The reality is that it is tough to lose a lot of body weight in a short period. Diets that promote fast weight loss and reduction in body fat are usually very restrictive. These diets leave you feeling hungry, grumpy, or sad.
Because of this, fad diets produce short-term results that don’t stand the test of time and ultimately fail. This is usually because they are so difficult to stick to. This is why it is important to move away from the mindset of losing weight quickly and shift towards a mindset of making healthy lifestyle changes that will last, allowing you to keep the weight off in the long term.
There are many ways of losing weight naturally without surgery, diet pills, or starving yourself.
Carbohydrates are a large source of energy for our bodies and provide our cells with food (in the form of glucose). Low-carb diets are a common weight loss tool backed by the rationale that healthy fats and protein make you feel fuller for longer compared with carbs. This reduces the likelihood of snacking and feeling deprived. By increasing protein and healthy fat intake and swapping some carbs for non-starchy vegetables, you may feel fuller while still consuming fewer calories.
The Atkins and Dukan diets, for example, reduce your carb intake and increase your protein and fat intake. We digest both fats and proteins more slowly than carbohydrates, which generally explains why they make us feel fuller for longer.
Reducing carbs can result in losing ‘water weight’. As your body uses up its glycogen stores, it releases water particles bound up in the glycogen, and you may appear to be losing significant amounts of weight very quickly. This can be an encouraging start to a weight loss journey but remember – a reduction in water weight is not the same as a reduction in fat loss!
The more extreme ketogenic diet deprives the body of its primary source of fuel, glucose. This diet, that almost eliminates carbs, focuses primarily on eating fats, around roughly 70% of calories from fat, and moderate to low protein intake. As a result, the body has no choice but to create new metabolic pathways and start burning fat (or more accurately, ketones produced from the breakdown of fats) for energy instead. This is called ketosis.
This may sound ideal, but while a ketogenic diet does burn fat, it is very difficult to follow effectively in the long term, as one slip up will take you out of ketosis.
However, cutting out carbs entirely is not essential to lose weight. A 2-year study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that a restricted calorie Mediterranean diet is equally effective for losing weight and keeping it off long term. A Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish and olive oil.
Unless you are obese, pre-diabetic, or diabetic, where you may be less sensitive to insulin, there is no harm in consuming carbs in moderation! Just make smart choices when you eat them.
Whole grain carbs (e.g. rye bread, brown rice and whole wheat pasta) are higher in fibre than refined carbs (e.g. white bread, white rice and pasta). This helps us feel fuller for longer. Whole grains also provide more vitamins, minerals and health benefits than refined options, which make for a smart choice if you want to add some carbs to a meal.
Studies that follow certain groups of people for a long time report that those who ate more whole grain gained less weight than those who ate more refined carbs. Certain whole grain carbs, like rye bread, also result in a lower spike in blood sugar levels compared with refined carbs, such as white bread, which long-term may prevent type 2 diabetes.
- Increasing protein and healthy fat intake, while swapping carbs for vegetables in some meals, can help you feel full and reduce your overall calorie intake.
- Eliminating carbs completely reduces body fat, but it is hard to maintain and not necessary for weight loss.
- When eating carbs, opt for whole grain versions.
Ultra-processed foods can be defined as industrial formulations that have been made with 5 or more ingredients, for example, biscuits, crisps, cakes, and fizzy drinks. These foods are densely packed with energy and are very ‘moreish’. As a result, they often lead to overeating.
Ultra-processed foods often contain added sugar, salt, and fat which is a slippery slope – the more you have, the more you crave these foods!
This is far from coincidence – the food industry spends millions manufacturing the perfect combo of sugar, salt and fat to maximise the pleasure we experience when eating these foods. This is known as the ‘bliss point’. The joy experienced overrides our internal hunger signals that tell us to stop eating and promotes addiction to ultra-processed foods.
Avoiding these foods will reduce cravings, that often results in consumption, and speed up your weight loss journey. Try swapping processed snacks, such as crisps and biscuits, for un-processed ones, such as unsalted nuts or carrot sticks with hummus.
Ultimately life is for living, and if you can get into the usual habit of avoiding ultra-processed foods, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional treat.
- Ultra-processed foods are designed to be addictive and ‘moreish’.
- Avoiding these can break the cycle and reduce cravings.
- Have a treat on special occasions when you really want one and enjoy it!
A common myth is that fat makes you fat. In line with this myth is the idea that low fat or fat-free products are key to reducing body fat and healthy eating. This is simply not true.
It makes logical sense that when we remove something from a food product, it is replaced by something else to keep the taste and texture appealing. Usually, the replacement for fat, especially in low-fat dairy products, is sugar *GASP*.
It is worth distinguishing intrinsic sugars from free sugars. Intrinsic sugars are naturally present in unprocessed foods, such as fruit, whereas free sugars have been added to foods during manufacturing in products like fizzy drinks.
A thorough review of evidence exploring the link between sugar and disease in humans found that, in the short-term, increasing the amount of free sugars people ate significantly increased blood sugar levels. High blood sugar is a common problem for people with diabetes and can lead to serious health problems if not addressed.
Overall, the aim is to limit your total sugar intake. While intrinsic (natural) sugar is generally eaten in the context of a vitamin and mineral-rich food, overdosing on the stuff will result in similar problems to overdosing on free sugar.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), who assess evidence for public health recommendations, suggest that high sugar intake increases overall calorie intake in people following a regular diet and is linked to weight gain and tooth decay.
While full-fat products provide more energy compared to low-fat, they usually contain less sugar. Plus you will need to eat less of them to feel satisfied and full for longer. This means you’ll be less likely to snack or crave foods sooner than your next meal.
- Low-fat or fat-free options usually contain added (free) sugar.
- Eating too much sugar increases disease risk and weight gain.
- Opt for full-fat rather than low-fat or fat-free options, e.g. yoghurts.
Exercise is not essential to losing weight, but it can provide many health benefits, from heart health to mental health.
In the official review journal for the World Obesity Federation, research suggests that the combination of diet changes with exercise provides significantly more weight loss than dietary changes alone. So, if you are looking to lose weight fast, it might be time to incorporate exercise into your routine!
- Exercise is not a requirement for weight loss, but it certainly helps the process.
At this point, you might be thinking ‘exercise is too hard!’ – but do not fear! Contrary to myths, it is not necessary to engage in a radical exercise regime to burn calories and lose weight fast.
Research suggests that both high intensity, long duration exercise and moderate intensity, moderate duration exercise can lead to significant weight loss.
The key to building an exercise regime is choosing exercises you enjoy, which will keep you motivated. This could be anything from brisk dog walking to circuit training classes at a gym. The more motivated you are, the more you will do the exercise, and the faster you’ll lose weight!
- Don’t be put off by myths that exercise has to be extreme for weight loss.
- Chose an exercise you enjoy!
Provided you have no injuries or health conditions, the fastest way to lose body fat is to do some moderate intensity resistance training.
Resistance can be provided by your body weight, free weights or even gravity. Studies have demonstrated that 40 minutes of moderate resistance training 3 times per week leads to more fat loss than changes in diet alone.
Don’t forget that muscle is denser than fat. If you are engaging in more regular and intensive resistance training and gaining muscle over time, it may be worth measuring body composition as well as weight. You can do this by measuring your waist circumference or requesting a body composition measure from your pharmacy or gym. Make sure you take each body composition measurement at the same time, before eating in the morning, and after the same amount of water.
The dramatic increase in the amount of time we spend sitting means we need to expend energy in as many ways as possible. NEAT stands for ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’ and is the energy we use for any activity that is not sport-like exercise. It can range from walking and gardening to fidgeting and typing.
Research conducted by the Mayo Clinic suggests that NEAT could be a critical aspect of how we control our weight and there is a huge variation in NEAT between individuals. Taking the stairs instead of a lift or getting off the bus a stop early to walk are easy ways of pumping up your NEAT and losing weight long-term.
- Engaging in moderate intensity resistance training promotes weight loss.
- With more regular and intense resistance training, measuring body composition is worthwhile.
- Small changes to your routine can increase your NEAT and burn extra energy each day.
Calorie counting can lead to restriction of certain foods and implies that all calories provide the same value to our bodies, which is not true. For example, 200 calories of nuts and fresh fruit provide much more nourishment for your body and will leave you feeling fuller for longer than 200 calories of biscuits and chocolate.
Here are 2 simple steps to be mindful of how much you are eating without calculating calories:
To ensure you are not overeating and are eating a balanced meal, think about the portion sizes of different foods that make up your plate. A well-balanced plate would include roughly ¼ complex carbs (e.g. sweet potato or brown rice), ¼ protein (e.g. chicken or salmon) and ½ non-starchy vegetables (e.g. broccoli, peppers or carrots).
Lost count of how many biscuits you have eaten? We have all been there, where your mood or emotional state results in overeating and often leaves you feeling worse than before.
Mindfulness can be a handy tool to help overcome this. This involves bringing awareness to our physical signs of hunger or fullness, engaging all of our senses when eating and eating without judgement.
This includes allowing yourself a treat when you really want one but take the time to savour it and eat it free from distractions. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a review revealing that people who eat while distracted, for example watching TV, end up eating more than those who eat distraction free.
Next time you have a meal make an effort to not eat in front of the tv or computer. To practice mindful eating, try setting aside 20 minutes for that meal, chewing your food slowly, and putting down your cutlery every few mouthfuls.
- Calorie counting is not a sustainable or healthy weight loss method.
- Make up your plate with ¼ complex carbs, ¼ protein and ½ non-starchy vegetables.
- Practise mindful eating by eating free of distractions, chewing slowly and putting down your cutlery after a few bites.
The most important thing for weight loss is reducing the overall energy you are taking in, and fasting can help some people achieve this. We as humans love rules and so having a structure may help us lose weight.
Plenty of research has focused on what and how much we should eat, but newer research on when/ how we should avoid eating is gaining momentum. The evidence is mixed, but the three main types of fasting-based diets include:
Time-restricted eating involves eating within an 8-12 hour window of time and fasting for the remaining 12-16 hours of a 24 hour period. For example, only eating between 10 am and 6 pm each day.
The theory is that by switching from standby mode (as our body is between meals) to completely off for an extended period, we allow our body to repair and recover properly.
A leading researcher in the field, Professor Satchin Panda, demonstrated in animal studies that even on an ‘unhealthy diet’, time restricted feeding prevented weight gain and development of type 2 diabetes in mice.
As a relatively easy lifestyle change to make, time restricted feeding has the potential to prevent weight gain and benefit overall health. But further studies are necessary to see if this effect translates from animals to humans.
A popular fasting-based diet is intermittent fasting, AKA the 5:2 diet. This involves restricting your calorie intake by roughly 25-50% of your regular intake and consuming a low-carb, high-protein and high-fat diet for two consecutive days per week.
Dr Michelle Harvie, a scientist who pioneered this diet, argues that this method of restriction is more practical and effective than constant, more modest daily calorie restriction.
Short-term evidence is promising, showing that the 5:2 diet results in weight loss, however, long-term studies are needed to see if this weight loss is maintained over time.
On the more severe end of the fasting-diet spectrum is periodic fasting. This involves calorie restriction for 3 – 5 days a week.
The theory is that your cells use up all the stored glucose and start to burn fat for energy instead (ketogenesis). In particular, the ‘fasting-mimicking’ diet promotes daily calorie restriction to 770 – 1100 for 5 consecutive days per month. This is supposedly long enough to allow cells to enter into a fasting state.
Advocates of this diet claim that 5 days of restriction a month is easier than regular ketogenic (carb free) dieting. Evidence suggests that this method can result in weight loss and reduced BMI after 3 months.
However, strict restriction like this is very hard to keep up long-term, and it is not recommended that you try this without medical supervision.
As with all diets, the best weight loss plan is one that you can stick to and fit into your daily life. Fasting and time restricted eating may have some benefits and help speed up weight loss for some people, but it is indeed not for everyone. The priority is finding a method that is realistic for you long-term.
- New evidence suggests that some forms of fasting may help with weight loss.
- There is not enough research to confirm this.
- Fasting is by no means a requirement for weight loss, it might just help some people reduce overall calorie intake.