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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.

A study published in the Current Sports Medicine Reports in 2005, along with multiple other lines of literature, determined the baseline water intake for sedentary men is 3 litres. This does not take into account physical activity or extreme environments (hot or cold), which can accelerate dehydration (3). For reference, 3 litres per day is 12 250 millilitre glasses of water.

Finally, consider swapping sugary drinks for water or unsweetened tea. Here are some quick ways to freshen up your water:

  • Add fruit to your water

  • Add unsweetened teas

  • Drink unsweetened, naturally flavoured water, like Bubly sparkling water

A row of treadmills in a gym.

Be physically active

Regular physical activity is important for weight loss and overall health. The minimal recommended amount of physical activity per week is 150 minutes (1). One way this can be accomplished is by training five times per week, 30 minutes per day. Now I want to note that this is the minimum dose required to receive the health-related benefits of activity.

To aid in weight loss, exercising upwards of 200-300 minutes per week at roughly 60 minutes per day has been demonstrated to not only aid in reducing weight, but also dramatically improve the chances of being able to keep it off once it's lost (1). This can include moderate-intensity activities, which is where you feel about a 5/10 difficulty, such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing.

Strength training also can further support weight loss efforts. Combining this type of training with aerobic and diet interventions has an additive effect, not to mention the strengthening of muscles, bones and tendons (1). As a minimum, aim to train the full body twice a week, targeting major muscle groups.

A man in athleisure holds a foam block and pretends it's a mic while in a gym.

Manage stress

Stress can have a negative impact on weight loss and overall health. When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone that can promote fat storage and increase appetite. Therefore, it is important to manage stress through activities and positive coping strategies such as:

  • Meditation

  • Yoga

  • Watching your favourite movie

  • Hanging out with friends and family

  • Getting enough sleep

Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial for weight loss and overall health. It has been known for several decades that sleep is a major modulator of hormonal release.

Slow-wave sleep has been identified as the most restorative phase of sleep, releasing anabolic hormones such as growth hormone is released. Sleeping less than 7 hours can disrupt hormones that regulate hunger and metabolism, leading to overeating and weight gain (4).

For example, reduced leptin and increased ghrelin levels, your hunger-regulating hormones, correlate with increases in subjective hunger when individuals are sleep restricted rather than well-rested. With that being said, aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and establish a consistent sleep routine that allows for adequate rest and recovery.

Practice self-compassion

Weight loss can be a challenging journey, and it is important to practice self-compassion throughout the process. Be kind to yourself, celebrate your successes, and forgive yourself for setbacks, while avoiding negative self-talk. Your focus should be on positive affirmations and self-care.

Remember, weight loss is a journey full of ups and downs. Don’t give up. Keep working toward your goal, and with enough time and effort, you will start to see the results you want!

A man in athleisure grabs a loaded barbel as a woman prepared to perform a squat.

Seek professional guidance

If you are currently struggling with weight loss or looking to get started but need some extra support, I have a variety of training options to suit a variety of goals and needs. Shift to Strength provides personalized advice, support, and guidance to help you achieve your goals in a safe and sustainable way. Fill out the form here to book a free call to learn more about how you can achieve your goals.

Sustainable weight loss is a journey

Sustainable weight loss is not a quick fix or a one-time event, but rather a journey that requires commitment and effort. It is important to approach weight loss as a lifestyle change rather than a temporary fix. Gradual changes that are sustainable over time are more likely to lead to success than drastic measures that are difficult to maintain.

Remember, healthy and sustainable weight loss is not just about the number on the scale, but it is about overall health and well-being. Focus on adopting healthy habits that you enjoy and that promote physical and mental health. Celebrate your successes, practice self-compassion, and seek support when needed.

Remember, healthy and sustainable weight loss is not just about the number on the scale, but it is about overall health and well-being.

In conclusion, healthy and sustainable weight loss requires a holistic approach that includes healthy eating habits, physical activity, and lifestyle changes. It is important to set realistic goals, eat a balanced diet, practice portion control, stay hydrated, be physically active, manage stress, get enough sleep, find a support system, practice self-compassion, and seek professional guidance when needed.

Remember, sustainable weight loss is a journey that requires commitment and effort, but it can lead to improved health and well-being.


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  1. Donnelly, J. E., Blair, S. N., Jakicic, J. M., Manore, M. M., Rankin, J. W., & Smith, B. K. (2009). Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(2), 459-471.

  2. Seagle, H. M., Strain, G. W., Makris, A., & Reeves, R. S. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: weight management. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(2), 330-346.

  3. Manore, M. M. (2005). Exercise and the Institute of Medicine recommendations for nutrition. Current sports medicine reports, 4(4), 193-198.

  4. Van Cauter, E., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., & Leproult, R. (2008). Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep medicine, 9, S23-S28.


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