If you’ve been advised to reach a certain weight by your GP, read on for our guide to weight loss

Everybody comes in different shapes and sizes and, in our books, every body is beautiful.

There are certain circumstances, however, where a GP may advise you to lose weight for health reasons. Carrying extra weight causes fat to build up around vital organs which can increase the risk of developing health problems such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Or you may have an existing medical condition which could be helped by losing weight.

Ultimately, losing weight should be for health reasons, not because of pressures to look a certain way

A weight loss journey shouldn’t be about crash diets or fitting into the smallest dress size. It should be about safely reaching a healthy weight for your body and needs. Ultimately, losing weight should be for health reasons, not because of pressures to look a certain way.

It’s not just about physical health, either – mental health is just as important. If thoughts about weight, food or exercise are negatively impacting your life, please speak to your GP for further advice.

What is a healthy weight?

There’s no set number on the scales that indicates a healthy weight, it’s different for everyone. BMI (body mass index) is often used as a starting point, though there are some limitations.

What is BMI?

BMI is a measure that takes into account your height and weight to calculate if your weight is healthy. For children and young people, aged 2-18, age and gender is considered, too.

BMI can tell if you’re carrying too much weight, but it can’t tell the difference between excess fat, muscle or bone

For many adults, an ideal BMI is in the 18.5 to 24.9 range, and you may be advised to lose weight for anything over this. However, people of certain ethnicities such as adults of South Asian origin may have a higher risk of some health problems like type 2 diabetes with a BMI of 23 or more.

BMI can tell if you’re carrying too much weight, but it can’t tell the difference between excess fat, muscle or bone. This means that:

• Very muscular adults and athletes may be classed as carrying excess weight even though their body fat is low

• Adults who lose muscle as they get older may fall into the ideal BMI range even though they may be carrying excess fat

Pregnancy will also affect BMI results as your BMI will go up as your weight increases. Therefore, your pre-pregnancy weight should be used when calculating BMI.

The NHS provide a free BMI calculator which can be a helpful way to check your BMI.

Why waist size also matters

Even with a healthy BMI, it’s possible to still have excess fat around your stomach and other organs. This is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Regardless of height or BMI, it’s advised 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

(Measuring waist size for children isn’t routinely recommended because it doesn’t take height into account).

Ways to lose weight

Weight loss is a gradual process – there’s no quick fix. The first place to start is by eating a healthy, balanced diet combined with increased physical activity.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet

Eating well is a fundamental part of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. This means eating a wide variety of healthy foods in the right proportions and consuming the right amount of food and drink each day.

If you have certain dietary requirements, intolerances or a medical condition, you should consult a GP for help with your diet. Otherwise, you may find the following tips helpful when it comes to supporting weight loss by eating healthily:

1. Eat at least five portions of fruit & veg a day

It’s age-old advice for good reason. Fruit and veg are packed with vitamins and minerals, along with being low in calories, low in fat and high in fibre (three things that support weight loss). They should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day and can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.

2. Eat foods that are high in fibre

High-fibre foods include fruit, veg, oats, wholegrain bread, brown rice, brown pasta, beans, peas and lentils. They help keep you feeling fuller for longer, which is ideal when you’re trying to lose weight.

3. Cut down on foods high in saturated fat, sugar & salt

Try to eat foods that contain unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish and avocados rather than saturated fats such as fatty cuts of meat, butter, cream and pies. You should also cut down on sugary food and drinks and aim to eat no more than 6g of salt per day.

4. Eat regular meals

Eating at regular times throughout the day supports your energy levels and may help you resist any temptations to snack on sugary or fatty foods. Aim to get into a consistent routine, and definitely don’t skip out on breakfast – it’s a time to fill up on essential nutrients that can set you up well for the day.

5. Don’t ban foods

Eating healthily doesn’t mean you have to completely cut out your favourite treats. Remember, the golden rule is ‘everything in moderation’. It’s OK to eat treats every now and then as long as it doesn’t mean you’re eating too many calories in a day (more on those later).

6. Don’t stock up on junk food

It’s better to reach for healthier snacks such as a piece of fresh fruit or a handful of nuts if you find yourself getting hungry between meals. To avoid the temptation for unhealthy snacks, don’t keep stocks of junk food (like chocolate, crisps and cakes) around the house.

7. Drink plenty of water & cut down on alcohol

A balanced diet isn’t just about food, it’s about what you drink as well. Water is a cheap and healthy way of staying hydrated as opposed to sugary soft drinks. Sometimes hunger is actually confused with thirst and your body simply needs a glass of water rather than food. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day including water and sugar-free drinks such as tea or coffee if desired. Why not try infusing your water with lemon or mint if the taste of plain water isn’t for you?

Too much alcohol may contribute to weight gain over time, and it may surprise you to know that a standard glass of wine can contain as many calories as a bar of chocolate. If you drink, try to cut down and consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

8. Plan ahead & know how to read labels

Planning your meals and snacks out in advance can help you stay in control of what you’re eating each week. A weekly shopping list can do wonders and it’s also a good idea to read the labels on things you’re buying.

Labels usually include nutritional information such as calories (kcals), sugars and fats, so you can see how much of the daily recommendation they contain. The ‘traffic light’ colour code tells you, at a glance, whether a food or drink is low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) in fat, saturates, sugar or salt.

Understanding calories

The amount of energy we get from food and drink is measured in calories. Many people unknowingly consume too many calories. Generally, an average man needs around 2,500kcal a day to maintain a healthy body weight and an average woman needs 2,000kcal. However, this can vary based on factors like age, size and how much physical activity is done each day.

Calories aren’t bad for us – our bodies need energy each day to survive and thrive. But if you eat and drink more calories than you use up through daily activity and movement, the excess is stored as body fat which can lead to weight gain over time.

When losing weight, more physical activity increases the number of calories your body uses for energy or ‘burns off’

As mentioned before, labels will tell you how many calories are in an item of food and drink. Restaurants are now required by law to include this information on their menu to help you know how many calories you’re consuming. There are also several free apps where you can input everything you eat in a day and they will tell you how many calories this comes to.

When losing weight, more physical activity increases the number of calories your body uses for energy or ‘burns off’. Burning calories through physical activity, combined with reducing the number of calories you eat, creates a ‘calorie deficit’ that results in weight loss. Most weight loss occurs because of decreased caloric intake.

To lose weight at a safe and sustainable rate of 0.5kg to 2kgs (1lb to 4lbs) a week, you should aim to consume no more than:

• 1,900kcal a day for men

• 1,400kcal a day for women

Exercising & getting active

The benefits of exercise can’t be stressed enough. Not only does it help boost your mood, but it’s proven to lower the risk of certain medical conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers.

The government advises adults try to be active every day and do at least 150 minutes of varied physical activity over a week. For exercise to benefit your health it should be a ‘moderate intensity activity’. In other words, you need to be moving quick enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer.

You may find it helpful to join a class or group to meet like-minded people and help you keep up the habit

This doesn’t mean you have to do a gruelling HIIT workout every day or run a 10k every week. It can start with making simple swaps such as walking or cycling instead of using the car and building up from there.

It’s important to build up gradually and find something you enjoy, whether that be swimming, running, zumba or the many other options out there. You may find it helpful to join a class or group to meet like-minded people and help you keep up the habit.

What to do if you’re struggling to lose weight

If you’re struggling to lose weight or keep it off, then a GP or nurse could help. They may:

• Assess your general health

• Help identify the cause of your weight gain

• Work out if there are any health issues causing you to put on weight

• Discuss a plan to help you lose weight that suits you

• Refer you to a local weight loss group or exercise class

Weight loss medicines

If changes to your diet and levels of exercise are not helping you lose weight, then in some cases a GP may prescribe weight loss medicines. This is usually only if your BMI is at least 30, or 28 if you have other risk factors such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.

Weight loss surgery

In cases where medicines don’t work either, then a GP may talk to you about weight loss surgery. This can be effective but comes with health risks and it’s normally only recommended for people with a BMI of at least 40, or 35 if you have a weight-related health condition, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

Boots Online Doctor

Our Boots Online Doctor Weight Loss Treatment service* offers support, advice and may be able to prescribe a weight loss treatment, providing it’s suitable for you. Complete an online consultation and a clinician will assess your suitability. They’ll provide advice and help you make lifestyle changes to manage your weight. If appropriate, they’ll prescribe treatment and they’ll also regularly check in with you after you start treatment to see if you’re on track.

*Access to treatment is subject to a consultation with a clinician to assess suitability and eligibility. Charges apply.