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Successful Dieting

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Are you someone who regularly ‘goes on a diet’ but then gives up, regains the pounds and starts all over again? Or perhaps you need to lose weight for the first time. Either way read on to discover a new approach to reaching a healthier weight and staying there!

Even modest weight loss can make a big difference to the health and vitality of someone who is overweight or obese.

Weight loss is a gradual process, so trying the latest crash diet is unlikely to be successful in the long term. These types of diets may be successful in the short-term, but, the weight loss achieved will almost always be regained once you return to normal eating habits. This can leave you feeling demoralised and discouraged about losing weight.

Enjoying a well-balanced, high-carbohydrate diet and some regular exercise is the key to keeping slim.

Getting started

For most people, excess fat is gained over many months or years.

Weight is gained by eating more food (or energy) than is burned off in everyday activities.

Excess energy is mainly stored in the body as fat. Over time this often accumulates, resulting in excess weight.

To maintain a steady weight the number of calories being consumed must equal the number used up. A sedentary person eating a high energy diet, ie consuming more energy than they are using up in everyday activities, will put on weight.

To lose weight it is necessary to reduce the calories you eat or increase the amount of calories you burn off in everyday activities.

Changing dietary and lifestyle habits, instead of simply cutting out certain foods or counting calories, will increase the likelihood of achieving weight loss and preventing weight regain. The human body copes best if weight is lost over several months rather than weeks. This gives you time to adapt to, and enjoy, your new dietary habits and lifestyle.

Set realistic goals

When starting a diet you may lose a few pounds straight away, but this is usually just water. To lose fat takes much longer! It is tempting to be ambitious about how much, and how quickly, you are going to lose weight. Instead, set yourself realistic goals that you have a real chance of reaching.

Be prepared for a gradual, steady weight loss from the start.

Aim to lose no more than about a pound (half a kilo) a fortnight.

waist measuring

Do I need to lose weight?

Being overweight or obese is associated with increased risk of developing diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and stroke.

Losing weight could drastically improve the health and quality of life of someone who is overweight.

If you are already slim losing more weight can be very bad for your health. People with an ideal weight should concentrate on increasing their activity levels and improving their diet to improve fitness and general health.

The waistline test

You may decide to lose weight for the sake of your looks or health, but first check that you really do need to.

Measure around your waist. Check where you are in the chart below and see what action, if any, you need to take.

Woman's Waist MeasurementMan's Waist MeasurementAction Needed
Less than 80cm or 31½ inchesLess than 94cm or 37 inchesYour weight is within the healthy range. If you need to shape up, exercise is the key. Check you are eating a healthy, balanced diet (see Eating for Health)
80 to 88cm or 31½ to 34½ inches94 to 102cm or 37 to 40 inchesTry to lose some weight. Adapt your diet for steady weight loss and long term results. Get more active in your daily routine
Over 88cm or 34½ inchesOver 102cm
or 40 inches
Take action to lose weight now! Adapt your diet for steady weight loss and long term results. Try being a bit more active in your daily routine

Changing your daily diet

Drastically restricting the amount and range of foods ‘allowed’ will leave you hungry and ‘craving’ your favourite foods. This leaves you open to temptation and more likely to overeat. The diet that will work best for you is one based on foods you enjoy.

Eat a greater proportion of foods that are high in carbohydrate and low in fat, such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. Carbohydrate-containing foods make you feel fuller and more satisfied, helping to prevent overeating. They also contain less than half the calories of fat (carbohydrate has only 4 kcal per gram while fat has 9 kcal per gram). Do not cut out food types, instead limit the amount of certain foods, such as those high in fat, and replace them with carbohydrate-rich, low-fat alternatives. Eat regularly and do not skip meals.

Healthy eating does not mean eating plain, tasteless foods! You can continue to eat your favourite lunch and supper time meals. Simply adapt how they are prepared and served so that the carbohydrate content is higher and the fat content lower.

Try the following suggestions for popular meals:

  • Bangers and Mash: More mashed potato, less sausage, plenty of beans

  • Spaghetti Bolognese: More spaghetti, less bolognese sauce, plenty of salad

  • Traditional Lunch: More potatoes, less meat, plenty of vegetable

  • Curry: More rice, less curry

  • Sandwiches: Thicker bread, less meat, cheese or other filling, plenty of salad or pickle

  • Try a fruity dessert or a moderate portion of a low-fat pudding

It is important that you eat a wide range of foods to ensure that you get all the nutrients you need and do not feel deprived. To really succeed in changing your habitual diet you need to enjoy your food. Try different types of fruit and vegetables, experiment with high carbohydrate foods and lower fat recipes.

Don’t take a diet to extremes - there is no need to ban high-fat or favourite foods. Instead, try to reduce the portion size or have them less often. Having a small portion of chips with your dinner once in a while will not undo all your hard work. Including favourite foods can actually help you to stick to the diet. This way you can incorporate them into the overall healthy balance of your diet. It is the total number of calories over a few days that counts, not just the amount in one meal or snack.

Alcohol is high in calories, so you may need to reduce your intake if you have more than a couple of alcoholic drinks a day.

How can I adjust my existing diet so that it is lower in fat?

A simple way of reducing the fat content of foods is to change the way food is cooked. Instead of frying or sautéing foods try grilling, steaming, baking, poaching or boiling. Try not to add fat, if possible, when cooking.

When poaching or boiling foods a lot of the nutrients and flavours will transfer to the cooking liquid. Use this liquid to make sauces to accompany the food, for example, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk used to poach fish can be used to make a parsley or dill sauce.

Guidelines to help reduce the fat content of meals:

  • Use lower-fat cuts of meat and trim off any visible fat or skin

  • Use low-fat spreads and apply thinly

  • Unsaturated fats are healthier than saturates so chose Polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated (MUFA) oils and spreads

  • Avoid adding cooking fat or oil to foods if possible (non-stick pans require less fat to be added to prevent sticking). Some foods contain enough fat to prevent them sticking to the pan eg bacon, minced meat

  • Chose lower fat varieties of products and ready meals

Typical 'snack foods' can often be high in fat and calories, for example, crisps, biscuits, chocolate, cakes. Swapping these foods for low-fat alternatives such as, fresh and dried fruit or currant teacakes will reduce the calories eaten and make you feel 'fuller'.

Top tips for a slimmer future

  • Set realistic goals and aim for steady, gradual weight loss

  • Base your eating plan on altering the amounts of foods and dishes you already eat

  • Experiment with low-fat recipes and different varieties of foods

  • Rebalance the make-up of your meals and snacks so they are higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat

  • Incorporate your favourite foods as part of the overall healthy balance

  • Increase the amount of activity you do to improve fitness and general health

  • Once you reach your ideal weight, eat in the same way, but adjust the amount you eat to keep your weight stable

  • Enjoy your Food!
family walking in the forest

Get active!

It is now well known that people who are more active are more likely to keep weight off when they have lost it. This is because being active boosts the amount of calories used each day, and helps to regulate the appetite, preventing overeating. Being active also gets the heart rate going and improves general health.

A lot of people find it difficult to start an exercise plan and a restrictive diet at the same time. While you are trying to lose weight, start off by generally being more active in your day to day routine. For example:

  • Go for a brisk walk

  • Walk to the shops if you are planning to do some ‘light’ shopping

  • Use the stairs instead of the lift or escalators

  • Get off the bus or underground a stop early and walk home

  • Walk your children to school instead of driving

  • Cycle if you can

  • Take young children and pets for walks in the park

As you can see, being active does not mean having to join a gym or buy expensive exercise equipment. It is all about becoming less of a ‘couch potato’! Getting friends involved and making exercise a social activity can help to keep you motivated. Why not plan a regular afternoon walk with a group of friends once a week or more.

Building up your activity levels as your fitness level increases will boost weight loss and help to keep off the weight you have already lost. Remember, losing weight and keeping it off is all about developing a healthy, active lifestyle



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Eating a healthy, balanced diet along with taking regular exercise is key to physical and mental wellbeing.

No foods should be considered as ‘good or bad’ as all foods play an important role in the diet. It is only when foods are eaten in excess that health problems result.

Read more about eating healthy