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Why weight loss is important
People who are overweight or obese are more at risk of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, sleep apnoea and some forms of cancer. However, reducing weight to the healthy range reduces many of these risks. Even losing a small amount of weight, such as 5% or 10% of your bodyweight, can have significant health benefits.
Maintaining a healthy weight also makes exercise and movement easier. It can improve your quality of life and give you a greater sense of wellbeing.
When weight loss is important
Weight loss is important when your body mass index (BMI) is above the recommended level. To calculate your BMI, divide your bodyweight in kilograms by your height in metres, then divide this number again by your height in metres.
A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is in the healthy range. Weight loss is strongly recommended for people with a BMI of more than 27. A BMI of more than 30 is a serious health concern.
Your waist measurement is also important and should be taken as well as your BMI. Ideally it should be less than 80 cm for women and less than 94 cm for men.
People with a high muscle mass (e.g. body builders) may have a higher BMI but may not be overweight. Waist measurement may be a more accurate measure of body fat in very muscular adults.
How you can achieve weight loss
Our bodies are all different and we eat differently, but the basic rule for healthy weight control is the same: balance the energy of food and drink you consume, to the energy you use in daily activities. The main approach to weight loss is through restriction of kilojoule intake. Getting more physical activity will also help you burn up the food you eat, rather than converting the extra calories to stored fat.
There are many approaches to calorie restricted diets that may provide weight loss results. Current dietary guidelines recommend reducing saturated fat from the diet and increasing unrefined carbohydrates (e.g. grains and vegetables). There is emerging evidence that low-carbohydrate, higher unsaturated fat diets may also be successful for weight loss and may provide other health benefits, such as improvement in chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes. Programs like the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet recommend higher protein, low glycaemic index foods.
See your pharmacist or medical professional
- if the person who is overweight is a child
- if you have a medical condition
- if you take any medicines
- if your weight is making you feel distressed or depressed
- if you feel your eating is out of control
- if you plan to lose more than about 6 kg
- ask your health professional for advice, especially if you are significantly overweight or have other medical problems
- there are many weight loss products available; it is best to discuss all options with your medical professional to find out the best plan for you
- have a realistic target for weight loss
- do not try to lose weight too quickly; aim for no more than 0.5 to 1 kg per week
- weigh yourself once a week or month, not every day
- try to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes lots of physical activity and a well-balanced diet, including plenty of fruit, vegetables, legumes and fibre. Foods that have a low glycaemic index will help you feel fuller for longer
- drink plenty of water
- avoid ‘fad’ diet and try to avoid skipping meals
- reduce your alcohol intake
- choose fresh, seasonal foods from all the food groups
- read food labels
- choose unprocessed foods where possible
- limit saturated fat and reduce fat intake to less than 30% of total kilojoule intake
- limit your intake of sugars
- avoid takeaway food (or only have them occasionally), as these are usually high in fat, sugars and salt
- take every opportunity to move and be active, for example, get rid of the TV remote, park on the far side of the supermarket car park, walk up and down stairs, and get off the bus one stop early
- build up the amount of exercise you do gradually. Try to have at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity on most (if not all) days of the week for weight maintenance. For weight loss, 60 minutes of light to moderate intensity exercise on most days is recommended
- the doses of some medicines may need to be adjusted as you lose weight, such as blood pressure or diabetes medicines
- if you use a diaphragm for contraception it may need to be refitted if you lose weight
Meal replacement products
e.g. Optifast VLCD
- Optifast VLCD (very low calorie diet) is intended for people with a BMI over 30, or for those with a BMI over 27 and with obesity-related medical complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- they can completely or partially replace meals, and include soup, milkshake, bar and dessert products
- you must also drink at least 2 L of water and eat up to 2 cups of low-starch vegetables a day
- people considering this option require close medical supervision and should not use this for longer than 12 weeks
- people should see a health professional twice a month while using Optifast, and people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure need careful monitoring
e.g. ClubOptiSlim weight loss program
- 1 to 3 doses of the ClubOptiSlim Total Fibre Supplement is recommended each day to maintain a healthy digestive system
- you are also recommended to drink a minimum of 1.5 L of fluid a day and have regular physical activity
e.g. Tony Ferguson Weightloss Program, Kate Morgan Weight Loss Program
- generally, these meal replacement products (which are a complete meal) replace 2 meals per day
- supplemental vitamins and minerals are also recommended
Medical therapy for weight loss
- any medication should be combined with a reduced-calorie diet and lifestyle behaviour change, including increased exercise
- regularly review your need for medication with your health professional
e.g. orlistat (Xenical)
- orlistat is available from pharmacists or from your doctor
- it is suitable for people with an initial BMI of 30 or above, or for those with a BMI over 27 with obesity-related medical complications, such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- it works by reducing the fat absorbed from food you eat; it blocks about 30% of fat intake from being absorbed
- it should be used with a well-balanced, low-fat diet and regular exercise
- the dose is 1 capsule taken 3 times a day, either with meals or up to 1 hour afterwards
- a dose should not be taken if there is no fat in the meal
- side effects include an increase in flatulence (wind), abdominal pain and fatty stools
- side effects are usually mild and are more likely at the beginning of treatment, and if you eat too much fat
- supplemental vitamins that contain vitamins A, D, E and K are also recommended
- inform your doctor if you notice any other side effects
- these medicines act in the brain to suppress appetite and are available only from a doctor
- they may be an option for people with a BMI of 30 or more who have not been able to achieve weight reduction on an appropriate weight reduction program
- they may also be suitable for people with a BMI of less than 30 who also have medical conditions such as sleep apnoea, diabetes or a high risk of heart problems
- use of this medicine should be ceased after an appropriate period of treatment if it has not been shown to be effective; discuss this with your health professional
e.g. bupropion + naltrexone (Contrave)
- may suppress appetite and is available only on prescription
- is suitable for people with an initial BMI of 30 or above, or for those with a BMI over 27 with other cardiovascular risk factors
- treatment should be ceased if less than 5% of starting weight is lost after 16 weeks; discuss this with your health professional
- may affect your ability to drive and operate machinery; avoid these activities until you know how the medicine affects you
e.g. liraglutide (Saxenda)
- may aid weight reduction and is available only on prescription
- slows stomach emptying, which slows absorption of sugars and decreases appetite
- it is suitable for people with an initial BMI of 30 or above, or for those with a BMI over 27 with obesity-related medical complications, such as high blood pressure or sleep apnoea
- requires daily injections
- treatment should be ceased if less than 5% of starting weight is lost after 12 weeks; discuss this with your health professional
Availability of medicines
- GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
- PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
- PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.
- PRESCRIPTION ONLY available only with a prescription from your doctor or other health professional.
Last Reviewed: 15/03/2020
1. Australian Medicines Handbook. Obesity. 2020. Accessed 15/03/2020.
2. National Health and Medical Research Council. Clinical Practice Guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity. 2013; https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/clinical-practice-guidelines-management-overweight-and-obesity. Accessed 15/03/2020.
3. NPS Medicinewise. Consumer Medicine Information: Saxenda. 2018; https://www.nps.org.au/medicine-finder/saxenda-solution-for-injection. Accessed 15/03/2020.
4. NPS Medicinewise. Consumer Medicine Information: Contrave. 2020; https://www.nps.org.au/medicine-finder/contrave. Accessed 15/03/2020.
5. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines. 2013; https://eatforhealth.govcms.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/n55_australian_dietary_guidelines.pdf. Accessed 15/03/2020.
6. SP Health Co. Pty Ltd. CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet: About the Diet. 2020; https://www.totalwellbeingdiet.com/au/the-diet/our-diet/about-the-diet/. Accessed 15/03/2020.
7. Tay J, Thompson CH, Luscombe‐Marsh ND, et al. Effects of an energy‐restricted low‐carbohydrate, high unsaturated fat/low saturated fat diet versus a high‐carbohydrate, low‐fat diet in type 2 diabetes: a 2‐year randomized clinical trial. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. 2018;20(4):858-871.