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Losing weight safely

The best way to lose weight is to improve both your diet and the amount of exercise that you do. If you’re overweight and want to shift some excess pounds, it's easy to fall into the trap of extreme dieting or exercise to lose weight. But this can be really bad for your health. What's important is to set yourself some realistic, achievable targets.

This guide explains what you need to do and has some tips to help you put your plan into action – and stick to it.

Weight loss tips

Details

  • Get active Get active

    An image showing two women at the swimming poolTo lose weight, you'll need to take a two-pronged approach that combines a lower-calorie diet with exercise. To put it simply, you need to burn off more calories through physical activity than you take in from food and drink. The best way to do this is to increase how much exercise you do and reduce how much you eat.

    This might be the perfect opportunity to try out a new sport or activity. Try a few activities and pick something you enjoy. Chances are, if you enjoy it, you'll keep going. Why not join one of the 2.5 million people who go swimming once a week? It’s the UK’s most popular sport. Cycling, football and athletics are also among the most popular sports the UK likes to participate in. The good news with this is that there’s likely to be lots of teams, leagues and centres in your local area for you to get involved.


    The target

    As a minimum, we should all do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on five or more days a week. Moderate intensity means your breathing and heart rate is faster and you feel warmer. If you’re overweight or obese, or were obese but lost the weight and are trying to keep it off, you'll need to do more. Ask a nurse at your GP practice for help in setting a target that's right for you.

  • Follow a healthy, balanced diet Follow a healthy, balanced diet

    To help lose weight you need to reduce how many calories you eat. If you reduce your portion sizes, it may help you to achieve this but a healthy, balanced diet may not always mean eating less food. It might just mean choosing different types of food. But don’t feel you have to cut out all the foods you enjoy from your new eating plan. You will only crave them all the more if you do that. Instead, make sure you eat them only now and again for a treat.

    Here are some tips to get started.

    An image showing grilled vegetables

    • Instead of eating lots of fatty foods, try filling up on fruit and vegetables.
    • Weight for weight, fat has more than twice the calories of carbohydrates and protein. So satisfy your hunger with bread, potatoes, rice and pasta.
    • Use less butter, margarine and vegetable oils and use healthier alternatives instead. For example, instead of piling butter on your toast, try hummus.
    • Find low-fat alternatives to creamy sauces and buttery toppings. Instead of frying or roasting food, boil, poach, grill, steam or microwave it.
    • Replace snacks such as chocolate with healthier alternatives such as fruit. If this doesn't work for you, have a small piece of chocolate rather than the whole bar. 
    For more information on healthy eating, see our information on diet and nutrition.
  • Improve your eating habits Improve your eating habits

    If you’re sticking to a healthy diet, don’t sabotage your efforts to lose weight with unnecessary snacking between meals and other bad habits.

    • Ensure you have a good breakfast. This will give you the energy and nutrients you need to start the day. There's even some research to suggest that it will help you control your weight. It probably stops you getting hungry and snacking later in the day. 
    • Drink a glass or two of water before your meal to start filling you up. It might mean you eat less. 
    • Eat when you’re hungry – don't snack for the sake of it. Eat slowly, chew every mouthful thoroughly, and stop eating when you start to feel full. 
    • Try not to eat at the same time as doing something that can distract you such as working, reading or watching TV. This might make you to eat more. 
    • Don't feel guilty about leaving food on your plate. Serve your meal on a smaller plate – it can fool your brain into thinking you're eating more than you are. 
    • Have a break after your meal before you hit the desert. It takes time for your brain to recognise that your stomach is full, so wait about 15 to 20 minutes before deciding if you need that extra course.

    Read our expert's blog about mindful eating for some more tips.

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  • Set realistic goals Set realistic goals

    Weight loss tipsThere's no quick-fix answer to long-term weight loss, it takes time. Aim to lose about 0.5 to 1kg (1 to 2lb) every week.

    You may find it motivating to measure your waist or weigh yourself once a week. This will help you to monitor your progress and check if you're a healthy weight. But as well as monitoring how much weight you have lost each week, also consider how you feel. Look for other positive changes as a result of your new healthy diet, such as feeling more toned or having more energy. And remember that eating a healthy diet will also reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

    The dreaded plateau

    When you first start to cut down on calories you will lose weight quite rapidly and then most people reach a plateau. If you still want to lose more weight at this point, you will need to look again at the calories you're consuming and the amount of exercise you're doing. You might need to adjust the balance to keep making progress.

  • Dont be tempted to crash diet Dont be tempted to crash diet

    There's a constant stream of diets that become popular for a time before the next best thing comes along. More often than not, these simply don't help you to keep the weight off long-term. Take crash dieting, for example. You might be thrilled with the fast results you can achieve straight away. Yet these diets are often difficult to follow long-term so you give up, and put the weight back on as quickly as it came off. To see other examples of why diets aren't the answer, read our article about common dieting mistakes.

    The best way to lose weight is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and do plenty of exercise. Slow, steady weight loss is more likely to last than dramatic weight changes.

  • Prepare yourself mentally Prepare yourself mentally

    Start by thinking about what you want to gain from losing weight and if you feel ready. Losing weight isn't easy. You need to be ready to sign up to the challenge and get through some potentially tough times to achieve your goal. What works for you might be very different for someone else but below are some ideas to think about that may help keep you motivated.

    If you have tried to lose weight in the past and it didn't go too well, try and identify what went wrong. Then think about how you can change things this time. Were there any triggers that made you eat more? Decide upfront how you're going to tackle these. Or you might identify that you need more support, or to build more exercise into your life to help keep the weight off.

    Figure out what motivates you

    Think about what really motivates you and how you can use this to stick to your weight-loss plan. It might help to write down your weight-loss goal and put it on the fridge as a constant reminder. Or you might be more motivated by the thought of being able to fit in those old jeans that are currently too tight. Try to pin down what motivates you and use this in your weight-loss plan.

    Reward yourself

    Make sure you build some rewards into your plan if you achieve your goals, or to help you keep going if you're struggling. As well as giving yourself a pat on the back for losing weight, celebrate when you've conquered bad habits too. But don't reward yourself with food! Think about other things such as a spa treatment or trip to a sports event. Get a list together before you start – it might be that extra motivation you need.

    Be kind to yourself

    While it's great to be determined to achieve your goals, don't be too hard on yourself if you slip up once in a while. With all the willpower in the world, life can still throw up some serious temptations to knock you off course. Accept that this will happen and that it’s not the end of the world – or your diet. Get straight back on track and don’t let the slip-up make you lose sight of the progress you're making. Hopefully, you'll learn from it and can lessen the chances of it happening again.

    Though it may sound easier said than done, if you want to lose weight – you can do it – just go for it!

    Mindful eating

    An image showing a person juicing an orangeAnother element of losing weight is to change certain behaviours. Many of us have an array of deep-seated bad habits. Examples are anything from always eating something sweet after meals to having our local take-away on speed dial for after a bad day. A lot of this can revolve around comfort or 'emotional' eating, so it's important to take steps to recognise this. Pay more attention to what you're eating, when and why you’re eating it.

    Some people find it helps to practise mindfulness meditation to combat emotional eating. This is a technique whereby you train yourself to tolerate, and accept hunger, weight, and exercise-related thoughts and urges. You also learn to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.

    There are tools that can help you practice mindfulness meditation. These include the following.

    • Headspace. This tool describes itself as gym membership for your mind using meditation and mindfulness techniques. You can start off with free 10-day introduction to meditation and then choose to subscribe for access to more exercises covering a range of topics. You can use it on your phone or computer, depending on what suits you best.
    • Be Mindful. This website-based mindfulness programme is made up of 10 30-minute modules for you to do at your own pace. It teaches mindfulness techniques to help you try to live a happier, healthier life. The programme uses audio clips, text-based information and a library of resources and exercises, and you can track your progress as you go along.
  • Getting support Getting support

    Support from family or friends is essential when you’re trying to lose weight. Arrange activities with them, such as walking or cycling. After all, it's much more fun to exercise while socialising. Or swap recipe ideas for healthy meals with colleagues at work who are also trying to lose weight. You can build a support network around yourself to motivate you.

    It might also help to politely ask family and friends not to buy you food as gifts. Also, to understand if you want to change your regular meet-up at your local burger joint to a restaurant with healthier options. You'll be making changes to your whole lifestyle, so it's good to get your family and friends on board so they can support you every step of the way.

    Other sources of support include the following.

    • A slimming group – they can offer a wealth of information and support. Have a look to see what's on offer in your area. Your local practice nurse – they may offer lifestyle advice and support. 
    • A dietitian – they can offer more specialist advice on how to manage your weight. 
    • An exercise referral scheme – these are delivered by exercise specialists usually within local leisure services. Check what's available in your local area. 
    • Community-based schemes – these promote health and provide things such as healthy cooking sessions, healthy lifestyle clinics, and walking-for-health programmes.
  • Resources Resources

    Further information

     

    Sources

    • Maintaining a healthy weight and preventing excess weight gain among adults and children. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 13 March 2015. www.nice.org.uk
    • Physical activity: brief advice for adults in primary care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2013. www.nice.org.uk
    • Obesity: identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity in children, young people and adults. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2014. www.nice.org.uk
    • Healthy weight loss. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed 21 December 2012
    • Fats. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, reviewed January 2015
    • Healthy diet and enjoyable eating. PatientPlus. www.patient.info/patientplus, published 18 February 2011
    • Handbook of Non Drug Intervention (HANDI) Project Team. Pre-meal water consumption for weight loss. Aust Fam Physician 2013; 42(7):478. www.racgp.org.au
    • Weight loss. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, reviewed February 2013
    • Improving your eating habits. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, published 15 May 2015
    • Tip 64 – weight loss. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, accessed 13 August 2015
    • Setting realistic goals. Weight Wise. www.bdaweightwise.com, published 2013
    • Losing weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, published 15 May 2015
    • Managing overweight and obesity among children and young people: lifestyle weight management services. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), October 2013. www.nice.org.uk
    • Managing overweight and obesity in adults. National Institutes of Health, National Heart, and Blood Institute. www.nhlbi.nih.gov, published 2013
    • Facts not fads – your simple guide to healthy weight loss. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, published 1 January 2015
    • Managing overweight and obesity in adults – lifestyle weight management services. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2014. www.nice.org.uk
    • Mastellos N, Gunn LH, Felix LM, et al. Transtheoretical model stages of change for dietary and physical exercise modification in weight loss management for overweight and obese adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 2. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008066.pub3
    • Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, et al. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eat Behav 2014; 15(2):197–204. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005
    • Other sources of support. Weight Concern. www.weightconcern.org.uk, accessed 29 July 2015
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    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Heath Content Team, August 2015.

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