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Healthy ways to lose weight safely

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

You have a wedding to go to and you’re worried you won’t be able to squeeze into a favourite outfit. The summer holidays are looming; you’d love to wear a bikini but you’re worried about exposing a bulging midriff. There’s a black tie evening after work but your dinner suit doesn’t fit anymore. Sound familiar? With so many other pressures on your time it can be tempting to try to lose some weight quickly - even if it’s only to impress your family and friends or make yourself feel more confident.

What's wrong with shedding a few pounds as quickly as possible?

The tactic is not without its pitfalls. The British Dietetic Association carried out a survey in 2004. A third of people quizzed said they had ended up heavier than before they went on a diet. The BDA says that is probably because fad diets are so popular these days.

How do I spot a fad diet or a crash diet?

If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Be wary of diets that insist on avoiding whole groups of foods. Diets that tell you to eat only specific foods (like cabbage) are another sign of a fad diet. Be sceptical about claims that certain foods (such as grapefruit) have magical fat-burning qualities. You should also be careful about any diet that focuses on how good you will look rather than on how much more healthy you will be.

What’s the best way to lose weight?

You can safely lose over 2lbs (1.3 kilos) a week at home with a healthy diet and lots of exercise, says dietician and weight loss counsellor Katherine Tallmadge.

In fact, having a goal like looking good at a wedding or reunion can be a great motivator, as long as you follow a weight loss plan that you can keep up after the special event. However, you need to plan ahead and allow enough time to make changes to your shape.

Losing weight is a simple concept: you need to burn more calories than you eat. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends a sensible weight loss of 1-2 lbs (approximately 0.5-1.0 kg) a week. This could mean cutting energy intake by about 500-1000 kcals a day. However, the actual reduction will depend on how much weight needs to be lost, how active the person is and whether they are male or female.

If you want to lose weight faster, you'll need to eat less and exercise more. Essentially, you need to eat no more than 1,050 to 1,200 calories per day (for important health reasons calorie intake should not be lower than this) and take one hour of exercise a day. On this type of plan, you can expect to lose 2-4 lbs (1.3-2.25 kg) in the first week, or more if you weigh over 18 stone (114 kg).

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