Clinical health information How to lose weight and keep it off August 26 2019
Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer

Find out ways to help you lose weight effectively, and, most importantly, keep it off.

There are many things that can influence our body weight.  Some we have no control over like, genetic and physiological factors, gender and age. While other factors we can control, like what we eat, how active we are and how much sleep we get.

It’s important to know, that losing weight is a lifelong journey. It can take time to lose those extra kilos and once you've lost the weight, you’ll need to keep up your healthy eating habits and exercise routines so that the weight doesn't creep back on. It can be tempting to go on a crash diet, however they can harm your health because you usually lose more lean body tissue and less fat. 

As you start to lose weight, your body may respond by slowing down your metabolism and the amount of energy you burn, while you are resting and when you are active. With a slowed metabolism you don’t use the kilojoules you eat as effectively. This means that you will burn fewer kilojoules making it harder to lose more weight and harder to keep the weight that you have lost off. This is why people often put on weight quickly after they stop dieting. 

Before you start any new exercise programs or eating plans, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first, this is especially important if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries. 

Strategies to help you lose weight safely and effectively

If you 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. 

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. Talk to your doctor or an accredited practicing dietitian who 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 and low-sugar 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 natural yoghurt with no added sugar, or a hand full of unsalted nuts for a healthy low-kilojoule alternative.
  • Poach, grill, steam, stir-fry or microwave food instead of frying
  • Avoid soft drinks and fruit juices – they are high in sugar – drink water instead
  • If you drink alcohol, limit your intake – alcohol contains kilojoules too.

Develop healthy eating habits
Habits such as snacking on unhealthy foods or eating too much between meals can sabotage your efforts to lose weight. Consider these tips to help keep your weight loss plan on track:

  • Eat regularly during the day, but only eat when you are hungry. Dehydration can sometimes be misinterpreted as hunger, so drink a glass of water first. If you're still hungry after 20 minutes, then have a healthy snack.
  • Eat slowly – it takes some 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 avoid overeating.
  • 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.

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 your plan. Try to include both moderate and vigorous intensity exercises into your week.

Currently there is limited evidence about required levels of physical activity for weight loss. However, it’s known that the amount of physical activity you need to do to lose weight often depends on the amount of food you eat. In general, the more food you eat to fuel your body, the more physical activity you will need to do to burn up that energy, so it isn’t stored as fat. A moderate reduction in your kilojoule intake together with increased physical activity can help you lose more weight.

The Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend the following for adults younger than 65 years, as a guide for good health:

  • Be active on most, preferably all days, every week.
  • Aim for 2 ½ – 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity as well as 11/4 – 2 ½ hours of vigorous intensity physical activity each week.
  • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week. This could include exercises using dumbbells or kettlebells or exercises using your own body weight like squats or push-ups.

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.

Prioritise sleep
Sleep is crucial for protecting and maintaining your energy levels and is one of the best things you can do for your health. Sleep is also important in helping your body regulate your weight and metabolism. Studies have shown that too little sleep is associated with weight gain. Lack of sleep can change hormone levels making you feel hungry and crave high sugar and high fat foods.  

It’s best to aim to get between 7-9 hours sleep most nights. If you are having trouble getting to sleep or getting enough sleep, here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  • Set up a regular relaxing routine before bed to help your body get ready for sleep. 
  • Stimulation from devices like smartphones and laptops can make it hard for your brain to wind down. Try to switch off devices at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Cut down on sugar and caffeine, whilst they give you a temporary energy-boost, it’s often followed by a longer dip in energy.
  • Although alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, it also contributes to interrupted and poor quality sleep later in the night.

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

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.

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Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer Judith is a pharmacist and health content specialist.

Australian Government. Department of Health. Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines [Online] 2013 [Accessed May 2019] Available from: www.health.gov.au

Better Health Channel. Carbohydrates and the glycaemic index [Online; last updated Sept 2013, accessed May 2019] Available from: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Better Health Channel. Metabolism [Online; last updated May 2014, accessed May 2019] Available from: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

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.

Eat for Health. The Australian Dietary Guidelines [Online] 2013 [Accessed May 2019] Available from: www.eatforhealth.gov.au 

Taheri S Lin L Austin D et al. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 2004; 1(3): e62.