Step 1 Set realistic weight loss or lifestyle goals.
Step 2 Identify what you eat and drink, your level of physical activity and amount of sitting time.
Step 3 Make changes to what you eat and drink.
Step 4 Increase your physical activity levels and reduce your sitting time.
Step 5 Keep going with your weight loss plan.
Step 1: Set realistic weight loss or lifestyle goals
Set yourself realistic goals. It may just be one goal or you might set a couple at the same time. The key is to choose a goal or goals that suit you. This will help to keep you motivated and stop you trying to do too much too soon. For example, some realistic goals might be:
• to stop gaining weight – if you have recently been gaining weight, this is a useful goal to start with
• to lose 2 kg in the next two months – this may not sound like much and may sound very slow, but if you can do this and keep this weight off, then that is a fantastic effort.
If you make your goal too difficult, you can end up feeling like a failure when it really isn’t your fault. For example:
• to lose 10 kg in 10 weeks – this is not easy. Losing 10 kg may take months to achieve, possibly 12 months or more, if you are losing weight healthily.
It’s much better to choose small goals and lose weight gradually than set a goal that seems unachievable. Even if you only ever lose a few kilograms it can make a big difference to your health, and it’s better than continuing to gain weight.
Your goals can focus on a change in weight, but they could also focus on changing your eating patterns, increasing your physical activity levels and reducing your sitting time. For example, some goals might be:
• to limit the number of times you buy take-away foods to once a week
• to go for a 30 minute walk on at least three evenings each week
• to reduce the amount of TV you watch each day.
Try not to become ‘ruled’ by the scales. If you want to weigh yourself, make sure it’s no more than once a week. Always remember that the amount of weight you lose is only one way of measuring your achievements.
Some other important ways to measure how well you are doing include:
• how you feel
• if your clothes are looser
• if you can do things without getting tired.
And if you’ve managed to improve your eating patterns, increase the amount of physical activity you do, and reduce the amount of time you spend sitting each day, that’s positive for your overall health even if you don’t manage to lose any weight.
Quick tip: Write your goal or goals down, so you have a handy reminder of what you are trying to achieve.
Step 2: Identify what you eat and drink, your level of physical activity and amount of sitting time
To do this, you might like to keep a diary for a week. Keeping a diary can help you to see where you can make changes. If keeping a diary works for you, here are some tips on how to do it.
Tips on keeping a food and drinks diary
• Using a notebook, notepad or computer, write down everything you eat and drink each day.
• If you can, also include the amount of food or drinks you have.
• Don’t forget to write down snacks as well.
• Write down the time of eating/drinking and where you were eating/drinking, such as at home with the family, on my own in front of the TV or at a café.
Tips on keeping a physical activity and sitting diary
• Use your computer or the same notebook or notepad that you use for your food diary, or use a separate one.
• Write down all the times you are active – write what you do, what part of the day you are being active and for how long, including:
o any planned activity you do, such as going to the gym, jogging or playing sport
o activity, such as housework, gardening, taking the stairs instead of a lift, walking to the local shops, walking the dog.
• Believe it or not, it’s also very useful to record the amount of time you spend sitting. Write down what it is you are doing when you are sitting, such as watching TV, working or driving the car.
Recording both your active and sitting time will help you to work out how active or inactive you are, the times you are active and inactive, and where you could try to make changes to increase your physical activity levels and reduce your sitting time.
Quick tip: Keeping a food and drinks diary will help you to see what, when and how much you are eating and drinking. Your diary may also help you to identify ‘cues’ or ‘triggers’ that prompt you to overeat, and identify areas where you can make some changes.
Step 3: Make changes to what you eat and drink
If you’ve kept a food and drinks diary, use the information from your diary with the following information to help to identify changes you can make. Healthy eating for weight loss is about making sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need for good health while reducing the amount of energy (kilojoules) you take in.The good news is that many foods that are lower in energy (kilojoules) are also packed full of nutrients – and these are the types of foods you need to eat most.
Choose foods and drinks lower in energy (kilojoules)
Vegetables, fruit and legumes (for example, split peas, kidney beans, baked beans, three bean mix, lentils and chickpeas) provide some energy (kilojoules) but they are also packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre.Eating these sorts of foods helps to make you feel full, without giving you too much energy (kilojoules).
Other lower energy (kilojoule) food choices that also provide a range of vitamins and minerals include:
• reduced, low or no fat milk and yoghurt
• lean meat and poultry (meat trimmed of all visible fat and chicken without skin) and fish
• wholegrain or wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals, plain pasta (preferably wholemeal), plain rice (preferably brown) and plain noodles.
Including all of these types of foods in your daily eating plan will help to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need without a lot of extra energy (kilojoules).
Plain water is by far the best option because it has no energy (kilojoules). It’s also cheap and quenches your thirst.
Other suitable choices to include in moderation are plain mineral water; soda water; reduced, low or no fat milk; herbal tea; and tea or coffee (if you have milk, use reduced, low or no fat varieties or ‘added calcium’ soy milk).
Limit high energy (kilojoule) foods and drinks
The types of foods and drinks that often contain lots of energy (kilojoules) are listed below.
• Chocolate, confectionery
• Potato crisps and other savoury snack foods, such as corn crisps
• Cakes, sweet biscuits
• Pastries – sweet and savoury
• Take-away foods, such as deep-fried foods, creamy pasta dishes, cheesy dishes and hamburgers
• Soft drinks, fruit juices, fruit juice drinks, cordials and alcoholic drinks.
You can still have these types of foods and drinks occasionally, but they really do provide a lot of energy (kilojoules) without giving you much else. Try to only have these types of foods and drinks as a treat or for a special occasion. Eating them daily or regularly throughout the week would lead to weight gain for most people.
Step 4: Increase your physical activity levels and reduce your sitting time
If you’ve kept a physical activity and sitting diary, use the information from your diary together with the following information to help to identify how you can be more physically active and reduce the time you spend sitting.
Being physically active uses up energy (kilojoules). The more you move, the more energy (kilojoules) you will burn. So think about movement as an opportunity to improve your health, rather than a time-wasting inconvenience.
How much activity do I need to do?
Thirty minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week is great for your general health and well-being, regardless of your body weight or shape. For some people, this may even be enough to prevent weight gain. If you need to lose weight or are gaining weight, then you will need to do more than the 30 minutes of physical activity each day recommended for general health.
The bottom line is that you need to increase your physical activity levels and reduce the amount of time that you spend sitting, so focus on these things first. Gradually try to build up the amount of time you are physically active and reduce the amount of time you spend sitting.
Don’t worry about how active other people are, just focus on trying to increase your own activity level. If you can enjoy some vigorous activity as well, then that’s even better. Vigorous activity, such as doing a gym class, playing sport or jogging, gives additional health, fitness and weight loss benefits. It’s all about you – the amount of activity that will work for you is likely to be different to what will work for someone else.
Just as some people seem to be able to eat and drink whatever they like without putting on weight, some people may also seem to be able to get away with doing little, if any, activity to keep their weight down. That doesn’t matter. What matters is what is right and comfortable for you. So get active today!
A note about vigorous activity
If you are not currently active, have heart disease, have close relatives with heart disease, or if you have other major health problems, check with your doctor first before taking part in vigorous physical activity.
All physical activity – whether it be playing a game of sport, going to the gym, going for a walk, moving around at work or even doing housework – uses up energy (kilojoules).
Step 5: Keep going with your weight loss plan
Deciding what changes you can make
After you’ve worked out where you think you could make some changes to what you eat and drink, your physical activity levels and sitting time, think about where you will start. Although you might be keen to do it all at once, it’s best to do things gradually.
What you are trying to do may not be easy – you need to change your way of life and that’s going to take some time, so give yourself time. Start with a change you think you can make fairly easily and give yourself a realistic amount of time to achieve it. Once you’ve managed one change, try the next one on your list.
Some examples of changes you might choose are:
• in the next fortnight, I will change to reduced fat milk instead of full cream milk
• I am going to go for a 15 minute walk on two evenings each week for the next month
• I’m going to eat two pieces of fruit each day this week
• rather than use the escalator, I’m going to take the stairs instead
• I’m going to cut my TV viewing to one hour on three days this week.
Review your goal and your changes
It’s important to stop and reflect on how you are going with things. Have you achieved what you set out to do? If so, then give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself. If you haven’t quite achieved what you wanted to, don’t be discouraged. Now is the time to reflect on what you set out to do. Think about if you have:
• tried to do too much too soon – remember, small changes over time are best
• given yourself enough time – maybe you just need another month or two to make it happen
• tried to do something that just isn’t right for you – is there something else that you should try?
Don’t forget to spoil yourself every now and then. Changing your eating patterns, increasing your physical activity levels and losing weight is not that easy. So when you achieve a change, make sure you give yourself some sort of reward. Some examples are:
• buy yourself something that you want, rather than need
• go out to a nice restaurant for dinner
• buy some new clothes
• go on a nice outing with family or friends
• buy yourself a new book to read
• buy your favourite magazine
• get some fresh flowers for your home
• buy a nice pot plant at the market or local nursery
• phone a friend overseas who you haven’t spoken with for a while
• buy some new sporting attire or equipment
• buy a pedometer – a great motivational tool to track your physical activity
• visit a place you enjoy – the beach, a park or a museum
• visit friends
• enjoy a weekend away
Keep going with your changes
Don’t worry if you have a day where you feel that it’s all too hard or you haven’t been able to keep up with your changes. We all have days like that. Just make sure that the changes you’ve set yourself suit you and then keep going with them. Once you are comfortably making the first changes you’ve decided upon, or you’ve reached a particular goal, keep going with those first changes and set yourself some new changes or new goals to achieve.