How to keep a healthy weight
Keeping to a healthy weight can help cut your risk of cancer and other serious diseases. Many people gain weight throughout their lives, often without realising it. The good news is that small changes to your lifestyle can lead to a reduction in bodyweight. The day-to-day choices we make about our lifestyle have the greatest effect on our weight.
To help keep a healthy weight for good, it’s important to form long-term healthy habits, including eating a balanced diet and being physically active regularly. Most ‘quick fix’ or crash diets don’t offer a long term solution and most people gain back the weight they lost. For more information on healthier choices, go to Weight Concern’s Healthier Balance page or NHS Choices Change4Life or One You. Your GP practice, or a local support group, can also give you help and information on losing weight.
We know how difficult it can be to lose weight and keep it off. But you may not need to lose a lot of weight for your health to improve. If you are overweight, losing only a tenth of your body weight and keeping it off will make a difference. For most people this will be around 3-10kg or ½ - 1 ½ stone. However, if you are seriously overweight, or have other health problems, it may be advisable to seek advice from your doctor before beginning a weight management programme.
Jeff, a lorry driver from Portsmouth, lost 5 and a half stone by being creative about eating healthily and keeping active while out on the road.
What are the Ten Top Tips for a healthy weight?
Ten Top Tips is a programme for weight loss through lifestyle changes that you can fit into your daily routine. Developed by Cancer Research UK and Weight Concern these tips are based on the best scientific evidence and help you to make lifestyle changes to take in fewer calories through food and burn more calories through activity.
If you've tried to lose weight before, you might find this is a bit different as the aim is to form healthier habits that can last a lifetime. But some of the healthy choices here may be familiar and that means you can get off to a good start.
A habit is something you do automatically, like tying your shoelaces or brushing your teeth.
- Habits are formed when you do something over and over again in the same place or at the same time
- We know that habits can affect our health in different ways. For example, regularly having a second helping of dinner might make it more difficult to manage our weight
- Getting into a routine and practising the healthy tips every day, helps turn them into healthy habits
Sticking with all ten tips in the long term will help you lose weight safely and keep it off.
1. Keep to your meal routine. Try to eat at roughly the same times each day, whether this is two or five times a day. This will help you to avoid unplanned meals and snacks which are often high in calories.
Handy hints :
- Pick a pattern that fits your daily routine and stick to it.
- If you tend to snack, try to snack around the same time each day.
- Plan when you intend to eat and check at the end of the day if you have achieved this.
- If you’re eating out at night, get into the habit of thinking about what you eat during the rest of the day. Don’t skip meals - this might make you overeat later. Instead, plan to eat lighter meals earlier on in the day so you don’t take in too many calories.
2. Go reduced fat. Choose reduced fat versions of foods such as dairy products, spreads and salad dressings. Use them sparingly as some can still be high in fat.
It is easy to overeat on foods like butter or spreads, salad dressings, mayonnaise, cheese, pastries, chips, biscuits and crisps. High fat foods contain a lot of energy, even in small portions. So without actually eating large amounts of food, you could be eating more calories than you can burn every day. And because you’ve not eaten that much, you may still feel hungry..
- Change to semi-skimmed milk and save 60 calories a day (based on consuming 300mls of milk a day).
- Try to cut down on food that has been cooked in lots of oil or butter. For example, try steamed fish instead of fried fish, bruschetta instead of garlic bread, and steamed rice instead of egg fried rice.
- Try to avoid sauces based on cream or coconut milk. For example, you could have tandoori instead of a korma, a stir-fry or steamed Thai dish instead of a green curry, or a marinara instead of a carbonara.
3. Walk off the weight. Walk 10,000 steps (about 60-90 minutes of moderate activity) each day. You can use a pedometer to help count the steps. You can break up your walking over the day. For more information, visit our physical activity tips.
- 5,000 extra steps a day (40 mins walking at a brisk pace) will burn 1, 240 calories over a week.
- Take the stairs rather than the lift.
4. Pack a healthy snack. If you snack, choose a healthy option such as fresh fruit or low calorie yogurts instead of chocolate or crisps.
- Have a banana instead of a standard-size chocolate bar (46g) and save around 150 calories.
- Take a piece of fruit to work with you.
- Choose yoghurts with less than 100 calories per pot. The calcium will also keep your bones healthy.
For ideas on healthy alternatives to sugary snacks, go to Change4Life Sugar Smart.
5. Look at the labels. Be careful about food claims. Check the fat and sugar content on food labels when shopping and preparing food.
- ‘Low fat’ doesn’t always mean low in calories. For example, a low fat digestive biscuit has the same number of calories as a standard digestive biscuit at 70 calories. And low fat sausages, spreads and crisps are still high in fat compared to other foods.
- Remember that foods claiming to be 80% fat-free still have a 20% fat content!
- A ‘portion’ of food as defined by the manufacturer may not be the same as the amount that you would eat.
To find out more about how much sugar is in your food and drink, go to Change4Life Sugar Smart.
6. Caution with your portions. Don’t heap food on your plate (except vegetables). Think twice before having second helpings.
- Cook smaller quantities and eat off a smaller plate.
- Put away left-overs as soon as you’ve served your meal.
- Don’t eat from the bag - place foods in a bowl or on a plate so you can see how much you’re eating.
- If you’re eating out, try sharing a starter or side dishes with a friend . Meals designed to be shared, like tapas or dim sum, can be healthy but be careful how many you order.
- Don’t feel you have to clear your plate
7. Up on your feet. Breaking up your sitting time has many benefits beyond just weight loss. For more information, go to our physical activity tips.
- Try standing rather than sitting for bus or train journeys.
- When watching TV, try to stand up during the ad breaks and do a few chores (e.g. wash the dishes or put the rubbish out).
8. Think about your drinks. Choose water or sugar-free squashes. Unsweetened fruit juice is high in natural sugar so limit it to one glass per day (200ml or 1/3 pint). Alcohol is high in calories so limit the amount you drink.
- A pint of ordinary strength beer (3-4%) has two units of alcohol and 182 calories. Cutting down on alcohol can help with keeping a healthy weight and benefits your overall health. Alcohol also increases your appetite - some people notice that they tend to eat more when they drink alcohol.
- High street coffee shops offer a wide choice of drinks. Large drinks with lots of cream, milk or sugar can be loaded with fat and calories. Try buying smaller sizes, and asking for ‘skinny’ drinks that use skimmed milk. Try to avoid cream, flavoured syrup or sugary toppings. Use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk if you’re making hot drinks at home.
9. Focus on your food. Slow down. Don’t eat on the go or while watching TV. Eat at a table if possible.
- Eating meals at the table will help you focus on the amount of food you eat.
- Don’t eat while walking, wait until you get there.
10. Don’t forget your 5 a day. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, whether fresh, frozen or tinned (400g in total).
- A medium sized apple or banana or three heaped tablespoons of peas is one portion.
- Try having fruit or vegetables with every meal, this makes it easier to reach five a day.
- Many people see salads and vegetarian dishes as being automatically healthy. It is true that they are a good way of getting some fruit and vegetable portions into your meals. But pay attention to the ingredients and dressings - they can often be loaded with fat and sugar.
How can I turn the tips into habits?
The Ten Top Tips programme helps you incorporate the lifestyle changes into your daily routine so that they become automatic over time. To develop new healthy habits you need to:
- Plan ahead: Spend some time now planning how you will fit the tips into your daily routine. For example, think about how to include the extra walking into your day. Making a plan increases your chances of doing something.
- Be prepared: Do you need to do anything differently, for example pack walking shoes.
- Keep going: Do as many of the tips as you can each day. For each tip, doing it at a similar point in your everyday routine will make it easier to turn the tip into a habit. For example, you might decide to always have a piece of fruit at lunch time.
- Track your progress: Record-keeping increases success in developing healthy habits. Use the Ten Top Tips tick sheet to record if you do each tip. Keep this up until the tips become automatic.
How can I help my children keep their weight healthy?
Often, children who are overweight need adult support to be able to make healthy changes to eating and activity. Body weight is a sensitive issue but an important one to discuss. Children as young as 5 can be unhappy about their weight and may need your help.
One important way of encouraging your children to lead a healthy lifestyle is to set a good example yourself. Try to get the whole family involved in healthy living. Keep a healthier selection of food at home, make time for healthy family meals together, and do activities together that everyone enjoys like walking, cycling or skating.
Weight Concern has plenty of tips and advice for talking to children about weight. For more tips on encouraging your children to eat healthily, visit our diet and healthy eating section. And for advice on encouraging your children to be active, go to the NHS Choices advice on 10 ways on getting your kids to be more active, or the Change4Life fun generator.