According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 67% of Australian adults were either overweight or obese in 2017-2018. In the same year, almost 25% of Australian children aged between five and 17 were also overweight or obese. If you’re overweight, losing weight in a healthy way will bring you a range of health benefits. They key is making lifestyle changes that can become part of your daily routine. You’ll most likely need to make long-term changes to your diet and physical activity levels. If you are overweight or obese and lose as little as 5% of your body weight, a range of other health risks can be significantly reduced.
Checking your weight
Measure your waist
Measuring your waist is one of the more accurate waysto tell if you’re carrying too much fat. There are some limitations to this technique, including if you’re pregnant or if you have a medical condition that causes your stomach to enlarge.
If you’re an adult woman, your risk of disease increases if you have a waist measurement of 80cm or more. Your risk increases greatly if your waist measurement is over 88cm. If you’re an adult man, your risk increases when you reach 94cm, and increases greatly if your waist measurement is 102cm or more.
Healthdirect Australia suggest following these steps to get an accurate waist measurement:
- Place a tape measure directly onto your skin, or over no more than one layer of light clothing.
- Measure halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone (roughly in line with your belly button)
- Breathe out normally, making sure the tape isn’t squeezing your skin, and take the measurement
Work out your body mass index (BMI)
Your body mass index uses both your height and weight to provide an estimate of your total body fat. BMI also has some limitations as it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle. So if you’re an athlete, engage in regular muscle building activities or are a body builder, this measure won’t be appropriate to use.
You can use the BMI Calculator at Healthdirect to work out your body mass index score. You can then see where your score fits in the BMI weight ranges:
- Under 18.5: underweight
- 18.5 – 24.9: healthy weight range
- 25.0 – 29.9: overweight
- 30.0 and above: obese
Checking with a health professional
If you’re unsure if you’re overweight, it’s best to check with a health professional such as your doctor or an accredited practising dietitian.
Understanding fat storage in the body
Our body stores fat when we consume too many kilojoules and don’t do enough physical activity. To a small extent, genetics determine where this fat gets stored in your body. Generally, most of the fat in your body is stored just underneath the skin to provide insulation from the external environment. This is known as subcutaneous fat. This is the fat you’re able to feel when you pinch your skin. It’s also the fat you might be able to see on your arms and legs. Women tend to have more subcutaneous fat than men.
The other type of fat in your body is known as hidden or visceral fat. This is fat that’s stored deep inside your belly, and around organs like your liver and intestines. It’s the fat that tends to make your stomach stick out.
Carrying too much visceral fat is harmful for our health because it increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, liver disease and heart disease. It’s also a sign of metabolic syndrome which is a collection of disorders including high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and insulin resistance. Together these disorders increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Too much visceral fat has also been linked with an increase in risk of cancer, dementia, and osteoarthritis.
How fast should you lose weight?
For healthy adults, the recommend rate of weight loss is 0.5 to 1.0 kg per week.
Making changes to your diet
Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines
Choosing foods from the Australian Dietary Guidelines will help you choose foods that provide the most nutrients without the extra kilojoules.
You should aim to eat foods from the five food groups each day. These are called ‘everyday foods and drinks’
- vegetables and legumes (beans)
- grains and cereals
- lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts seeds
- milk, cheese, yoghurt or alternatives
Steer clear of fad diets
While there’s lots of diets out there claiming to help you lose weight, it’s important to avoid quick-fix diets or fad diets. You should avoid diets that ban or eliminate a specific healthy food or a food group. You should also not follow diets that are not scientifically based or accredited by health professionals. Examples of these include the lemon juice diet and fruitarian diet.
Check your daily energy requirements
Energy requirements depend on your age, gender, and activity levels. They also vary if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. You can try to the Energy Requirements Calculator at the Eat for Health to work out your daily needs. If you’re aiming to lose weight, use your ideal body weight in the calculator. This will give you an idea of how many kilojoules you’ll need to consume each day to reach your target weight.
Following a weight loss plan
CSIRO Australia has a 12 week diet and exercise plan to help you lose weight. The Total Wellbeing Diet promotes safe and sustainable weight loss and helps you learn how to make healthier food choices.
Pre-plan your weekly menu and shopping list
Planning your meals is a very helpful technique when trying to lose weight. It also makes shopping a lot easier. By planning your meals, you’re less likely to buy takeaway food that can be high in added fats and sugars. For more information and sample meal plans, read meal planning at Eat for Health.
Limit processed and sugary foods
It’s a good idea to swap drinks that are high in kilojoules for drinks that are lower in added fat and sugars. You can also swap high added sugar foods to fresh fruit. For more ideas, read healthy food swaps at Healthdirect Australia.
Limit your alcohol intake
Alcohol can cause weight gain in several ways. It stops your body from burning fat, it’s high in kilojoules, and it can make you feel hungry. It can also lead to poor food choices. To find out more, read alcohol and weight gain at the Better Health Channel.
Exercise and physical activity
How much should we be exercising?
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 55% of Australian adults are not meeting the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Guidelines.
The guidelines recommend adults aged 18-64 years are:
- active on most, preferably all days each week
- do between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity each week
- do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.
Exercising for weight loss
For weight loss, and particularly for losing visceral fat, moderate-intensity exercise seems to very helpful. Both aerobic and strength exercise will reduce visceral fat. Exercising can also help to prevent visceral fat from returning. To reduce your visceral fat, you should aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
Tips for getting active
If you’re just starting out with a new exercise program, it’s important that you start out slowly and gradually build up your exercise levels over time.
You should also choose an activity that you enjoy and will look forward to.
It’s also a good idea to set measurable short-term and long-term goals. For example, setting goals of walking an extra 20 minutes each day, rather than just becoming more active. You can read more tips for getting active at Healthdirect Australia.
Where to get help
See a health professional
Your doctor, an accredited practising dietitian, or an exercise physiologist may also be able to help you lose weight.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.