It's important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Not only will this boost your self-esteem, but there are numerous health benefits, too. Being very overweight - or obese - increases your risk of developing health problems, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, gallstones and some cancers. The good news is that most associated health risks disappear once the excess weight is lost. According to the Government more than half of women and two thirds of men in the UK are overweight or obese - and the numbers are rising.
Your weight is determined by the ratio of energy intake to output, that is, the balance between what you eat and the amount of physical activity you do. The energy you get from food is measured in calories. If you take in more calories than you burn, you'll put on weight. If you use more energy than you take in, you'll lose weight. Extra energy from food is mostly stored as fat. Certain foods provide more energy than others. Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrate or protein. So, if you eat a lot of fatty food, you are likely to take in more energy than you need and store it as fat on your body. Alcohol also contains calories, for more information visit Drinking and you.
Obesity often runs in families, suggesting that genetic factors play a part in how much we weigh. Although you can't alter your genetic make-up, you should still be able to reach and maintain a healthy weight if you eat well and exercise regularly. Some medical conditions may also affect your weight, but these are rare.
If you're overweight or obese, you should see your doctor before going on a diet. A doctor can rule out any underlying medical causes and, if necessary, refer you to a specialist.
Look at the food you eat and the amount of physical activity you do. Many 'quick-fix' diets claim to help you lose weight, but these are unlikely to work in the long term unless you also make fundamental lifestyle changes. You need to balance a healthy diet with a reasonable amount of physical activity. Choosing healthier foods, cutting down on fat and sugar, eating smaller portions and taking more exercise will all help you achieve and maintain your ideal weight.
When reducing your weight, aim to lose no more than 0.5-1kg (1-2lb) a week. This is equivalent to cutting out around 500-1,000 calories a day, depending on your level of activity. It's easier to keep weight off if it's lost gradually. This also gives your body time to adjust to new eating habits.
Keeping a food diary is a helpful way to keep track of what you are eating.
Just 30 minutes of moderate activity each day, including gardening, brisk walking and housework, can make a difference. Aim to use a little more energy than usual. This doesn't just help you to control your weight, it also helps to tone your muscles, boost energy levels and reduce stress.
Eat more healthily
Here are some ideas to help you eat more healthily:
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit - at least five portions a day.
- Use semi-skimmed or skimmed milk instead of full fat milk, or drink non-dairy alternatives.
- Eat lots of filling fibre-rich and starchy foods, such as brown rice, wholemeal pasta and potatoes.
- Cut back on butter and spreads, and replace cream with low fat or fat free yogurt, or try fat free fromage frais.
- Use small amounts of strongly flavoured cheese rather than larger amounts of milder cheese. Grate it to make it go further.
- Chicken and turkey are also low in fat, especially if you remove the skin.
- Grill, steam, microwave or poach rather than fry. Use non-stick pans and add oil to pans using a spray to cut down on the amount you use.
- Choose half- or reduced-fat versions of your everyday favourites.
Take a sensible approach
Simply reducing the size of servings will cut down your calorie intake.
Eat regular meals and don't skip any, especially breakfast. This will keep blood glucose levels constant, so you won't be tempted by unhealthy snacks.
Don't ban foods, but restrict those that are unhelpful such as chocolate or crisps. Look for lower fat treats, such as exotic fruits.
Cut back on alcohol. Stay well within the recommended safe limits (2-3 units of alcohol a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men).
Below are two ways to find out if you are overweight. They are a rough guide for the average adult:
- Work out your Body Mass Index (BMI). A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is normal; a BMI of 25-29.9 means you are overweight; a BMI of 30 and over means you are obese. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared, as shown:
Waitrose offers healthier alternatives to your favourite foods, being either lower in fat, saturated fat, sugar or calories. They are easy to find with a distinctive black and white band on the front of pack. Most Waitrose own label prepacked foods include a nutrition panel. The calories, fat, saturates, salt and sugars per pack/per serving are highlighted.
This can be used with the guideline daily amounts (GDA) for nutrients, also on packs. GDAs are a general guide for adults of a healthy weight and not individual targets. For those who need to lose weight, the requirement is likely to be less than the GDAs. Low fat recipes are included in the monthly Waitrose recipe cards, available in branch, or online at Waitrose recipes.