The Independent Pharmacy

Safe Weight Loss Guide

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 4 Jul 2023

If you’re looking to lose weight, the key to success is to make realistic changes to your diet and levels of physical activity. The safest way to lose weight is to adopt long-term lifestyle changes that will result in a steady rate of weight loss.

Many people look for quick fixes, but that can quite often lead them down the wrong path to healthy sustainable weight loss.

Here we dispel common myths of weight loss and offer advice on how people can lose weight safely and in a healthy way.

Weight loss myths

There’s so much information out there about losing weight that it can sometimes be hard to separate fact from fiction. Below are 10 common myths about weight loss.

1. Healthy foods are more expensive

It may seem like healthy food is a pricey option. However, healthier choices such as fresh vegetables - although require more prep than convenience meals - rarely come in single serving portions meaning you can cook more than you need and prepare meals in bulk.

This gives you more pre-prepared meals to eat throughout the week, as well as making your ingredients stretch further, bringing down the overall costs.

2. Carbs cause you to put on weight

While eating the right amount of carbs as part of a healthy balanced diet will not on its own lead to weight gain, eating more carbs than you need will likely lead to weight gain.

Carbs are used for energy and complex carbohydrates (carbohydrates from whole wheats or wholegrains) can make you feel fuller for longer, aiding weight loss. The problem is the choice of carbohydrates and the amounts people consume, not necessarily the carbohydrates themselves.

3. Drastic exercise plans are the only way to lose weight

Successful weight loss involves making small lifestyle changes that can be stuck to in the long-term, specifically changing your eating habits.

Exercise plans can help you lose weight and are certainly recommended as they make you fitter and healthier. But weight gains boils down to consuming more calories than you expend and there’s only so many calories you can burn through exercise.

Consuming fewer calories is actually far easier than drastically exercising to burn them off. To put it into context a single Mars bar contains 229 calories. A Harvard Medical study found that an 11 stone person would need to jog at 4.5 mph for around 50 minutes to burn 300 calories.

An average McDonalds meal, however, has around 1200 calories. So exercising to reduce your calorie deficit without reducing your calorie intake is unlikely to yield the results you’re after.

4. Starving yourself is the best way to lose weight

Crash diets rarely result in long-term weight loss. In many cases, they can actually lead to long-term weight gain. Not to mention your body will be missing out on all the essential nutrients that allow it to function properly.

5. Certain foods can speed up your metabolism

Human metabolism is a chemical process that occurs continuously inside your body. This process requires energy, and the amount of energy required varies from person to person. This is dependent on age, gender, body size and genetics.

Some foods claim they can increase your metabolism by helping your body to burn more calories, which leads to further weight loss.

However, there is little evidence to support these claims. It is important to be wary of these products, as they often contain high levels of sugar and caffeine.

6. All slimming pills are safe and effective for weight loss

Not all diet pills are safe or effective means of losing weight. Some unlicensed weight loss products may contain ingredients that are actually harmful to your health. You should always consult a healthcare professional before taking any new medicines. Read our guide here on dangerous diet pills.

7. Cutting out all snacks will help you lose weight

Snacking isn't always the problem; it's the type of snack you choose. Choosing fruit and vegetables rather than crisps and chocolate will keep your energy levels high without piling on any extra pounds.

8. Drinking water will help you lose weight

Water doesn't cause weight loss. However, staying hydrated will help you to snack less, as thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger meaning water can act as a natural appetite suppressant.

9. Foods labelled 'low fat' are always a healthy option

Always be cautious of foods labelled 'low or reduced fat'. For food to legally use the 'low fat' label, it needs to contain no more than a specific amount of fat. This doesn't automatically make it a healthy choice, as many low-fat foods contain high amounts of sugar or salt.

10. Skipping meals is a good way to diet

Skipping meals is a bad idea. To successfully lose weight you need to reduce your calorie intake and increase the number of calories you burn through exercise. Skipping meals altogether will likely result in tiredness and it could mean your body is missing out on essential nutrients. It will also make you more likely to snack on high-fat/sugary foods.

Sustainable weight loss

When you start trying to lose weight, it's tempting to want results as quickly as possible. So many diets promise you quick results — fasting diets, the ketogenic diet, 3-day diets, cabbage soup diets, and high protein diets are just some of the extreme examples. However, are these really the best diets for sustainable weight loss?

The quickest way to lose weight isn't necessarily the safest or healthiest. Fad diets and drastic exercise regimes are unlikely to produce long-term results. If you are looking to lose and maintain a healthy weight, then sustainable lifestyle choices are your key to success. Here are some great tips on how to diet safely.

Below are some diet and weight loss tips that will help you on your journey to a slimmer you.

Exercise is key to healthy weight loss

Start today

There’s no time like the present to begin your weight loss journey. Below are a few helpful suggestions to kick-start the new slimmer you:

  • Try to make time for a healthy breakfast, such as muesli, porridge or wholemeal toast.
  • Substitute your next snack for a healthier alternative, such as a piece of fruit.
  • Find an opportunity for an extra walk today, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
  • Substitute that sugary drink for something containing fewer calories, such as water or green tea.

Make weekly weight loss goals

Going forward, planning your weekly schedule to accommodate extra activities and healthier choices will help encourage long-term lifestyle changes.

  • Plan a healthy weekly shop – sticking to a healthy diet plan doesn't have to break the bank. Also, try not to shop if you feel hungry as this can influence your buying choices in a negative way.
  • Try adding additional activities to your weekly schedule, even if it’s just taking the stairs, or walking to work once in a while.

Tips for staying motivated

We all know that staying motivated can be hard, especially in the long term. Below are some helpful tips that will help you stay on course:

  • Keep a photo diary – recording your measurements, goals and feelings is a great way to stay motivated as you watch the inches vanish.
  • Visualise your target weight – imagining the new slimmer you will help you stay focused.
  • Set yourself small, gradual goals – setting interim goals along the way will break up your long journey, helping you to stay motivated.
  • Get sponsored – sign up for a 5k run and ask people to sponsor you. Knowing you need to get fit to run the race is a great way to stay on track.
  • Download a fitness app for your smartphone - there are lots of fitness apps out there today, ranging from diet planners to fitness trackers. Keeping track of your diet and fitness levels is a great way to stay motivated. Try and get some friends involved with some of the fitness challenges many of these apps feature - a little competition is a good motivator.

A healthy diet is another important factor in losing weight

Weight loss shakes and smoothies

So are weight loss shakes or slimming smoothies any good for you? Meal replacement shakes can help you keep tighter control of the calories you consume. However, diet shakes of any kind will not result in weight loss....unless the calories being consumed are outweighed by the calories being burnt.

It is important to stay vigilant as some fruit smoothies can be packed with sugar, which is a recipe for weight gain, not weight loss! If opting for weight loss shakes and smoothies, it is important to choose the right ones and to incorporate them safely and effectively into a balanced nutritious diet.

Certain medication can be used to aid weight loss - make sure it is prescribed by a doctor

Weight loss tablets – are they safe?

The best way to lose weight is through a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. However, if diet and lifestyle changes aren't resulting in a significant amount of weight loss, there are supplemental medicines available designed to safely support your weight loss plans.

There are lots of diet pills and fat-burning tablets available on the market. However, very few are clinically proven to work. The only medicine that is proven to be safe and effective is Orlistat (also sold as Alli).

Orlistat 120mg Capsules
Orlistat 120mg Capsules
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Orlistat works by blocking the absorption of dietary fats. When combined with diet and exercise, Orlistat helps boost weight loss. The capsule can be taken up to three times a day with or after meals.

However, if you skip a meal or if the food you are eating contains no fat, you should not take an Orlistat capsule as there will be no fat to absorb. To qualify to use this treatment, your body mass index (BMI) will need to be 28 or above. To calculate your BMI, click here.

Before deciding to take Orlistat, you should always speak with your doctor or pharmacist first. This helps ensure the medicine is safe and suitable for you.

Weight loss surgery

Weight loss surgery can sometimes be used to treat people who are very obese. The procedure is available on the NHS provided you meet certain criteria. These include:

  • Having a BMI of 40 or more (35+ for those with obesity-related conditions, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes)
  • You’ve attempted to lose weight using other methods, such as dieting and exercise
  • You have agreed to a long-term follow-up plan post surgery - this will include making lifestyle changes and attending regular check-ups

Weight loss surgery is a major procedure and should only be considered in cases where diet, exercise and medication have failed. If you think weight loss surgery may be right for you, speak with your GP who can refer you for an assessment to check whether the procedure is a suitable option.

Sustainable weight loss should not be rushed. Crash diets and extreme short-term exercise regimes will unlikely result in long-term results. Losing weight should be viewed as a steady process that involves healthier lifestyle choices.

There are several tips, techniques and products available that will help support you in your journey. Hopefully, this article has helped to highlight those techniques that work for you and which products and methods should be avoided. Weight loss journeys vary from person to person. Finding a safe, sustainable combination of what works for you will be your key to success.

For more information, here are 6 non-surgical weight loss treatments to try.

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