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Losing weight safely and effectively

If you’re overweight and want to lose weight, using more energy with increased physical activity and taking in less energy by eating fewer kilojoules are two of the keys to success. A good starting point is a chat with your doctor before you start any new exercise programs or eating plans.

Get active 

Regular physical activity can benefit your health as well as being a key part of your weight-loss plan. Choose activities you enjoy that are easy to include in your lifestyle to help motivate you to stick with the plan.

There are Australian guidelines about how much physical activity you may need for good health, and these are summarised in the table below. It also shows the amount of physical activity you may need to do if you want to actively lose weight. A moderate reduction in your kilojoule intake together with increased physical activity can increase the amount of weight you lose.

Australian guidelines about how much physical activity you may need for good health

You can also do an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous intensity of exercise each week. The Australian guidelines also recommend adults younger than 65 years do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week. Adding muscle strengthening exercise not only helps tone your body, it can help with weight loss when paired with aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, running and swimming. This is because muscle is active tissue that burns up kilojoules, so the more muscle your body has, the more kilojoules it burns up.

It’s also recommended that you spend less time sitting and build more activity into your day. Here are some ideas to help get you moving:

  • use stairs instead of taking lifts or escalators
  • walk or cycle on short journeys instead of taking the car
  • take a walk during your lunch break
  • go for family walks or bike rides at weekends.

Follow a healthy, well-balanced diet 

To lose excess weight you need to eat fewer kilojoules (energy) than you burn up in physical activity. This doesn’t necessarily mean eating less food, but it may mean choosing different types of food. Your doctor or an accredited practicing dietitian can help you put together a healthy eating plan.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • eat lean protein (e.g. meat, fish, eggs, legumes) and low GI (glycaemic index) carbohydrates that are slowly digested (e.g. oats, wholegrain breads and pasta). This will help you feel fuller for longer.
  • eat at least 5 serves of vegetables, and about 2 serves of fruit each day
  • use olive oil instead of butter, margarine and other cooking oils
  • choose low-fat dairy products
  • avoid high-kilojoule snack foods such as cakes, chips, pastries, chocolate or biscuits. If you’re peckish between meals, choose a serve of fruit, a tub of low fat plain yoghurt, or 30g of unsalted nuts for a healthy low-kilojoule alternative
  • poach, grill, steam, stir-fry or microwave food instead of frying or roasting
  • avoid soft drinks and fruit juices — they are high in kilojoules— drink water instead
  • if you drink alcohol, limit your intake — alcohol contains kilojoules too.

Drink water before each meal 

Evidence suggests that adults who drink 500 mL (2 cups) of water 30 minutes before each meal while following a low-kilojoule diet, lose more excess weight — and lose it faster — compared with only following a low-kilojoule diet. Drinking water during a meal may work too.

Check with your doctor before trying this method, as drinking water in this way may worsen some medical conditions. For example, if you have congestive heart failure or suffer from severe kidney disease, do NOT try this method. Also, this approach may not suit you if you have a prostate condition or you suffer from incontinence, because of the increased amount of urine your body will produce.

Improve your eating habits 

Bad eating habits such as snacking between meals can sabotage your efforts to lose weight. Consider these tips to help keep your weight loss plan on track:

  • Eat breakfast - for most people, blood sugar levels drop at night, so it’s important to refuel first thing in the morning.
  • Eat regularly during the day, but only eat when you are hungry.
  • Eat slowly - it takes time for your stomach to register that it’s full, so eating slowly gives it a chance to catch up to feeling full as you eat, helping you eat less overall.
  • Eat only what you need until you are comfortably full. You don’t have to feel guilty about leaving food on your plate.
  • Eat early in the evening if you can, and if you feel peckish later on, have a piece of fruit or a low-fat milky drink.

Set realistic goals 

To help increase your chances of losing weight, it’s important to set yourself realistic, achievable targets. Aim to lose no more than 0.5-1 kg in weight every week by making small, practical changes to your lifestyle that you feel comfortable with. Include foods and physical activities that you enjoy.

Don’t be tempted to crash diet 

Crash diets can harm your health because you lose more lean body tissue and less fat. Your body’s response to this is to slow your metabolism down to conserve fat and ensure survival. This is why you often put on weight quickly after you stop dieting. With a slowed metabolism you don’t use the kilojoules you eat as effectively.

Get support and reward yourself 

When you’re trying to lose weight, it can be helpful to get support. Arrange activities such as walking or cycling with your family or friends, or join a local weight-management group.

Remember to reward yourself with a healthy, fun treat when you meet your monthly targets. It could be as simple as taking time out to see a movie, treating yourself to a manicure or buying some new clothes for the healthier you.

Further information 

Eat for health

Dietitians Association of Australia


Better Health Channel. Carbohydrates and the glycaemic index. [Online] [Accessed 12 May 2014]. Available from:

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Donnelly JE Blair SN Jakicic JM et al. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2009; 41(2): 459–471.

Department of Health. Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines. [Online] 2013 [Accessed 12 May 2014]. Available from:

Handbook of non-drug intervention (HANDI) project team. Pre-meal water consumption for weight loss. Aust Fam Physician 2013; 42: 478.

National Health and Medical Research Council and Department of Health. Eat for Health. Australian Dietary Guidelines: 2013 [Online] [Accessed 12 May 2014]. Available from:

Last updated: 15 May 2014

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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