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Losing weight safely


Expert reviewer, Mr Paul McArdle, Registered Dietitian
Next review due November 2020

The best way to lose weight is to improve your diet and exercise more at the same time. 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 either will be hard to stick to and can be bad for your health. With an extreme diet, you might not get the nutrients your body needs to function and with extreme exercise, you can get injured. What's important is to set yourself some realistic, achievable targets.

Here we explain what you need to do and give some tips to help you put your plan into action – and stick to it.

Weight loss tips

Get active

To lose weight, you 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 the 2.5 million people who go swimming once a week? It’s the most popular sport in England. Cycling, football and athletics are also popular. The good news with this is that there’s likely to be lots of teams, leagues and centres in your local area to help you get involved.

Our Fitness and exercise hub has a range of information on different exercises, with tips and advice on how to get started and what to aim for.

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. Don’t feel you have to cut out all the foods you enjoy from your new eating plan. You might only crave them all the more if you do that. Instead, make sure you eat them only now and again.

For tips on everything from how to get started to encouraging your whole family to eat healthily, see our Diet and nutrition hub.

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 and it might even help you control your weight. It will probably stop 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 and chew every mouthful thoroughly.
  • 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 eat more.
  • Don't feel guilty about leaving food on your plate. Use 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 desert. It takes time for your brain to recognise that your stomach is full. Wait about 15 to 20 minutes before deciding if you need that extra course.
  • Cut down on take-aways and fast food, and cook at home more so you know what’s going into your meals.

For more tips, read our blog on mindful eating, or check out our mindful eating masterclass.

Set realistic goals

There'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.

While different people have different motivations for wanting to lose weight, many of us want to tackle our waistline. You can read how to target this area on our blog: Three ways to reduce belly fat.

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’ll 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.

Don’t 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. You can read more about these in our topic: Fad diets explained.

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 from someone else but below are some ideas that may help to keep you motivated.

If you have tried to lose weight in the past and it didn't go too well, try to 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 into those 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 for when 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 the end of 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!

Get 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 help to politely ask family and friends not to buy you food as gifts. And to understand if you want to change your regular meet-up at the 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.

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Related information

Tools and calculators

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    • Setting realistic goals. British Dietetic Association. www.bdaweightwise.com, published 2013
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    • Obesity. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised June 2015
  • Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, January 2018
    Expert reviewer Dr Anton Alexandroff, Consultant Dermatologist
    Next review due January 2021



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