5 things you need to know about sustainable and healthy weight loss – according to a doctor

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How much weight is it healthy to lose and what’s the most sustainable way to do it? Lead GP at Livi, Dr Samuel Menon, shares the key things to know

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Why and how we choose to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight is very much down to the individual. Our weight can be affected by medical, mental and emotional factors, and it’s also common for our weight to fluctuate throughout the day or at different points of the menstrual cycle.

‘Our relationship with food and drink, and what, how and why we eat, is fundamental to how we manage our weight,’ says Dr Menon. ‘We’re learning more and more about the negative effects of being overweight.’

Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, while new studies have shown it can also increase the risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19.

Don't believe all the weight loss myths out there, the key is to keep a healthy mindset. Here, Dr Menon shares 5 key things to remember when thinking about sustainable weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight.

1. There’s no set ‘healthy weight’, but there are measures to help guide you

The body mass index (BMI) tool will give you a rough idea of a healthy weight for you. ‘It’s a guide, not a rule, and there may be reasons for being overweight despite being healthy,’ says Dr Menon. That said, it’s currently the measure favoured by the medical community.

Your BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres and can help identify if a person is overweight or obese. Obesity is classified as a chronic illness and can be treated in different ways, while you can usually manage being overweight with lifestyle changes.

‘Another useful measure is waist circumference,’ adds Dr Menon, explaining that carrying extra weight around your waist increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In summary:

  • Monitoring your BMI and waist circumference can help you understand what’s a healthy weight for you.

2. For sustainable weight loss, small healthy changes are best

‘There are no tricks or shortcuts,’ says Dr Menon. ‘A well-balanced diet and exercise are the cornerstones. Find out what works for you and build in new habits incrementally, as you’re more likely to stay on track when times are difficult if you take it slow and make it fun. Explore new foods and more active ways of getting around, like walking or cycling.’

If the weighing scales are triggering for you, simply manage your goals and healthy habits instead, and perhaps keep an eye on your waist size. Your healthy habits will likely pay off in obvious ways, and you’ll feel better in the long run.

In summary:

  • You’re more likely to stick with simple lifestyle changes built into your daily routine than with drastic, restrictive rules.
  • Develop new healthier habits that work for you.

3. Maintaining a healthy weight or losing just a small percentage of your weight comes with big health gains

There are countless benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, including the significantly lowered risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, muscle and joint problems, and some cancers. There’s even significant evidence that maintaining a healthy weight reduces mortality.

Losing weight can also improve your fertility and quality of sleep, and for some, it can be a self-esteem boost.

Losing as little as a few kilograms can have meaningful positive impacts. ‘There’s strong evidence that weight loss lowers the blood pressure of people who are overweight,’ says Dr Menon. ‘Given that high blood pressure is a huge risk factor for heart disease and stroke, there are great health-saving opportunities to be had from losing just a little.’

In summary:

  • The benefits of maintaining a healthy weight – or losing a small percentage of your bodyweight if you’re overweight – are dramatic and wide-ranging.

4. Keep it simple with what you eat and avoid restrictive fad diets

Dr Menon advises against fad diets – they’re often unsustainable and sometimes based on flawed science.

There’s evidence to suggest that diets low in carbohydrates are more effective for lasting, sustainable weight loss and management. This is because carbs impact our blood glucose levels, which affect our blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as the way we store fat.

A more straightforward approach to weight loss is to aim to eat fewer calories than you use up.

‘We start to lose weight when we’re in a negative energy balance: when the energy we use is greater than what we consume,’ Dr Menon explains. ‘It may seem obvious, but this can be difficult to remember in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with exercise plans, diet menus and foods we should avoid.

‘Eat a little less, and eat mainly plants – this is the only unshakeable truth.’

In summary:

  • For most people, sustainable weight loss or management is simply about continuously eating a little less while keeping active.
  • There’s evidence to show the benefits of replacing some carbohydrates with vegetables and other plant-based foods.

5. Steady and sustainable weight loss is better than losing weight quickly

‘Restricting certain foods for an extended period can lead to nutritional deficiencies, when our body doesn’t get the necessary amount of nutrients. If we deprive ourselves of the food our bodies need, we’re risking our health considerably, particularly as we start to eat again,’ Dr Menon explains.

‘I’d recommend making small, steady adjustments that allow your body’s appetite regulation and energy use and storage to sync. When we rush weight loss, our bodies often become out of sync and we’re more likely to rebound,’ says Dr Menon. In fact, drastically reducing your calorie intake actually triggers a hormone response that makes you hungrier.

In summary:

  • Losing weight quickly doesn’t give our body enough time to adapt, and we can do more damage than good.
  • Be patient, and your small changes will pay off.

This article has been medically approved by Livi Lead GP Dr Samuel Menon.

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