Weight management help and information

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Information & Advice

Weight management help and information

Seeking to lose weight? Read our expert weight loss advice

So, you're looking to make some changes to your body shape?

Perhaps you're seeking to lose weight. Or perhaps you want to build up some muscle? Perhaps you'd like to learn about the factors that help speed up or slow your metabolism. Or maybe you'd just like a healthier lifestyle, in which diet and regular exercise combine to make a new, fitter you.

Did you know?

Crash dieting can slow your metabolic rate, as your body goes into starvation mode when it is deprived of food or fuel. Your body will fight to conserve what little energy it has and may even draw its energy from the lean tissue that burns fat.

No short-cuts to sustainable weight loss

According to Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington, a healthy diet and physical activity are the only effective starting points for weight management - no matter what your goals.

"A lot of people are very aware of the basics about weight management, that you need to eat a healthy diet and exercise, but then - perhaps because of their busy lifestyles - they start to forget about those things," she says. "It's something you have to build into your everyday life. It's not about making a one-off trip to the gym. Evidence suggests exercise plays a key role in weight maintenance. If you exercise regularly, it helps you burn more calories and keep the weight in check."

So how do you start with this new, healthy lifestyle? First of all, it might be good to review your current eating and exercise habits and ask yourself whether they may be affecting your weight.

What makes people gain weight?

"Food is fuel," says Vicky. "It gives us the energy our bodies need to function and move around. We get that energy in the form of calories. These calories come from the fat, alcohol, protein and carbohydrates in our food and drink."

How many calories?

  • Fat is the most concentrated energy source, containing nine calories per gram.
  • Alcohol contains seven calories per gram.
  • Protein and carbohydrates contain around four calories per gram.

"People put on weight when their calorie intake gets out of synch with their calorie output," says Vicky. "It's all a balancing act. If you're taking in more calories than your body needs, you gain weight because the body is designed to store excess calories as fat."

How can I burn more calories?

The more lean tissue - or muscle - you have in your body, the more calories you will burn. The amount of muscle may vary, depending on factors including:

  • Whether you're male or female. Men have a higher amount of lean tissue in their bodies. Women have more body fat.
  • How active you are. Activity helps to build and maintain muscle.
  • How old you are. "There can be some small age-related decline in your lean tissue particularly if you are inactive," says Vicky.

Did you know?

With regular exercise that builds lean tissue, you can increase your metabolic rate.

What is metabolism?

Metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories.

"About 75% of the energy you burn is spent on just keeping your body ticking over and is what's known as your resting metabolic rate," says Vicky.

People talk about having a slow metabolism, but you shouldn't let this become an excuse for failing to manage your weight.

"It's actually rare for somebody to have an extremely slow metabolic rate, unless they have a medical condition like a thyroid problem," says Vicky.

I'm considering losing weight. How should I start?

So what is the best way to lose weight? "Ideally, this should be a two-pronged attack," says Vicky.

  • 1) You reduce your calorie intake.
  • 2) You increase the calories you burn by being as active as you can be in your day-to-day life.

"What you're trying to do is use up the body's existing store of fat," says Vicky. "So don't treat yourself too much!"

Speak to your GP

"If you're seeking to lose more than a few stone or if you have an existing medical condition or if you're not accustomed to exercise, you should speak to your GP first," says Vicky. "Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn't consider dieting."

Can I lose weight without exercising?

"You can lose weight just by cutting calories but you won't lose weight as quickly if you don't combine it with activity," says Vicky. "You need a deficit of 500 calories a day to lose one pound of weight a week which can be very difficult to sustain. If you exercise regularly, it helps you burn more calories and keep your weight in check."

What should I bear in mind if I start an exercise regime?

Vicky suggests:

  • Build more exercise into your day-to-day lifestyle. "All those things like parking your car further away from work, or taking the stairs instead of the lift can help."
  • If you're new to exercise, make sure you've spoken to a qualified coach or you're training with a reputable organisation. If you've joined a gym, don't skip the induction!
  • If you join a club, let them know you're a beginner, if that's the case. Don't let bravado take over and make you think you can do it all straight away.
  • Your body needs fuel to train. Plan to eat something light at least an hour before your exercise so you don't feel dizzy at the start. Remember to stick to the principles of a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Hydration is really important because the body needs fluid to support metabolism. Six to eight glasses of fluids a day is the norm but you may find you need more than that if you are exercising heavily or in hot conditions. Fluids are your cooling-down mechanism. They also help you feel energised. One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling tired, lethargic and fuzzy-headed, so you may want to consider taking a bottle of water with you as you exercise.

I'm seeking to build muscle. What can you suggest?

"Sometimes people think the body needs protein to form muscle. But taking extra protein alone won't build the muscles," says Vicky. "You need to combine weight training (to stimulate the muscles to grow) with a balanced diet. You also need to be taking in more calories than your body needs for maintenance. Think about a balance of carbohydrate for fuel, protein and a little bit of fat."

I find myself craving carbs. What can you suggest?

Carbohydrates - or carbs - are the body's preferred energy source. They are readily broken down into glucose - the sugar in our blood.

  • After carbohydrates, the body will draw its energy from fat.
  • After that, it will draw on protein from our muscles.

"So you want to make sure there are enough carbohydrates and some fat in your diet to protect that muscle," says Vicky. "Your body's energy balance is tightly controlled with peaks and troughs in your energy levels throughout the day."

  • Some carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, release energy slowly.
  • Others, like sugar and chocolate, release energy quickly.

"When your blood sugar is low, you tend to crave a quick-fix carb such as a chocolate bar," says Vicky. "That can work as a quick fix but, in the long term, you need to choose slow-release carbs to keep your energy levels on a more even keel."

Will I benefit from supplements?

"Busy lifestyles mean that people struggle to get all the vitamins and minerals they need on a daily basis," says Vicky. "Perhaps they find themselves rushing to the gym before work or during their lunch break. Therefore it's important to find strategies to help you maintain a balanced diet. That's where supplements can come in and help fill any nutritional gaps. They are a good way of getting quality vitamins into your diet."

You may also wish to consider supplements if you are cutting certain foods out of your diet.

"It may be because you have allergies and have been advised to cut out certain foods or perhaps you're on a diet to lose weight," says Vicky. "Anybody who's cutting out foods should consider a multivitamin that contains the recommended daily allowance of all the key vitamins and minerals."

Will I benefit from weight loss aids?

Many weight loss aids are based on nutritional or herbal ingredients that support weight loss.

"While they're not a magic solution, they can only help support your efforts as long as you keep control of the calories and keep active," says Vicky.

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