Need to lose weight? It helps to focus on achievable goals and simple steps
Get started on your weight loss journey with these practical suggestions from our team of health experts…
‘Write down three negative things you want to move away from, and three positives you want to move closer to,’ says writer Andrew Shanahan, author of Man v Fat, the Weight Loss Manual. ‘Negatives may be a doctor warning you about your weight, being too big to go on rides at theme parks or not being able to walk up stairs without wheezing. Positives could include being able to play with your children, looking good in clothes or joining a running club. Keep these motivations with you as a daily reminder of where you were and where you want to be,’ he says. Keep them in your wallet, or load them on your phone and set them to pop up each day.
‘Seeing the progress you’re making can be incredibly motivating,’ says Andrew. ‘There’s nothing like seeing the numbers on the scales dropping and realising your hard work is paying off.’ It’s also useful in case your progress slows down or plateaus, as looking back at your tracking information can help you identify where you’re going wrong.
‘You’ll also have a blueprint of those weeks where the things you did worked really well, to replicate for future success,’ says Andrew. You could use a notepad, an online diary or one of the many tracker apps available. ‘And don’t forget to take some “before” photographs – let it all hang out,’ he says. ‘You may not think you’ll ever want to look back at them, but they’ll be a vivid reminder of where you were – and where you don’t want to end up again!’
HFG nutrition consultant Juliette Kellow recommends making sure a third of your plate is filled with vegetables or salad, a third with starchy foods (potato, pasta, rice and other grains), and the rest with a mixture of protein-rich foods (lean meat, chicken, eggs, fish, beans or tofu) and low-fat dairy products. ‘Choose wholemeal pasta and brown rice, and experiment with other tasty grains such as bulgur wheat, quinoa and spelt.’ Chances are you’ll find yourself making your meat and potato/pasta portions smaller than normal and filling the space on your plate with veg or salad. ‘All those nutrient-rich veg will make you feel energised and full,’ says Juliette.
‘When eating out, make better choices,’ says HFG nutritionist Amanda Ursell. ‘Go for nutritious meal options that will satisfy you and give you energy, such as chicken and salad on wholegrain bread. Buying traditional, chip-heavy pub food or a takeaway, with all their unhealthy fats and salt, will only make you feel sluggish.’
For successful, long-term change, don’t put pressure on yourself with unattainable ambitions – make them smaller and more realistic. For example, if you like your tea with two sugars, start by dropping down to one spoonful, then half, to give your taste buds time to adjust to a less sweet drink before cutting it out altogether.
This isn’t a blanket rule, but it’s a good one to follow as often as you can. ‘If you avoid eating too many pre-packed foods, you’ll cut out a lot of sugary, fatty treats such as biscuits, crisps and ready meals,’ says Juliette. ‘The closer food is to its natural state, the more nutritious and less calorific it tends to be.’
Regular drinkers of either alcohol or fizzy pop can quickly score health benefits and weight-loss wins by cutting down their intake, advises Juliette. ‘Aim to halve your alcohol and soft drink consumption and you’ll soon be ready to tighten up a notch or two on your belt. Even if you cut out just three pints of lager or a bottle of wine a week, you could save up to 500kcal.’
‘Booze, along with stress, is one of the main fat contributors in men,’ agrees Andrew. He suggests you either go cold turkey, drink only a couple of times a week, or learn to have alcohol in healthy moderation. Go to downyourdrink.org.uk for support. You’ll also find easy drinks swaps, a guide to alcohol units and a handy drinks tracking app at nhs.uk/change4life.
A good way to cut calories and saturated fat, up your vegetable intake and help the planet is to take the Meat Free Mondays pledge. In 2010, a study carried out by Oxford University’s department of public health found that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 from cancer and 5,000 from stroke, as well as save the NHS £1.2 billion each year. Find meat-free inspiration by searching our vegetarian recipes.
‘Long-term exposure to stress does terrible things to our weight and health,’ says Andrew. ‘The adrenal glands produce more cortisol, which is largely responsible for blood pressure regulation and insulin release, so it dictates how quickly we break down fat and carbohydrates.’ If you’re feeling stressed, Andrew advises, as well as looking to reduce or remove the source of stress, you can help your body to cope through exercise, good nutrition, meditation and better sleep, and recruit help in the form of a doctor, partner, friends, therapist or support group.