How to Lose Weight

Our comprehensive guide to what works and what doesn't when it comes to losing weight

Obesity is a big health problem both for individuals and for society as a whole. In fact Australians are gaining weight faster than the rest of the world. So why don't we do something about it?

In short, because losing weight can be hard. Anyone who's ever tried can attest to that.

Simply put, in order to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume. Heard that before? It's true but in real life it's also far more complicated than that.

Instead of counting calories, we've found that using food group units is more effective. By eating a targeted amount of food from all 6 food groups you will not only lose weight but also ensure nutritional balance.

Research shows that a combination of low GI and higher protein meals is the best way to reduce both body weight and feelings of hunger when on a diet. The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet distributes protein evenly across all meals for even greater effect. 

Low GI foods are foods made up of carbohydrates that take longer to digest, like wholegrain bread, natural muesli, oats and Basmati rice. By combining these foods with lean proteins, like beef, chicken, eggs and tofu you’ll feel fuller for longer. Without this combination, chances are you’ll end up hungry again soon after your last meal.

How do I get started losing weight?

There are a few practicalities that will help when you first commit to a weight loss plan, like getting rid of temptations by cleaning out the pantry and fridge, and establishing where you are now and what your goals are.

The most important point is to get started – and right now is as good a time as any. It's easy to put it off because life is busy at the moment, but if you think about it, when is life not busy?

Start by setting small but achievable weight loss goals and be consistent in weighing yourself - or taking body measurements if you prefer that instead.

graphic with a pair of jeans with a measuring tape and text denoting unhealthy waist measurements: more than 80 cm for women and more than 93 cm for men

Changing your daily habits can have a big effect on your waistline as well. It doesn't take much to shop smarter and healthier, learning to cook some quick and healthy meals, and including protein and low GI foods in your meals which will decrease your feelings of hunger.

If you need some simple tips from people who have been successful with the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, our members suggest taking it one day at a time, making exercise a non-negotiable appointment, cooking ahead for busy days and exercising in the morning when nothing else can get in the way.

What if I have lots to lose?

First, drop the 'huge' label, and start thinking about your weight loss in terms of smaller, more achievable goals. 5 percent goals are a great start so if you weigh 100 kg now aim for a loss of 5 kg to begin with.

You'll also need a firm plan. Half-hearted efforts are likely to fail so set a date in the near future to give yourself time to plan. Figure out a schedule that allows time for daily meal preparation and a few exercise sessions every week.

We also recommend you fill in our CSIRO Diet Types assessment as it will tell you some things about your relationship to food which you may not know from before.

What actually happens when I lose weight?

Losing weight is not about stripping down to the bare bones - it's about finding a healthy weight that you're happy with. For some that means being active in sports - for others it simply means reducing the risk of obesity-related illness in the future.

Typical health benefits of losing weight are better sleep and daily mood, increased sex drive and fertility, a decrease in food cravings and a reduction in obesity-related illnesses.

Losing weight means reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, certain cancers and heart disease. 

What if I just cannot lose weight?

If you've tried to lose weight before without success it is completely understandable that you'd be hesitant to try again. Being scared of failing is perfectly normal especially when it comes to a challenge such as weight loss.

Feeling hungry and being time-poor  are common reasons people don't stick to a diet long-term. So finding a plan that is scientifically proven to work, like the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, can give you the confidence you need to try again and succeed this time.

Often if someone doesn't understand why they've failed to lose weight it is because they simply don't know what to do. Without a solid framework in place it is difficult to deal with everyday temptations and all the unhealthy options out there.

If food cravings tend to be your downfall, think about what usually triggers them. Is it stress? Boredom? Lack of sleep? Knowing why cravings strike can help you create strategies for dealing with them – or avoiding them altogether.

Finally, there’s no single approach to weight loss that works for everyone. At the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet we offer different meal and exercise plans that are scientifically tested for maximum body fat loss.

Our Protein Balance plan is a higher protein, low GI plan that distributes protein evenly between all meals to ensure you stay full throughout the day. We also offer a high protein, high fibre Gut Health plan that aims to improve your gut bacteria which again can help you lose weight.

What doesn't work

There is plenty of advice out there that doesn't work or at least isn't very productive long term. For example, fat has been vilified for decades but we now understand that cutting out fat is counterproductive as fats in food are often replaced with sugar.

We've compared a few other diets to the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, like the paleo diet and the 5:2 fasting diet, to see what the benefits and drawbacks of those diets are.

What we found is that many popular diets can help you lose weight but often only for a while. Unsustainable changes to your diet, like cutting out whole food groups, tend to be a short-term fix. What you need is a diet that comes as close as possible to a lifestyle that you can realistically live.

The paleo diet, for example, has similarities with our own CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet in that it focuses on whole foods and a relatively higher intake of protein.

We've also looked at whether detoxing or avoiding sugar, dairy or wheat and gluten can be beneficial to lose weight and found that while these approaches have some positives the drawbacks are simply too many.

Common for all these approaches to losing weight is that they don't offer a complete package. Ditching a whole food group, like dairy for example, means it's easy to lose out on important nutrients - and of course lose out on foods that you love to eat.

graphic showing what foods are being avoided for dietary reasons in Australia: 12.1% avoid wheat and/or gluten, 12% avoid dairy and/or lactose, and 8.6% avoid meat and/or animal products

Eating isn’t just about nutrients. For many it’s also about enjoyment and social occasions - like eating out - so being able to enjoy what you eat is crucial for a long-term healthy relationship to food.

That doesn't mean that, say, we recommend you drink sugary beverages (we don’t!) but it means that total bans on certain foods or even food groups make everyday life that much harder.

Should I get help?

Anyone seeking to lose weight should bring it up with their doctor to see if they have any underlying medical issues that could complicate a weight loss program.

When it comes to closer personal support a Total Wellbeing Health Coach, who are university-trained Accredited Practicing Dietitians, will be able to work around your specific circumstances

The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Premium service offers access to health coaches, who can give personal advice on how you should approach the program.

How do I stay motivated in the long run?

Knowing why you want to lose weight should be your main motivation - and writing them down helps you remember when you're not feeling it any longer.

Keeping track of your progress is also key. Always focus on your long term progress and don't pay too much attention to the day-to-day or week-to-week fluctuations as these can be misleading.

A good example of when people lose their motivation is when winter comes and it gets cooler outside. Typically this means you’re less likely to want to be active and more likely to crave comforting foods. Being prepared for times like these is crucial.

Finally, be kind to yourself when you mess up. Everyone does and that is part of the journey.