This content was reviewed and approved for its accuracy on 28/05/2021 by Professor Frank Joseph


Healthy weight loss 


A healthy loss is what we ideally want to be achieving when going through a weight management program, and that can look different on everybody. Many people get hung up about how much weight they lose per week, but healthy weight loss is actually more about the changes that you make rather than the numbers on the scale. Generally speaking, if you’re making choices and lifestyle changes that can help to contribute towards you becoming healthier, that’s half the battle already won.  


To understand what healthy weight loss is, we need to look at what an unhealthy weight loss might look like so that you can make sure to recognise certain behaviours in case they become a problem.  


What is unhealthy weight loss?  


Unhealthy weight loss can explain a variety of scenarios. For example, if someone who is classed as underweight is trying to lose weight, that would be classed as unhealthy due to the medical issues that it can cause. On the other hand, someone that is overweight could resort to dangerous methods of weight loss out of desperation which can be equally unhealthy. The goal is to avoid any damaging habits and patterns of behaviour in order to reach a healthy weight in a sustainable way. 



Of course, anyone that’s struggled to lose weight will want to see fast results, but it’s important to remember that weight loss takes time, and it isn’t something that should be rushed, despite how eager we are to see the pounds coming away. However, rather than being tempted into trying some dangerous and unhealthy methods of losing weight, try not to lose heart. We should be focusing on progress instead of perfection, and making the right choices is the most important thing, as training yourself to live a healthier lifestyle is more likely to help your physical and mental health in the long run.  


Unhealthy weight loss habits 


Some unhealthy habits for weight loss often involve mental health, as our body image and psychosocial perception of ourselves can be closely linked. For example, it’s common for people to become disheartened when they don’t lose much weight one week, but fluctuations and plateaus are completely normal, and although it’s difficult, you should try to avoid becoming hung up on the scales if you maintain for a week or so – focus on the healthy changes that you’re making for yourself instead!  


Some people turn to restriction to lose weight, which can often look like skipping meals even if you’re hungry, not eating enough food in order to get the nutrients that your body needs, or eating small amounts of food to avoid gaining weight. In severe cases, this can lead to an eating disorder, which can be incredibly difficult to overcome. If you think you might be struggling with an eating disorder, please speak to your GP as soon as possible so that you can get the help that you need.  



Another unhealthy weight loss habit is called purging, which is commonly seen in eating disorders such as binge eating disorder and bulimia. Purging is when you try hard to get rid of the calories that you’ve consumed, either by inducing vomiting, or doing a lot of exercise to try and burn off all of the calories. Whist exercise is a great way to boost your weight loss, it should be done in moderation and in accordance with guidelines. If you genuinely enjoy working out, that’s great! But make sure that you’re getting enough nutrients to account for the excess energy being burnt off. Your body still needs energy to carry out daily functions, so purging can sometimes lead to malnutrition, as well as other health issues. If this sounds familiar to you, we would recommend making an appointment with your GP to discuss the psychological impact that it may be having on you. 


Another unhealthy weight loss habit is using medical therapy for weight management without applying any recommended diet or lifestyle changes. In order to lose weight and keep it off, we need to make healthy and sustainable lifestyle choices – something that should be done alongside taking any medication. It doesn’t matter which treatment you take – all medicines that are available to help with weight loss should be taken alongside a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity. If these changes aren’t implemented, any weight lost whilst on treatment is likely to be regained when you stop taking medication, which can lead to a vicious cycle and yo-yo dieting. 


Liquid diets are another classic method of fast weight loss – often used to fit into clothes before a holiday, or as a crash diet to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time. As you may have guessed, these can be pretty bad for you, and also lead to rapid weight gain. Most liquid diets focus on reduced calories and not eating much – if any- solid food. This means that your body is missing out on some vital nutrients, as humans are meant to eat solid foods. Whilst it can produce fast results, it’s certainly not great for you, and there are much healthier ways of losing weight that are more sustainable in the long term. Many people that follow a liquid diet and then go back to eating solid foods find that they gain a large amount of weight back fairly quickly, as it isn’t a sustainable way to keep weight off. Whilst replacing one meal with a protein shake if you aren’t hungry is a great way of getting some nutrients, it should never be used to replace solid food entirely. We would suggest that instead of heading for the protein shakes, to first try eating smaller portions, but more often throughout the day. 



You should also make sure that you aren’t cutting out entire food groups on your weight management journey (unless you’ve been told otherwise by a specialist). Cutting out entire food groups (such as carbohydrates) is not only really tricky, but often completely unnecessary! Carbs have somehow gained a bad name for themselves, but they’re one of the most nutritious food groups that you could be eating. Most plant-based foods contain carbohydrates, so it’s incredibly important to make sure that you’re eating enough of them. Most of your energy should come from carbohydrates in a regular diet, so cutting them out could lead to muscle wastage as your body starts to use other sources of energy to survive. We would recommend looking at low GI foods if you find that some carbohydrates tend to stall your weight loss – but don’t completely cut them out! 


Finally (although there are many more examples of unhealthy weight loss methods that we could talk about), some people take laxatives as they believe that it helps them to lose weight – it doesn’t. You shouldn’t ever take laxatives unless you’re suffering with constipation. Not only do laxatives not help with weight loss, they can also be incredibly dangerous if they’re misused. Your body gets all of its nutrients from the food that you eat, so taking laxatives could mean that your body isn’t able to absorb everything it needs. It can also lead to dehydration which is incredibly dangerous. There are always things that can be done to help you to lose weight if you’re struggling, so please don’t resort to using medications in a dangerous way. We’re here to help and advise you on your way to becoming a healthier version of you – if you have any concerns, please speak to your prescriber, or make an appointment with your GP to discuss what options might be available for you. 


Healthy weight loss per week 


The NHS recommends that a loss of 1-2lbs a week is optimal, as losing more than this can actually increase your risk of several health problems such as gallstone complications and malnutrition. However, if you’re a fairly large person and you start taking medical treatment to help with your weight loss, it’s not uncommon to lose large amounts of weight at first, particularly if your lifestyle habits have changed dramatically. However, this should even out eventually and you should start to notice a steadier and more gradual loss, which is easier to sustain and keep off than shedding loads of weight in a short amount of time.  


Healthy ways to lose weight 


The only truly healthy way to lose weight is to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as increasing the amount of exercise you do, and choosing leaner, healthier foods for your meals and snacks.  


Sometimes, people may some help to reach their desired weight goals. For example, weight management treatments such as orlistat, Saxenda and semaglutide are sometimes prescribed to people with a BMI of over 30 (or over 27 with a pre-existing weight related condition) if they’ve struggled to lose weight through diet and exercise alone.  


However, it’s important to know that you should still be making these lifestyle changes if you’re taking weight loss medication, as it’s important for long-term maintenance and to avoid yo-yo dieting and dramatic weight fluctuations.  


Unfortuantely, there’s no overnight answer to weight loss  – even bariatric surgery can take weeks to see a difference, so the best thing you can do is focus on eating the right foods in the right quantities, and look at increasing your physical activity. Once you’ve implemented these changes, your weight loss journey should become much easier. 

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