Weight management


Weight management is used to keep the body healthy, according to body type and needs. If you're overweight, losing weight has many health benefits. It is important for everybody to maintain a healthy body weight to reduce the risk of developing serious illness and/or a long-term medical condition.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is particularly important for people with a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Healthy weight management is about implementing lifestyle changes that you can maintain on a long-term basis.


There are many factors that can affect your ability to maintain a healthy weight, including diet, physical activity, sleep, mental health and genetics. Finding a healthy lifestyle that works for you can help prevent long-term illness and chronic disease.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health.

The energy value of food is measured in units called calories. The average physically active man needs about 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight, and the average physically active woman needs about 2,000 calories a day.

This amount of calories may sound high but is easy to underestimate what you are eating. For example, eating a large takeaway hamburger, fries and a milkshake can total 1,500 calories.

If you eat or drink more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight because the energy you do not use is stored as fat. If you eat and drink too little, you'll lose weight. The quantity and types of food in your diet have a strong impact on weight. If you have a diet that is high in fat or sugars, such as fried foods, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, desserts and sugar-sweetened drinks, reducing the amount of these can help in maintaining a healthy weight.

As well as eating a balanced diet, regular physical activity can support healthy weight management, as well as potentially reduce your risk of developing serious health conditions. 

Being overweight or obese can lead to health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke. Being underweight could also affect your health.

In the UK, we are less active than we used to be as technology has made our lives easier and, as a result, we can do more from home.  This is called sedentary behaviour and describes things like watching television, using the car for very short journeys and using a computer.  To stay healthy, the UK Chief Medical Officers' Physical Activity Guidelines, on GOV.UK, state that adults should try to be active everyday and aim to do at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week, through a variety of activities.

The easiest way to get moving is to make activity part of everyday life, like walking or cycling to do an errand instead of driving or using the bus. The more that you can manage safely, the better you should feel. 

Speak to your GP first if you have not exercised for some time, or if you have medical conditions or concerns to make sure your activity and its intensity are appropriate for your fitness.

Signs and symptoms of a mental health condition could include the following:

  • Sadness that doesn’t go away.
  • High and low mood swings.
  • Withdrawing from the people and activities you enjoy.
  • Having low or no energy.
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters.
  • Worries or fears that seem out of proportion.
  • Neglecting your appearance and hygiene.
  • Losing interest in sex.
  • Becoming disorganised or confused.
  • Seeing or hearing things that others can’t.
  • A change in your eating or sleeping habits.
  • Smoking, drinking, or using illicit drugs more than usual.
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others.

The psychological problems associated with being both underweight or overweight can also affect your relationships with family and friends, and may lead to depression. If you notice any of the above mentioned, you should talk to your GP, who can help you find the right support. 

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis or are at risk of harming yourself or others, please call 111, speak to the Samaritans on 116 123, text Shout on 85258 or speak to your GP.

Sleep is key to good physical and mental health. Poor sleep or sleep loss creates a hormone imbalance in which the hormones important for hunger and satiety are disrupted, making us feel hungrier and less full.

When tired, we can also make poorer food choices Our willpower and self-control are reduced, leading us to make less healthy food choices.

There are many health conditions which can impact sleep, and some of them are found more often in individuals who are overweight or obese, including conditions like sleep apnoea, which is when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep. 

Symptoms of sleep apnoea mainly happen while you sleep. They include:

  • Breathing stopping and starting
  • Making gasping, snorting or choking noises
  • Waking up a lot
  • Loud snoring
  • Daytime fatigue

You should see your GP if you think you have any of the symptoms as sleep apnoea must be treated. If someone else has seen you have the symptoms, it can help to bring them with you to the GP.*

As we age, metabolism (how the body processes energy from food) can change. This means that some older adults need to be more active or eat fewer calories to maintain or achieve their healthy weight. Other older adults may lose weight unintentionally. This can happen if you have less of an appetite, difficulty leaving the house to buy food, difficulty chewing or swallowing, or forget to eat. Read more in the section on 'unintentional weight gain or weight loss'.

Sometimes, unintentional weight gain may signify an underlying health condition, such as perimenopause or menopause, underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), polycystic ovary syndrome or Cushing's disease. Weight fluctuations can be caused by certain medications too. If your weight has changed without a known reason, you should talk to your GP.

Unintentional weight loss is when you lose weight without changing your diet or exercise routine. There are many causes which could stem from a stressful life event, like job loss or the death of a loved one. It could also be caused by poor nutrition or a health condition. Some causes of unintentional weight loss include mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, digestion issues such as irritable bowel syndrome or other conditions like overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

Sometimes weight loss can be caused by cancer. It's important to get it checked by your GP if you're losing weight without trying.**

Obesity is usually caused by eating too much and moving too little. Some rare genetic conditions can cause obesity and there is evidence to suggest that certain genetic traits, such as having a large appetite, may make losing weight more difficult. Speak to your GP if you are concerned about your inability to lose or gain weight.

Exercise and being physically active are important for maintaining a healthy weight, but it also plays a key role in wellbeing and mental health. Keeping active throughout the day means spending less time sitting or lying down.

The NHS advise that you should aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity, spread evenly over four to five days or everyday. This is, on average, 30 minutes per day in addition to also doing strengthening activities at least two days a week.

Moderate activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, will raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and feel warmer. Running or aerobic activity can be classed as vigorous intensity activity and will make you breathe hard and fast.

If you have recently had a baby, and want to start exercising after pregnancy, make sure your physical activity choices reflect your activity levels before pregnancy. You should include strength training. After your six to eight week postnatal check, you can start to do more intense activities, if you feel you're able to. Vigorous activity is not recommended if you were inactive before pregnancy.

If you’re very active and losing weight unintentionally, you may need to eat more calories. The right balance of carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients can help fuel your exercise routine and are important in staying energised and keeping your body running at its best.

You should to your GP first if you have not exercised for some time, or if you have medical conditions or concerns.

The key to successful weight management is to eat the right amount of calories for how active you are, so you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use. It's recommended that men have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules) and women have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules).

If you eat or drink more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight because the energy you do not use is stored as fat. If you eat and drink too little, you'll lose weight.

You should also eat a wide range of foods to make sure you're getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs. Some ways to support a healthy diet include:

- Limiting the amount of saturated fat that you consume

  • You need some fat in your diet, but it's important to pay attention to the amount and type of fat you're eating.
  • There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated.
  • Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Saturated fat can be found in products like cakes, biscuits, fatty meat and sausages and hard cheese.

- Limiting the amount of sugar that you consume

  • Sugary foods and drinks are often high in calories, and if consumed too often can contribute to weight gain.
  • Added sugar is often found in many packaged foods, including some breakfast cereals, sugary drinks and cakes.
  • Nearly a quarter of the added sugar in our diets comes from sugary drinks, such as fizzy drinks, sweetened juices, milkshakes and cordials.
  • A can of regular cola contains seven teaspoons of sugar (35g)

- Limiting salt intake

  • Adults, and children over the age of 11, should consume no more than 6g of salt a day.
  • Even if you do not add salt to your meals, much of the salt that you eat is already in the food when you buy it such as pre-packaged soups and sauces.
  • Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure.
  • People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.***

Body mass index (BMI) is often used to check if someone is a healthy weight for their height. For most adults, a BMI between 18.5 kg/m2 and 24.9 kg/m2 are seen as having a healthy weight. A BMI between 25 kg/m2 and 29.9 kg/m2 is generally seen as overweight and a BMI over 30 kg/m2 for most adults is considered obese. The BMI is calculated by dividing an adult's weight in kilograms (kg) by their height in metres squared (m2). For example, A BMI of 25 means 25kg/m2. If you're concerned about your weight, or the weight of someone you care for, speak to a GP

Your waist measurement can be is a good way to check you're not carrying too much fat around your stomach, which can raise your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. To measure your waist:

  • Find the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.
  • Wrap a tape measure around your waist midway between these points.
  • Breathe out naturally before taking the measurement.

Regardless of your height or BMI, you should try to lose weight if your waist is:

  • 94cm (37ins) or more for men
  • 80cm (31.5ins) or more for women

You're at very high risk and should contact a GP if your waist is:

  • 102cm (40ins) or more for men
  • 88cm (34ins) or more for women

BMI is useful for most people, however, it is not always a reliable indication for everyone. For example, a muscular person might have a high BMI result as muscle adds extra weight.

Prioritise self care. In a rushed society with never-ending demands, taking care of your body can quickly fall to the bottom of the priority list. Giving time to care for your emotional and physical needs may help improve your mood and sense of wellbeing, and increase motivation and energy levels. It also supports self-compassion and resilience. Feeling comfortable in your own skin can help you feel more confident, which affects important aspects of your life, such as your work, relationships and lifestyle choices.

When you join a support group, whether in-person or online, you can share tips on diet and exercise, find an exercise buddy, and discuss any obstacles you may have or successes. Support groups can also help nourish your mental health as you face any challenges with your new lifestyle. This could be in the form of local community groups, weight management apps, or even online support forums.

There are also online classes and webinars available, such as the Boots Online Doctor Weight Management Webinar.*

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You can find out if you’re overweight by using your height, weight, age and gender to calculate your BMI. A BMI over 25 kg/m2 is considered overweight and over 30 kg/m2 is considered obese. Keeping your BMI between 19 kg/m2 and 25 kg/m2 will reduce your risk of heart problems, stroke and some kinds of cancer. Check your BMI with the NHS BMI Calculator.

It's very important to take steps to tackle obesity because, as well as causing obvious physical changes, it can lead to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. These include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and bowel cancer
  • Stroke

Obesity can also affect your quality of life and lead to psychological problems, such as depression and low self esteem.

Explore Living Well for a variety of health advice & support to help you lead a healthy lifestyle

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*Reference: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sleep-apnoea/

**Reference: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/unintentional-weight-loss/

***Reference: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/

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Page last reviewed on 16/02/2024

Weight management doesn't have to be a struggle with help from Boots. If you are overweight and looking to lose weight, why not explore our weight tips and advice? You can also learn more about weight management with our handy articles about keeping healthy. Find information, products and services to support healthy weight management and nutrition right here.