A healthy approach to weight loss
We put on weight when we eat more calories than we burn off and the excess calories are stored as fat. If we want to lose weight, we need to adopt strategies that allow us to eat fewer calories than we burn off, which leads to weight loss. This can be achieved by eating fewer calories, doing more activity or, ideally, a combination of both.
A safe and achievable rate to lose weight is 1–2 lbs (0.5–1.0 kg) a week. To achieve this, you need to eat around 600 calories less each day than your body needs to maintain weight. This is a sensible weight loss target that is more likely to help with weight loss in the longer term than an overly strict regime that may have dramatic results at the beginning but be impossible to sustain for more than a few weeks.
You should be careful not to restrict calories too much without medical supervision, as depriving yourself in this way can mean that your body does not receive all the nutrients it needs, which can put your long-term health at risk.
Strategies to get off to a good start
Once you have thought about the above questions and decided on what changes you are going to make to your diet, it is important to set yourself a goal. When you are setting yourself any goals, it is important to make sure they are SMART. This means that your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-specific.
- Set yourself a clear weight-loss goal, draw up a plan and make sure your goal is SMART.
- Start a food diary and note down everything you currently eat and drink. This can help you identify areas for change.
- Don’t skip meals, as this can often lead to overeating or snacking later in the day.
- Have a healthy breakfast. People who eat a healthy breakfast usually find it easier to control their weight and are slimmer than those who don’t.
- Eat three balanced meals each day.
- Half-fill your plate with salad or vegetables, then divide the remaining space on your plate equally between protein (meat/fish/egg/pulses) and starchy carbohydrates high in wholegrains and fibre.
- Be aware of your portion sizes. Wait at least 30 minutes before you go back for a second helping as your brain needs that amount of time to register whether or not you are full.
- Only snack if you are hungry, and if you do, choose healthy options.
- Aim to eat at least five 80 g portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
- Aim to drink two litres of fluid per day, preferably water. If you must have a flavoured drink choose one that is low in calories and caffeine-free.
- Don’t eat when you are doing something else, such as watching TV or working. If you are focusing on something else, it makes you more likely to overeat.
- Be more active in your daily routine and try to take more exercise.
Remember that small changes can make a big difference!
Different eating plans for weight loss
Today there are many different approaches to weight loss, which makes it hard to know which is the right one for you. The simple answer is that different approaches to weight loss suit different people. It may be a matter of trial and error until you find a plan that you enjoy and that fits in with your lifestyle, which in turn means that you are more likely to stick with it. The key, no matter which approach you adopt, is to make small, realistic changes that you can sustain over the long term.
Although there are various eating plans for weight loss, not all have proven to be safe and effective for people with diabetes.
- This is the traditional approach to weight loss. It is based on general principles of healthy eating, with a focus on reducing total fat content.
- Fat contains more calories than any other nutrient, so by reducing your fat intake you will reduce your calorie intake too.
- There is a lot of evidence which demonstrates that this approach can help to reduce weight, improve blood glucose control and reduce your risk of heart disease.
- This involves eating less than 800 calories per day, through eating normal food, liquid meal replacements or a combination of both.
- This diet should not be followed for more than 12 weeks.
- You should not attempt this kind of weight-loss programme unless you are under medical supervision and monitoring.
- Evidence from a small-scale study suggested that this approach improved HbA1c levels and resulted in weight loss in the majority of participants, and some participants were able to stop taking all their diabetes medications.
- Larger-scale studies are establishing how this approach is best rolled out more widely in people with type 2 diabetes.
- This approach involves eating less than 130 g of carbohydrate a day.
- Foods that are high in protein can help you to feel fuller for longer, so reducing the amount of carbohydrate you eat and replacing it with protein can help to reduce the overall number of calories you eat each day.
- Evidence suggests that this approach can help people with diabetes lose weight and improve their blood glucose control, but no more so than standard low-calorie or low-fat approaches to weight management
- If you are considering a low-carbohydrate diet as an option, you must consider the risk of low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia). Do not embark on this kind of weight-loss regime before discussing it with your diabetes care team, especially if you manage your diabetes with insulin or medication that can cause hypoglycaemia.
- This approach is based largely on eating plant-derived foods and includes fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and healthier types of fat, with little or no red meat and processed foods.
- Evidence shows that the Mediterranean approach to eating can help to reduce weight, improve blood glucose control and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Intermittent fasting/5:2 diet
- This approach is based on a plan where for five days a week you maintain a healthy, balanced approach to eating and for the other two days, you have only 25% of your daily calorie requirements, i.e. 600 calories for men and 500 calories for women. * You cannot have two ‘fasting’ days in a row but should spread them out over the week.
- Evidence suggests that intermittent fasting can also help to reduce weight, improve blood glucose control and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Whilst shorter-term studies have shown promising results for intermittent fasting diets in people with diabetes, the long-term safety is yet to be determined.
- If you are considering this type of diet, it is important to consider the risk of low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia) on fasting days.
- Do not embark on this kind of weight-loss regime before discussing it with your diabetes care team, especially if you manage your diabetes with insulin or medication that can cause hypoglycaemia.
Some people find that calorie-controlled menu plans can be useful tools when they are trying to lose weight. Diabetes UK has developed a variety of different options which you may find helpful in your weight-loss journey here.
As already discussed, increasing your levels of physical activity will also help you to lose weight, as you will burn calories that would have otherwise been stored as fat. Exercise also builds muscle and the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn off, even when you are not exercising.
Remember that increasing your activity levels without adjusting your diabetes medication could result in low blood glucose levels. Think how annoying it would be if you went to the gym, burned off 300 calories and then had a hypoglycaemic episode and had to treat it with a high-glucose snack. Frustrating events like this can jeopardise your weight loss. To prevent this, you should discuss your plans to increase your activity levels with your diabetes care team, who will be able to give you advice on how to adjust your medication to reduce the risk of this happening.
The following will give you more information and support on managing your weight:
- Exercise and physical activity: the impact on blood glucose
- Exercise and physical activity: healthy living
- Losing weight: how do I start?
- The importance of weight management
The NHS has developed a free 12-week weight-loss guide which combines advice on healthy eating and physical activity.
The British Heart Foundation has produced a detailed information leaflet to support weight loss.