If you find it difficult to lose weight and keep it off, and you want to kick-start a healthy regime that lasts, follow our expert tips to help you stay on track and shed those extra pounds.


Discover what is the best exercise for weight loss, healthy ways to lose excess belly fat and read how much should I weigh?

Woman eating healthy food

Tips for healthy weight loss

1. Identify your 'why' and remind yourself of it regularly

Be clear in your mind about why you want to lose weight and what benefits it will bring you. Defining your ‘why’ and reminding yourself of it regularly helps maintain focus and will motivate you to reach your goals. Try writing it on a sticky note somewhere you'll see on a daily basis, like your bathroom mirror.

2. Have a quantifiable target

To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit – this means you need to be eating less than your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Simply put, your calories in need to be less than your calories out.

If you’re embarking on a fitness and weight loss programme, it’s worth remembering the basic principle of this energy equation and find out roughly what your TDEE is – you can find calculators online. This helps you understand why an extra gym class or forgoing that bag of crisps might help towards your weight loss target.

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3. Beware the compensation effect

Going to the gym but not losing weight? Studies show that people who exercise sometimes cancel out the calories they burn by eating more afterwards. This could be because their appetite increases or they are rewarding themselves for that super-tough gym session.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a protein bar and energy drink after a gym session may actually be undoing all your hard work! Although these products may play a part in recovery nutrition, it's best not to rely on them. Instead use them when time and location limit your access to more nourishing options. While they're useful for convenience, their nutritional profiles vary greatly. Many are highly processed and may contain additives and sweeteners. For this reason, it's important to check labels to ensure the product meets your personal requirements.

Refuelling after exercise is an important component of a fitness plan, but choose your snack wisely. Where possible, eat meals as part of your recovery plan instead of adding extra snacks. This may take a little planning but it’ll be worth it as you reach your weight loss goals.

4. Watch out for sports drinks

Sports drinks contain salts and sugars to replenish what the body has lost through sweating. Their purpose is to bring the levels of electrolytes (minerals) in your blood closer to their normal levels – this helps prevent cramping and dehydration and allows you to continue your workout. However, you only need to use these products if your exercise session is over an hour, or is physically demanding.

Many sports products are packed with carbohydrates, which means they are laden with calories. Unless you need this energy to fuel your activity (such as a long run of over an hour), plain water or zero-calorie electrolyte drinks make a smarter choice.

5. Fuel wisely

Failing to fuel wisely will leave your performance less than optimal, so your session won’t be as effective. Eating to meet your needs is important, not only to optimise your exercise session but also to support your weight loss goals. Going without adequate nutrition leaves you ill-prepared for exercise and more likely to make the wrong food choices when you do eat. It's important to make sure you're getting enough protein and carbohydrate to help you fuel, recover and build muscle.

Meal timing is also important for weight management. Interestingly, studies have shown high calorie breakfasts after an overnight fast may be beneficial for weight loss goals.

6. Activity is not just exercise

Moving more doesn’t mean you need to join a gym. From walking up stairs to gardening, any activity that gets your heart rate going and your muscles moving will have a positive effect. You don’t necessarily need to take up a high-intensity Zumba class to lose weight either. Research shows that moderate exercise, such as walking, can be just as effective for weight loss since it doesn’t trigger the appetite hormones, which may lead to you reaching for the biscuit tin after a hard workout.

Man measuring waist

7. Shun the scales

Keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat, so as you lose body fat and build muscle you may find that the notch on your scales actually creeps up a little. Don't worry though: muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning it increases your calorie burning potential.

What this all means is that you should ditch the scales in favour of alternative measures such as a body composition test, which measures your fat and muscle percentage and makes a better representation of the progress you’re making. You can buy body composition scales for home use, but the more accurate scales are typically found in gyms and fitness centres.

8. Beat that weight loss plateau

While the theory of calories in and calories out can be helpful to kick-start your weight loss, some consider it an oversimplification of the way we use energy. Like most processes in the body, energy use, expenditure and storage are all tightly controlled. This means the body aims to maintain a constant store of energy, so when it detects an energy shortfall it compensates by reducing the energy it uses, effectively slowing your metabolism and causing you to experience a weight loss plateau.

If this sounds familiar, try to incorporate more activity into your day, consider your meal timings, ensure you have an overnight fast and think carefully about your food choices. We have lots of healthy recipes for weight loss you can try.

Woman doing weights workout

9. Vary your workout sessions

Just as you need to follow a balanced and varied diet, your exercise should be balanced and varied too. A common mistake is to focus all your efforts on one form of exercise, such as cardio. Although aerobic exercise is important for keeping your heart strong and managing stress, doing too much cardio, not eating adequately and avoiding strength training may lower your metabolism, which will leave your body thinking it needs to conserve energy.

Shake up your exercise plans with a varied programme including cardio, resistance training (which may include free weights, resistance bands or using your body weight) and flexibility practices, like yoga or pilates.

10. Don’t forget to rest up

Rest days and getting adequate sleep are both important components of a fitness and weight loss plan. Poor sleep will impact your energy and appetite, and may hinder your weight loss.

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If you’re new to exercise, speak to your GP before starting an exercise programme to ensure your chosen activity is appropriate for you.

This article was updated on 22 December 2023 by Kerry Torrens.

Katie Hiscock is a fitness writer with diplomas in personal training and sports massage therapy. With an interest in sports nutrition, antenatal exercise and injury prevention, she works as a therapist for Brighton & Hove Albion.


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