Being a healthy weight can improve our quality of life as well as helping us to live longer. Maintaining a healthy body weight makes moving around easier, and is kinder to our hearts, muscles and bones. It also lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
However for many New Zealanders maintaining a healthy weight is a struggle. Gradually losing the excess weight and eating a varied, balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and whole grains will help you keep a healthy weight for life.
In simple terms, weight gain happens when we eat and drink more than the amount of energy we use. Consuming too much energy (kilojoules/calories), no matter which foods it come from, leads to weight gain. We use energy up by being active and exercising, so a combination of eating and drinking less and being more active is the ideal combination.
So what is a healthy weight?
BMI (Body Mass Index) has four categories, indicating whether a person is underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. It is calculated using your weight and height measurements. Another method of assessing health is waist measurement, as this is related to the amount of abdominal fat (a risk factor for heart disease) present in the body. A healthy waist measurement should be less than half your height – for children as well as adults.
Learn more about your BMI and waist measurement here. If your calculations suggest you need to lose a large amount of weight to reach a ‘healthy weight’, it may be more useful to set yourself smaller goals, which feel more achievable. Remember, any weight loss is a positive move for both you and your health.
What changes can I make?
The Foundation recommends slow steady weight loss by making small changes to your eating habits - it took a long time for the extra kilograms to be put on, it will take as long (or longer) to lose them. Small changes have been found to be effective in keeping those extra kilograms off in the long term. Aim for a weight loss between 500g -1kg per week. Also keep moving your body – while it is hard to lose weight with extra physical activity there are many other health benefits.
It’s not about avoiding certain foods. Diets encouraging you to cut out a large number of foods, such as low carbohydrate diets, may result in quick weight loss initially but are unlikely to be a long term solution. These types of diets may also be low in fibre, vitamins and minerals, putting you at risk nutritionally.
Build small changes into your everyday habits, rather than trying to change too many foods at once. Try making two changes for the first month, then once you are used to these add another two, and so on. Here are some ideas:
- Eating a healthy breakfast has been shown to help weight loss. Ideas to try are porridge and milk, poached eggs on toast, muesli with yoghurt and fruit. If you are in a hurry, a smoothie or a banana are easy to eat on the go.
- Check that there is no added sugar in your food choices or if added sugar is present that it is minimal
- Swap standard (blue top) milk for either lite (light blue) or trim (green) options.
- Many cheeses are high in fat. Choose lower fat options, such as edam, cottage cheese, and lite cream cheese.
- Change white bread and cereal options for the wholemeal and wholegrain varieties. This helps increase your fibre intake and also leaves you feeling fuller for longer.
- Add fat sparingly. If cooking with oil, use an oil spray or a spoon, rather than pouring from the bottle. Cut down on excess fat by using less high fat spreads - try are hummus or avocado. Mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings have loads of fat, so try the low fat varieties. Trim any visible fat from meat and remove the skin from poultry before eating.
- Watch portion sizes as eating too much leads to weight gain. Eat slowly - it takes 20 minutes before your brain realises you are full, so wait a while before having a second helping.
- Eat less high-fat takeaways and snacks. Limit buying takeaways to once a week. Biscuits, cakes, sweets, chocolate, butter, margarine and crackers all contain a lot of calories and are low in nutrients. One way to stop eating these foods is to take them off the supermarket list. If they are not in the fridge or cupboard then they are not available to eat.
- Make healthy choices easier by preparing food ahead of time and storing in the desk or fridge at home or work. Try yoghurt, a glass of trim milk, small handful of nuts and dried or fresh fruit.
- Including some protein in each meal helps keep you feel fuller for longer. Protein rich foods include meat, chicken, fish, low-fat cheese, eggs, milk, yoghurt, tofu, legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, etc.)
- Eat more fruit and vegetables. They are an importance source of vitamins and minerals and provide a healthy alternative snack to calorie loaded snacks.
- When thirsty drink tap water. Monitor your drinks intake as these can contain excess calories. Drinks don’t make you feel full, so you can drink a lot of sugar and alcohol (= energy) and still feel hungry. Water is the best option for rehydrating the body. To make water more appealing try keeping water chilled in the fridge, and flavour with lemon or lime juice. ’Diet’ drinks or trim milk are also suitable drink options.
- Make your meal (and your shopping trolley) up of the following:
- half different colours of vegetables,
- a quarter carbohydrate e.g. potatoes or rice and
- one quarter a good source of protein such as lean meat or beans or eggs
For a menu plan tailored just for you, visit our eMark website.
Being more active goes hand-in-hand with healthy eating when wanting to lose weight. Be more active in every part of your day – around the house, at school or work as it all adds up. Ideally aim for 60 minutes or more of activity every day. Planned activity helps you be even more active. As your fitness improves, gradually increase the amount. Whatever exercise you choose, it must be fun and enjoyable to keep you motivated.
Here are some ideas:
- Walk or bike to the local shops/school/work rather than always taking the car.
- Try to fit a 20-30 minute brisk walk into your day. Work out a time of day that works for you and make it a part of your daily routine.
- Stand up and if you can walk around while talking on the phone.
- Take the stairs rather than the lift wherever possible.
- Find a buddy to walk or exercise with – help keep each other motivated.
- Group fitness classes – there is something for everyone, from yoga and pilates to aerobics and boxing.
- Dancing – this is a fun way to burn lots of energy. Try rock ‘n roll, salsa, jazz, ballroom or even belly dancing!
- Skipping – which can be done in the privacy of your own home.
- Indoor sports are growing in popularity and include squash, netball, cricket and soccer.
- If you prefer the outdoors, try golf, tramping or orienteering.
- Try activities in water like swimming, aqua-jogging and aqua-aerobics is supportive for ageing, stiff or sore limbs
- Gardening and housework count as physical activity in your day so pull a few weeds or mop those floors.
- Remember, any activity is better than none at all, just keep moving!
Check out your local recreation, leisure centre, gym or sports club or www.sportnz.org.nz for other ideas and activities in your area.
The Green Prescription program is funded by the Ministry of Health to help people become physically active. Talk to your doctor to find out if you are eligible.