Photographs: Courtesy World Obesity Federation
If you feel like you need to lose weight, it’s only natural that you want to do so as quickly as possible. Losing weight is not easy, and getting started can be hard enough, so who wouldn’t want to skip to the bit when you begin to see results?
However, simply aiming to get as much weight off as quickly as possible is unlikely to be the best way to go about it.
“The faster somebody loses weight, the more dangerous and unstructured a programme is,” said Marvin Burton, head of fitness at Anytime Fitness. “Rapid weight changes are not sustainable and often there is something extreme taking place, such as not eating enough or overtraining.”
Maintaining a healthy weight is something that will benefit you throughout your life, so a sustainable plan is key. We spoke to Burton for more advice on how to go about losing weight and how quickly you should expect to do it.
How fast can you expect to lose weight?
There should be a balance of increasing muscle mass and decreasing bodyweight. In fact, with structured weight-loss programmes, some weeks there should be no change on the scales.
A weekly decrease in body fat of around 0.2-0.5% would be very good. However, your starting weight should be considered. If you are 30-40kg overweight then you could expect larger drops initially, but these should slow down and become controlled otherwise there will also be a fast development of excess skin.
Should you just go in all guns blazing and do 45-minute HIIT workouts five times a week? If not, why not?
This is a common and dangerous mistake to make. High-intensity exercise in the form of jumping or rapid movements shouldn’t even be considered if you are new to exercise. Your muscles, joints and nutrition will struggle to cope right away. You will be increasing your chances of injury with high-impact movements, and you also risk overwhelming your central nervous system prematurely.
For a beginner, fast walking is a good place to start as it is relatively high-intensity and poses less risk. My suggested training method would be resistance training because it burns body fat for longer periods of time, as well as being low-impact and controllable.
Lastly, even many professional athletes don’t exercise five times a week, so don’t feel like you need to! If I had a client training five times a week, their programme would vary in the type of exercise and include recovery sessions.
How often should you train when you’re just starting out trying to lose weight?
The first thing to do is to evaluate the time that you can commit to your weight loss journey. You may need to make a few lifestyle changes that will create more time for exercise. The first and most important thing to do is to get into a better eating, cooking and planning routine. Without these, the exercise will not have as much of an impact.
Four times a week is the most you should exercise and two times a week is the least. However, you also need to do non-exercise activity. Walking a little more, parking further away from shops and taking the stairs can also add up and create a significant change.
Is there any kind of exercise that’s best to do to lose weight, and any that it’s wise to avoid at first?
Resistance training is the best form of exercise to burn body fat. It gives you the fastest and longest-lasting benefits for the time spent. I would suggest starting with larger muscle groups and work on improving your posture and muscles that are commonly weak.
When these muscles are conditioned first, this immediately improves your self-esteem and you will have a better structural balance to your body, decreasing your chance of injury. I would avoid workouts that have no purpose such as “alphabet workouts”, where an exercise is attributed to every letter of the alphabet, or extremely high-volume workouts – for example doing over 20 repetitions of a random combination of movements. I would avoid anything that hasn’t factored in your own personal level of fitness, imbalances, likes or dislikes.
The best advice I can give is to seek out a personal trainer who knows how to assess your wellbeing, give you a structure and help you become accountable to a new lifestyle. For some people this could take a few weeks. Others may need a little help due to lifestyle commitments, illness or medical reasons. Although, these can be overcome with the right support and guidance.
How important is focusing on your diet in tandem with exercise?
Your diet is the most important thing to focus on. For some clients, I often ask them not to go to the gym for two weeks. Then they focus on eating and don’t eat badly as a “reward” for training.
Do you have any tips on how to improve your diet?
Cook more than you need for all meals so you have leftovers. This gives you additional, healthy meals and saves you time.
Get appropriate cooking amenities and organise your kitchen. A slow cooker, plenty of storage containers, an insulated bag to take food with you to work, sharp knives and good pans are all great to have. Arrange your cupboards, fridge and freezer better too. Food preparation should feel easy and enjoyable.
Learn about herbs and spices. These are what give your food flavour and prevent you adding unhealthy sauces.
Vary your food. It’s too easy to repeat the same meals daily which don’t give you the variety in nutrients you need. You could be lacking in areas of your diet and preventing yourself from losing the weight you want to. Expand your knowledge of food and experiment.
Include everybody you live with. If you are the only person in your household trying to eat healthily it will be harder. Create a support network and take a united approach to the experience.
When you’re just starting out trying to lose weight, are there any supplements that could be useful?
For me, supplements are the last things I would consider when putting together a health plan. The definition of the word supplement is “add to”, so you are adding to your existing diet. If you have a poor diet, or have been eating badly for a prolonged period of time, your body will simply not benefit from any supplements. I would advise you to eat healthily and to increase your metabolism via exercise and good hydration, as well as improving your sleep and lowering stress.