How to lose weight the healthy way
Find out how to lose the weight the healthy way, from introducing changes
gradually to reducing your calorie intake.
The healthiest way to lose weight is neither crash diets nor bursts of exercise. The body likes slow changes in terms of food and exercise.
For example, someone who hasn’t exercised for years shouldn’t rush into running miles a day or pounding the treadmill. Not only will the struggle to do so leave you feeling disheartened and demotivated, you’re also far more likely to injure yourself and set your fitness levels back further.
The same goes for people who suddenly start starving themselves. Diets that severely restrict calories or the types of food ‘allowed’ can lead you to be deficient in the nutrients and vitamins that your body needs.
So, if you need to lose weight, what should you do?
Energy needs and weight loss
Your body uses food for energy. It stores any excess energy as fat. This means if you eat more food than your body needs for daily activities and cell maintenance, you’ll gain weight.
To lose weight, you need to get your body to use up these stores of fat. The most effective way to do this is to:
- reduce the amount of calories you eat
- increase your levels of activity.
This is why experts talk about weight loss in terms of diet and exercise.
Introduce changes gradually
Small changes can make a big difference. One extra biscuit a week can lead you to gain 5lb a year – cut that biscuit out of your diet and you’ll lose the same amount.
You’re also more likely to stick to, say, swapping full-fat milk for semi-skimmed or making time for breakfast each morning than a diet that sets rules for all foods.
You should think of weight loss in terms of permanently changing your eating habits. While weight-loss goals are usually set in term of weeks, the end game is to sustain these changes over months and years, ie lifestyle change for life.
Increase your activity levels
Someone who increases the amount they exercise, but maintains the same diet and calorie intake, will almost certainly lose weight.
No matter if you hate gyms – even light exercise, such as a short 20 minute walk, will be beneficial if done most days of the week.
Every single time you exercise more than usual, you burn calories and fat.
There are lots of ways to increase the amount of activity you do. Team sports, racket sports, aerobics classes, running, walking, swimming and cycling will all improve your fitness levels.
Find something you enjoy that’s easy for you to do in terms of location and cost. You’re then more likely to build it into your routine and continue to exercise, despite inevitably missing the odd session through holidays, family commitments, etc.
- Get out and about at the weekend.
- Leave your car on the drive and walk to the shops.
- Try to incorporate longer walks into outings to the park, coast or countryside and take a picnic, so you’re in control of what you are going to eat that day.
- Every extra step you take helps. Always use the stairs instead of the lift, or get off the bus a stop before the usual one and walk the rest of the way.
- Use commercial breaks between TV-programmes to stand up and do exercise, or consider using an exercise bicycle in the living room while watching your favourite programme.
Write down your plan
If you’re not sure what’s wrong with your diet, try keeping a daily diary of everything you eat and drink.
You can use a notebook or an online diary.
At the end of the week, review your entries for problem areas.
Look out for processed foods, alcohol, fast food, roasts, creamy sauces and fried foods.
If your diet seems largely healthy, look at portion sizes.
If you’re not sure what’s meant by ‘healthy diet’, read our series on nutrition.
Once you’ve decided on what changes you’re going to make, write them down. For example:
Exercise: one 20 minute walk every lunch hour.
Alcohol: none in the week, two small glasses of wine on Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Food: no chocolate or biscuits in the week, choose healthy snacks such as fruit, trim all fat from meat, eat no fried or fast food.
For each week list your targets concerning alcohol, exercise and your food plan.
Each day should then be listed in a simple chart and items you have had should be written down. It is also important to make a note of your mood and any comments you would like to get off your chest for each day.
Be patient and persevere
It might take a week or two before you notice any changes, but they will steadily appear. After the first month you’ll be able to see the results and measure them in terms of looser fitting clothes.
Keeping your motivation up is one of the most difficult aspects of dieting. There will be days when healthy eating goes out the window, and there will be weeks where you may not lose any weight – or put a little back on.
This is normal for everyone – dieters or not – so don’t let it undo your plans for a slimmer you. You’re not doing anything ‘wrong’, but you may need to look at your plan. Do you need to increase your activity levels? Make a few more changes to your diet? Put more effort into sticking to your current plan?
The other side of this is to make sure you celebrate your goals. While there’s joy enough in stepping on the scales and seeing them dip lower, be sure to mark long-term progress with a reward – such as new clothes or time off from domestic chores.
Celebrating is also a way to involve your nearest and dearest – it’s up to you whether you want their encouragement in the form of gentle reminders not to eat certain foods. But support from other people can get you through the bumpy patches.
Health benefits of weight loss
Studies show that overweight women who lose between 10lb and 20lb halve their risk of developing diabetes. For men, the risk of heart problems reduces considerably.
Generally, we gain weight as we age. A few pounds over the years are not a problem, but people who gain more than 20lb compared to their weight as an 18-year-old will rapidly increase their risk of health problems due to that extra weight. In particular, women increase their risk of heart attack and double their risk of dying from cancer.
It may seem like these are problems to worry about in the future, but time flies by and tomorrow becomes today. By keeping your weight in the healthy range, you’re less likely to be troubled by illnesses in your later years.
Other people also read:
- Body weight: what determines your body weight and what is a healthy weight.
- Obesity: around one in four men and one in three women in the UK are overweight. Are you one of them?
- Type 2 diabetes: if you are overweight you will significantly increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Based on a text by Prof Arne Astrup, Dr Carl Brandt
Last updated 09.11.2016