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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.

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Last reviewed: May 2021

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