindset is important but the bed-rest situation is primarily an issue of the environment.
People who gain weight when they have enforced bed-rest, do so because they haven’t managed their environment properly.

As with weight loss in general, the key is not to manage temptation, it’s to remove it altogether.

ChocolateIt’s too hard to resist food that is placed right in front of you. We are hardwired to want to eat food that is visible. Our ancestors didn’t have ready access to food like we do. It made sense when food was scarce to eat whatever food was in front of you.

But now, we have to manage our environments better to prevent our biological programming from sabotaging our efforts to manage our weight.

So how do you manage your environment?

Your Bed-Rest Weight Gain Prevention Checklist

Here is a checklist of things to do:

1. Don’t keep tempting snacks at home.

Completely clear out the home of tempting snacks. Rather than think of this home-bound phase as a reason to stock up the house with high calorie snacks, go the opposite direction and purge the house of these temptations.
If that seems too extreme, pick one or two things that you REALLY like and only keep those at home.

2. Don’t keep food near the sofa.

Keep the sofa and any surrounding tables, a food-free zone. This is so important. If the food is near you, or in your line of sight, you will eat it.

3. Move it if it’s placed near you.

If someone puts food near you, ask them to move it. Be very strict about this.

4. If you need to eat something you have to get up and get it.

Some might bristle at this, but it is very important. In some families, the one getting bed-rest becomes the boss, and orders around others to get food for them. Not in your house. If you want something you have to go to the trouble of getting it. Yes, I understand that this might mean a very complicated process involving crutches. That’s the point.

If you can’t do this because you are so immobilised, at least make a rule to only ask for help once or twice a day.

5. Use the quality quota.

Ok, you couldn’t resist and bought some kind of snack to help you get over feeling sorry for yourself. If so, make an agreement with yourself about how often you will eat it. For example, it might be a set portion only once a day. Or three times a week.

Whatever the quota is, once you make it, you should stick with it.

Also, as implied by the term “quality quota”, whatever food you choose, must be amazing. Don’t settle for mediocre snacks.
When you eat it, take your time and savour it.

And you should not be eating it just because you are bored.

What you can see is that the process here is about creating artificial obstacles. You are making rules that form a structure that makes it easier to manage your environment. None of these rules is real, but you are making them as your way of ensuring that you manage your weight properly during this difficult time.

Some other tips:

1. Think about how much you normally eat, and don’t eat more than that.

If you eat more while you’re bed bound, you will gain weight. Seems obvious, but so many people think they can eat more and still not gain weight. Remember how much you would normally eat, and don’t overshoot that.

2. Recruit others to help you

The rest of your family can sometimes be co-conspirators in feeding you, because they feel sorry for you. Don’t let this pity do you harm. Let others know what you’re trying to do, so they help rather than hinder you.


1. Bed-rest does not have to equate to weight gain. It’s all about mindset and environment.

2. If you can change your mindset and manage your environment well, you can use what could be bad news to help you create some good news.

3. To learn how to lose without dieting:

Posted in Blog, Weight Loss Tips

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