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What is healthy, sustainable weight loss?

Overweight and obese individuals make up more than 66% of the North American adult population (1,2). As a result, major health organizations have pushed physical activity and a healthy diet as frontline defence against chronic health issues. Despite increased awareness, the gap between apparently healthy and those experiencing morbidities due to being overweight or obese continues to grow.

Man standing on weight scale.

Losing weight extends far beyond the facts and figures. One can easily search online on how to lose weight — it's not a secret. The problem is most people only account for one piece of the puzzle with weight loss. It's not just about eating less or exercising more, but it requires a holistic approach that includes healthy eating habits, physical activity, lifestyle and behaviour changes. Sustainable weight loss is not about quick fixes, fad diets, or drastic measures, it is a gradual process that leads to long-term success.

In this blog post, we will explore healthy and sustainable weight loss and provide tips and strategies to help you achieve your goals.

Why sustainable weight loss is important

Before we delve into the tips and strategies for healthy and sustainable weight loss, it is essential to understand why it is important.

Healthy, sustainable weight loss reduces health risks associated with chronic diseases and is encouraged by major health agencies. For example, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) encourage a 10% reduction in weight, with a large body of evidence further supporting a 3-5% reduction in weight leads to a reduction in chronic health issues, improve quality of life, increase energy levels, and boost self-confidence (1,2).

However, it's important to note that losing weight too quickly or through unhealthy means can have negative consequences on physical and mental health. Rapid weight loss can lead to muscle loss, nutrient deficiencies, and a slowed metabolism (1,2,3). It can also increase the risk of developing eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on healthy and sustainable weight loss that promotes overall health and well-being.

A man in athleisure performs bicep curls with a zig-zag barbell while in a gym.

Tips for healthy and sustainable weight loss

Set realistic goals

One of the keys to healthy and sustainable weight loss is setting realistic goals. Avoid setting goals that are too extreme or unattainable, as this can lead to frustration and disappointment. Instead, aim for weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week, which is a safe and sustainable rate.

A joint position stand between the American College of Sports Medicine and The American Dietetics Associate defined healthy, sustainable weight loss to be between 1-2 lbs per week based on a variety of referenced papers taking into account:

  1. how successful the plans were,

  2. the effects on the individual's overall physical and mental health, and most importantly

  3. how many people adopted the lifestyle long term, which leads to the ultimate lifestyle change.

I also advise you to find other victories and variables to track on your weight loss journey, as the journey is far more than just losing weight. There are so many other positive factors that occur, and by focusing on non-scale victories, such as improved energy levels, better sleep, and increased strength and endurance, you make that many more positive associations as you move forward in your journey.

Healthy eating plate. Infographic chart with proper nutrition proportions. Food balance tips. Vector illustration isolated on a dark grey background.

Eat a balanced diet

Eating a balanced diet is crucial for healthy and sustainable weight loss. This means consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Avoid fad diets or overly restrictive eating patterns, as they can be difficult to sustain and may not provide all the nutrients your body needs (2).

Practice portion control

Portion control is important for weight loss as it can help you avoid overeating and consuming too many calories. Use smaller plates, measure out serving sizes, and avoid eating directly out of containers.

Also, try to eat slowly and savour each bite, as this can help you feel more satisfied and prevent overeating. If you are wondering what should encompass your plate, Canada's food guide has laid out visual cues for serving sizes as well as what should encompass your plate. In short:

  1. A serving of protein is about the size of your first, or approximately 25g, and should be included with every meal.

  2. Make half your plate colourful with vibrant vegetables. The more variation the better!

  3. One-quarter to one-third of your plate should be whole-grain and fibre-rich carbohydrates.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is essential for weight loss and overall health. Water can help flush toxins from the body, regulate body temperature, and aid in digestion.