How long does it take to lose weight?
Written by Dr Kieran Seyan
Your body needs food to help it function, and it uses the calories you consume to fuel everything from repairing cells to thinking or moving. But if you consume more calories than your body needs, it stores these extra calories in the muscles, or as fat. Gradually over time, this will cause weight gain.
How long does it take to start losing weight?
In the same way that it takes time to gain weight it also takes time to lose this weight. In order for your body to lose this excess fat, you need to eat fewer calories than your body needs to fuel all of the activities it undertakes on a daily basis. Your body will then start to use the fat it has stored as energy to make up the deficit. But it is also important that you eat enough to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to continue to function well.
What factors affect weight loss?
There are many factors that affect what we eat and how active we are, and these influences will impact on weight loss and how long it takes.
The types of foods we eat, and our lifestyle choices, are largely habitual. We often eat the same types of foods at the same times of the day. Many fad diets only focus on changing our choices and behaviour over a few weeks. However, to make your diet a success healthier choices should become a normal part of everyday life.
Upbringing and cultural background
Often our preferences for food have been influenced by our friends and family. You may have always been encouraged to eat all the food on your plate even if you were full or that as a family you have always had something sweet after a meal as a treat.
Peer pressure and the workplace
It is often usual to have a weekly supply of biscuits or cakes on the seemingly never-ending stream of birthdays. Workplace routine such as eating at our desks or buying snacks from vending machines may also influence what we eat and limit our choices of what we buy, causing us to make unhealthy choices.
Your body is a complex machine that needs a complicated mix of macro and micronutrients. The average female will need 2000 calories and the average male needs 2500 calories a day to maintain weight, but again this will vary depending on height, weight, muscle, genetics, and how active you are. Our body is programmed to stay alive and produces hormones to provide instructions to the body as to what it needs. Stress, pregnancy and illness are all factors which can affect these hormones and in turn, also affect how much and what we need to eat.
Our mental health and wellbeing play a key part in our choices of food and our desire to be more active. If we are feeling upset or tired after a hard day at work, we tend to crave comforting food such as chocolate, crisps or pizzas. Our motivation to cook may be lessened, and we are more inclined to order that take away rather than prepare it fresh.
How food looks, and smells, drives our desire to eat it or not. Some diets or meal replacement programmes can be very limiting and unappealing; hence we are not able to stick to them long-term and resort back to our favourite dishes and treats.
How to lose weight quickly
Make a few healthy changes at a time
Making a few realistic changes at a time will help you change choices that are habitual:
- If you currently have three takeaways a week, cut this down to 2 and then 1
- Try switching your 11am chocolate bar to a healthier sweet snack such as dates filled with nut butter
- Use a smaller plate or bowl yo help reduce your portion sizes
- Measure and weigh food before cooking to stick to suggested serving sizes
- If you feel you want a second helping, wait 20 minutes
- Check food labels for calories and nutritional information
- Aim for 2 or more portions of vegetables at your main meals
Small but regular changes to your diet can make healthier choices become part of everyday life.
The NHS has a Digital Weight Management Programme which is a free 12 week plan that’ll help you develop healthier eating habits, be more active and lose weight.
Get the support of your colleagues
Perhaps swap the weekly stash of biscuits for a fruit basket or bring in some healthier options on birthdays. You’ll probably find your colleagues would like to make some healthier choices too.
Plan your meals
This can help you to overcome emotional decisions when cooking. If you have time, preparing a few meals for the week on a Sunday may help you get organised so that you have some healthy lunches ready to take to work or evening meals ready to heat through after a long day at work.
Get up and move
Many of us spend much of our day inactive, either sitting at a desk at work or sitting in a car commuting. Activity increases the calories we use up as energy rather than storing as fat. So instead of emailing your colleague, go and see them and take the stairs instead of the lift. Adults aged 18-65 years should aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise (makes you breathe harder) and strength training twice per week. Find out what counts in our exercise guide and speak to a health professional before you exercise to find out what is right for you.
Spice up your vegetables
If you were put off vegetables because of the mushy veg you were served as school dinners, try lightly steaming them and then add a few chilli flakes or half a teaspoon of cumin.
What is the best diet for weight loss?
While the media and celebrities often promote diets that claim to achieve rapid weight loss, this weight loss is often not sustainable in the long-term and often is not healthy. Fad diets and celebrity stories often help shape our expectations around the time it takes to achieve weight loss.
But weight loss is never easy, and understanding what your body needs is even harder. So, while there are many diets out there claiming to help you lose weight quickly, the best and safest way to lose weight is with a balanced diet and exercise.
What is a safe rate of weight loss?
Weight loss may seem like hard work and it is, but you are not alone, in the UK 58% of women and 68% of men would benefit from losing weight. A healthy weight loss is 0.5kg to 1kg per week and to achieve this, you only need to eat 500 calories less than your body needs.
How much weight loss is concerning?
If you’re not trying to lose weight and have noticed you’ve lost weight, this is known as unintentional weight loss. Losing weight without changing your diet or how you exercise can be a sign of stress, malnutrition or an underlying health condition.
The NHS states that “weight loss of more than 5% of your weight over 6 to 12 months” could be a cause for concern and you should see your GP as soon as possible.
Get some help
When a healthy balanced diet and exercise regime are not enough, weight loss treatments may help.
Orlistat, the only licensed prescription medicine in the UK, can reduce the amount of fat absorbed into the body by about a quarter. It is only available to people with a BMI of 30 or more on prescription from a registered doctor.
Some people might also be suitable for weight loss injection Saxenda®.
For more information read our guide to weight loss medications.
It may seem like hard work and you may have tried before, but there is a lot of support out there to help you achieve your goals. Make a few changes at a time to achieve long-term results.