Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Weight loss and dieting

5-minute read

What is a diet?

Many Australians need to lose a few kilos. New diets, programs and books telling on losing weight appear every day, but it is important to follow an eating and exercise plan that you can maintain and will help you stay healthy in the long term.

Nearly 2 in 3 Australians are overweight or obese. Carrying extra weight increases your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. If you are above a healthy weight, losing just a few kilos can lower your risk of health problems.

To lose weight, you need to be physically active and follow a healthy eating plan with only enough nutritious foods and drinks to meet your energy needs.

Your healthy eating plan should include a balanced diet with foods mainly from these 5 healthy food groups:

  • different coloured vegetables
  • fruit
  • whole grains
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • milk, yoghurt and cheese, mostly reduced fat

You should also drink plenty of water, and limit your intake of foods that contain saturated fat, added sugar, added salt and alcohol.

Your exercise plan means you should be physically active on most if not all days of the week. For adults, this means:

  • 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate physical activity per week — such as a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming
  • 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous physical activity per week — such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer or netball

or a combination of both. Make sure you include some muscle-strengthening activities such as push-ups, pull ups, squats or lunges, weights or heavy household tasks.

You can build physical activity into your day, for example, by taking the stairs instead of the lift, or walking or riding rather than driving. It is also important to limit the amount of time you spend sitting.

ARE YOU AT RISK? — Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease? Use the Risk Checker to find out.

More tips for losing weight

  • swap foods high in fat, sugar and salt with foods from one of the 5 healthy food groups
  • cut down on takeaways
  • eat regularly and plan ahead with healthy snacks
  • choose smaller portions
  • eat breakfast
  • enjoy a wide variety of foods
  • eat plenty of fibre to fill you up
  • eat more vegetables

What is a ‘fad’ diet?

A 'fad' diet is an eating plan that often promises rapid weight loss. Fad diets are often advertised through the media and are usually not based on science or do not have a lot of clinical research to back up their claim. Often, fad weight-loss diets want you to cut out entire food groups, which could mean you do not get all the nutrients the body requires.

They should not be confused with vegetarian or vegan diets. These are not weight-loss diets and, with good planning, vegetarians and vegans can get all the nutrients they need.

The risks of fad dieting

It is important to realise that not all diets work and some can also be potentially harmful. Going on a very restrictive fad diet can lead to:

  • slowing of the body's metabolism (how quickly you burn kilojoules), meaning you will put on weight more easily in future
  • constant feelings of hunger, leading to food cravings and an increased appetite
  • rapid weight loss followed by rapid weight gain
  • an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia
  • less muscle tissue and lower bone density
  • headaches, insomnia and fatigue
  • lower body temperature
  • constipation and/or diarrhoea

Most of the weight you lose on a fad diet is water and lean muscle, not fat. That is because when you eat too little, your body breaks down muscle to get enough kilojoules. It is easier for your body to get kilojoules from muscle than from fat.

How to spot a fad diet

Fad diets are very popular in Australia. Common fad diets include those that:

  • promote very fast weight loss (without supervision by a dietitian and/or a doctor)
  • focus on short-term changes to your eating or exercise
  • include pills or preparations

You might lose weight in the short term on a fad diet, but they are difficult to sustain and can cause serious health problems. The best approach to weight loss is to follow a long-term, healthy and balanced eating plan and to exercise regularly.

Resources and support

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Fad diets for kids

Fad diets for kids may include gluten free, paleo, dairy free diets and fasting. Learn more about fad diets and why are they are unhealthy for children.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Weight loss and fad diets - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

How to spot a dodgy weight loss diet - Dietitians Australia

Weight Management How to spot a dodgy weight loss diet How to spot a dodgy weight loss diet A fad weight loss diet is any diet that promises fast weight loss without a scientific basis

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Body image and diets - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

I'm tired all the time, should I try a detox diet? - Dietitians Australia

Healthy Eating I'm tired all the time, should I try a detox diet? I’m tired all the time, should I try a detox diet? Detox diets tend to promise amazing results in a short time

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Diets and Healthy Food Choices | myVMC

Many consumers pick foods depending on the attraction and temptation of the item, but there are many things we should know to help us eat a nutritious and healthy diet.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthy diet for children - MyDr.com.au

The average child's diet now gets over 40% of kilojoules from junk foods and drinks. Find out how to encourage better food choices.

Read more on myDr website

Disordered Eating & Dieting

Disordered eating can include behaviours that reflect many but not all of the symptoms of feeding and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED)

Read more on NEDC - National Eating Disorders Collaboration website

Scurvy returns to Australia due to poor diet - MyDr.com.au

Scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C, has resurfaced in Australia in Western Sydney. Symptoms include swollen bleeding gums and joint pain.

Read more on myDr website

LiveLighter - Low-carb craze: Should we avoid carbohydrates?

We see endless weight loss diets suggesting that we ditch the carbs. These diets claim that cutting carbs will lead to weight loss, but is that the truth? And should we really be avoiding them?

Read more on LiveLighter website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo