If you are interested in weight loss, you may have come across a few novelty or ‘fad’ diets. Endorsed by the odd celebrity, these diets tend to fade in and out of popularity and typically promise fast weight loss for minimal effort.
While it is true that some diets can result in a rapid loss of weight, there is usually a lack of evidence supporting their health claims. They can even damage your health, and the results are rarely sustainable. Weight often returns once the diet has ended.
The best way to lose weight - and keep the weight off - is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. This approach is always safer and more sustainable than the rapid, ‘crash’ diet approach.
Do I need to lose weight?
Before you make any changes to your diet, determine whether or not you need to lose weight. Your body mass index (BMI) can help you figure out if you are a healthy weight.
To calculate your BMI manually, you should:
- divide your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in metres (m)
- divide this answer once more by your height
Alternatively, try using the NHS BMI calculator. If you are overweight, this will give you a recommended calorie allowance to help you lose weight safely. Generally for adults, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Learn more about BMI ranges.
The BMI calculation accommodates different heights and body shapes, but it does have some limitations. For example, the calculation is not capable of distinguishing between excess weight and excess fat. Muscle can be heavier than fat, so someone who is very muscular may be classed as obese, even though they are a healthy weight.
It is also possible to have a healthy BMI, even though you are carrying excess fat. This can occur in older adults who begin to lose muscle and gain more fat as they age.
The BMI calculation cannot accurately assess your weight if you are pregnant. Visit your doctor if you are pregnant and have weight concerns.
Some ethnic groups have a higher risk of certain health issues, even when their BMI is lower than 25. The BMI calculation is not able to take this into account either.
Always speak to your doctor if you are unsure about your BMI or weight. If you suffer with any long-term health conditions, discuss any changes to your diet with your doctor to make sure it is safe to do so.
Learn more about the limitations of the body mass index.
How to lose weight with diet
Calories are the measurement for the amount of energy in food. In most cases, people are overweight because they consume more calories than they use in a day.
To lose weight, you need to be eating fewer calories than you burn daily. It is best to adjust your calorie intake so you are losing between 0.5kg and 1kg every week until you reach a healthy weight. This is usually an effective and safe rate of weight loss.
Changes to your diet can help you lose weight gradually over a period of time. However, if you experience unintentional weight loss without any changes to your diet, particularly if this is associated with tiredness, loss of appetite, a change in your toilet habits or an increase in infections, you should discuss this with your doctor.
When you are trying to lose weight, a rough estimate for your maximum daily calorie consumption is 1,900kcal for most men and 1,400 for most women. However, these are general figures and true values will depend on your body shape and lifestyle. Your calorie requirement is likely to differ from that of someone else.
You can use the NHS BMI calculator for a more specific calorie goal.
Eating healthily is not just about calories. Try to consume a suitable amount and variety of food, as recommended by The Eatwell Guide so you can get all the nutrients you need.
Use a weight loss calorie counter
Once you have your daily calorie goal, aim to meet this number every day. Keep this in mind when you go food shopping or when you are planning meals in advance.
Calorie counters can make this process easier; they recognise different foods and drinks, and the amount of calories they contain.
Calorie counters can be found online or downloaded as apps. You might want to try the NHS calorie checker which is ideal for looking up products commonly found in the UK. Other calorie counter apps include MyFitnessPal and Lose it!.
8 weight loss tips to follow
These simple changes to your diet can make losing weight easier:
1. Reduce your fat intake
Fat is a high energy food source. It contains nine calories per gram, while carbohydrates and protein each contain four calories per gram.
Additionally, eating too much fat (particularly saturated fat) can lead to health problems like high cholesterol. To lower your daily fat consumption, you can:
- trim the fat off meat
- switch from full-fat to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk
- choose low-fat spreads
- swap cream for low-fat yoghurt
Limiting your overall intake of fat and replacing any ‘bad’ fats with healthier alternatives can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid conditions like heart attack and stroke.
Read about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats and how to lower your cholesterol.
2. Reduce your sugar intake
Added sugars can be put into your food by manufacturers, chefs, or even by yourself when you are cooking at home. Sugar can come in numerous forms, including:
- fruit juice
- hydrolysed starch
- invert sugar
- corn syrup
For those aged 11 and over, no more than 30g of sugar should be consumed each day. You can reduce the amount of sugar in your diet by:
- checking food labels when buying packaged goods (more information below)
- switching to lower sugar breakfast cereals that don’t contain added sugar (e.g. plain porridge, plain wholewheat cereal biscuits)
- adding fruit rather than sugar to your cereal or porridge
- being aware of meals typically high in sugar when eating out (e.g. sweet and sour or sweet chili dishes, some curry sauces, salad dressings)
- cutting down on sugary condiments like ketchup, which can contain around half a teaspoon of sugar per serving
- cutting down on sugary snacks or replacing them with healthy alternatives like fruit or nuts
- replacing sugary drinks (e.g. fizzy drinks, sweetened juices, squashes and cordials) with healthier alternatives like water, lower fat milks, or sugar-free tea or coffee
3. Eat more fibre
Foods that are high in fibre can help keep you fuller for longer, which may help you eat less throughout the day. Good sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables and oats, beans, peas, and lentils. Bread, rice, and pasta can be found in wholegrain forms which contain more fibre than white alternatives.
4. Get your five a day
Eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day will help you get the vitamins and minerals you need. High in fibre and low in both calories and fats, these are a great healthy snack.
5. Don’t skip meals
Eating meals regularly will help you burn calories faster and prevent snacking. Many people choose to skip breakfast, assuming it will make weight loss easier. But skipping breakfast might make you more inclined to snack on unhealthy foods during the day, and prevent you from getting all your essential nutrients.
6. Check food labels
Reading food labels can help you make better decisions when shopping for food. Ingredients lists will sometimes reveal hidden sugars or additives in products claiming to be ‘healthy’. Look out for the different names sugar can have, including sucrose, fructose or honey.
You can check exactly how much sugar a product contains by reading the nutritional label. Generally, a food is high in sugar if it contains 22.5g or more of total sugar per 100g. Something is considered low in sugar if it contains 5g or less of total sugar per 100g.
Colour coding is sometimes used to make it clear whether a product is higher in sugar, fat or salt. Try to choose foods that have more green and amber than red on their labels.
The amount of calories a product contains can also be found in the nutritional information. In these lists, ‘energy’ is measured in both kilojoules and kilocalories. Kilocalories is the formal name for calories. Consider this, along with the rest of a product’s nutritional information when you are planning your meals and snacks.
Find out more about food labelling terms.
7. Have healthier drinks
Drinking plenty of fluids daily can make you feel more full, making you less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.
The Eatwell Guide recommends you drink between six to eight glasses of liquid everyday (including water, lower fat milks or sugar-free tea or coffee). Swapping high calorie drinks for healthier alternatives can make a substantial difference to your weekly calorie intake.
Avoid drinks like soft drinks (carbonated drinks), energy drinks, and instant powdered drinks as they can be high in sugar. Try to cut down on alcoholic drinks as they can be high in calories.
8. Plan your meals
Planning your meals and snacks for the week can make it easier for some people to stick to a healthy meal plan. Consider your plan when shopping for food so you can buy suitable portions of the things you need.
If you plan for take-outs or trips to restaurants in advance, adjust your calorie intake for that day so you are less likely to exceed your allowance.
How to lose weight with exercise
Exercise regularly to burn calories and stay healthy. Exercise recommendations vary depending on age. Those aged 19-64 should aim to exercise every day. If you fall within this age range and do not exercise regularly, you can start by aiming to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
Find out more about the exercise guidelines for adults.
Adopting a weight loss diet plan
Keeping track of your diet can be difficult. Even with weight loss tips, it can be hard to know where to start. A weight loss plan can make this process easier.
The NHS 12-week weight loss plan is a good example. It allows you to change your lifestyle for the better, one step at a time. You can also document your calories and exercise and learn more about planning your weekly calorie intake in advance.
This plan can be used by healthy adults with a BMI of 25 and over. It should not be used by children or pregnant women. Speak to your doctor if you have a medical condition before you start this plan.
Steer clear of any plans inspired by fad or novelty diets - always aim to eat healthily and exercise safely.