Ten strategies to lose weight - backed by new research
30 August 2018
DPhil Health behaviours
Senior Researcher Jamie Hartmann-Boyce writes about the top ten strategies used by dieters to lose weight, uncovered through the Oxford Food and Activity Behaviours Study (OxFAB).
Everybody knows that to lose weight you should eat less and move more. But, of course, it’s not that simple; the combination of today’s environment and human biology can make it really, really hard to shed pounds. To reduce diseases caused by being overweight or obese, society needs to change, but those changes will be slow to come. We need effective weight-loss strategies now.
For anyone trying to lose weight, you’ll know that lots of people have advice on what to do. There are websites, TV shows, books, apps, friends, and friends of friends who will all give different advice. There is also research, but a lot of it is done on people who receive a lot of support to lose weight. This doesn’t necessarily translate to the real world where most people trying to lose weight are doing so on their own.
To shed light on this, our latest study followed hundreds of British adults trying to lose weight on their own. From this research, as well as from reviewing other studies in the area, we identified ten strategies that science suggests may help you lose weight.
Strategies that work
Look up information on how to lose weight from sources you can trust, for example, government resources or sites recommended by your doctor or nurse.
Set yourself food goals for how much you’ll eat each day or each week. This could be in terms of calories, portion sizes or nutritional content.
Set yourself a weight-loss target. Have a goal weight in mind that you are working towards, or a certain amount of weight that you want to lose each week. You might want to write this down somewhere.
Plan your meals in advance to help you make healthy choices.
Keep food that doesn’t fit with your diet out of the house. It’s a lot easier to stick to your food goals when you aren’t being constantly tempted, so keep it out of sight and reach if you can.
Have a strategy for dealing with food cravings. You can’t always avoid being around unhealthy foods, so it’s a good idea to anticipate cravings and have a way to deal with them when they arise. Need some ideas? This could include chewing gum, waiting a certain amount of time to see if the craving passes, distracting yourself by focusing on something else, or being mindful of the craving – acknowledging it, but not acting on it.
Swap one type of food or drink for another if you know it’s healthier for your diet. For example, choose lower fat or lower sugar versions of the food or drinks you’d usually have.
Keep track of what you eat. You can help yourself meet your food goals by measuring the calories, portion sizes or nutritional content of your food. Don’t forget to keep track of your drinks, too.
Weigh yourself regularly. This will help you measure your progress towards your target, but it will also help you to learn about yourself. If you’ve gained weight, or not lost as much as you wanted, don’t be discouraged. Use it as an opportunity to learn more about how food and activity affect your weight. Knowing more about yourself can help you make healthier choices in the future.
Find ways to stay motivated. It’s not always easy to do the things listed above, and it’s important to find ways to keep going when you are flagging. This could involve other people – for example, trying to lose weight at the same time as someone else or telling other people about your weight loss plans. You could also reward yourself when you meet your targets (with something other than food), and keep a note to remind yourself of the reasons you want to lose weight.
This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research (NIHR SPCR and NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care Oxford at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. The views expressed in this research are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health. Jamie Hartmann-Boyce receives funding from the NIHR and also receives funding from the British Heart Foundation.
What to read next
DPhil student Kerstin Frie takes us on a whistle stop tour of weight trackers and compares their features and user reviews.