Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke
Maintain a healthy weight

The body works in a very simple way – the calories we put into our bodies through food and drink are then used by the body to provide the energy we need for everyday life. Everything we do uses calories, even sleeping! But some activities use more calories than others.

If you eat and drink more calories than you use up…you put on weight.

If you use up more calories than you eat and drink…you lose weight.


The secret is to reach a healthy weight and then make changes in your life to keep the two sides of the see–saw balanced.

Reaching a healthy weight is a combination of healthy eating and increasing your physical activity. It’s about 80% what you eat and 20% exercise. You should aim to lose no more than 1–2lbs per week. If you lose more than this, your body will think it is being starved and will start to store fat rather than burn it. So take it slowly!

And don’t forget that losing too much weight and being underweight is dangerous too – it can lead to an irregular heartbeat and can affect your heart muscle which can cause heart failure. 

Why does being overweight lead to ill health?

The heavier you are, the harder your heart has to work to do every day tasks and this leads to high blood pressure. On top of this, the more fat you have in your body, the more fat you are likely to have in your bloodstream, which can lead to high cholesterol. “Bad” (LDL) cholesterol sticks to the inside of the artery and over time the artery thickens.  Narrow arteries are more at risk of becoming blocked or bursting. 

How can we tell if we are a healthy weight or not?

A woman’s waist measurement should not be more than 80cm (about 32 inches) and a man’s waist measurement should not be more than 94cm (37 inches).

How do you measure your waist measurement?  Find a standard tape measure and follow these five simple steps:

            1. Find the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs

            2. Place the tape measure midway between these points

            3. Stand up straight and breathe out naturally

            4. Keep the tape measure snug but not tight around your waist

Tips to help you lose weight

Think of losing weight as a marathon not a sprint. The best way to lose weight is at a rate of 1-2lbs each week. You need to make changes you can stick to in the long term. Be realistic. Remember you probably put on the extra weight over several months or even years, so don’t expect to lose it overnight.

  • Start by looking at what you eat – keep a food diary and be honest.
  • Plan your meals in advance and keep to a meal routine, which will help avoid unplanned meals and snacks.
  • Watch your portion size. The eatwell plate tells you how big a portion size should be.
  • Eat slowly to allow your stomach time to realise it is full. It takes 20 mins for your stomach to register food.
  • Snack on healthy stuff like fruit and veg.
  • Eat foods containing fibre – they’ll keep you fuller for longer, e.g fruit, veg and wholemeal varieties of foods like bread, pasta and rice. 
  • Trim all the visible fat off your food, e.g. the rind on bacon
  • Switch to low fat cheese, yoghurts, and spreads, and try semi–skimmed milk. But watch the sugar content in low fat foods especially low fat yogurts.
  • Look at the labels. Check for hidden fat or sugar in the food you buy.
  • Cut back on sweet sugary drinks.
  • Cut back on alcohol as it contains “empty calories” and stops your body burning fat.
  • Know when you are hungry. If you feel hungry, you might just be thirsty so drink some water, or distract yourself. You’ll feel hungrier watching TV than if you’re busy.
  • Get more active so you are using up more calories as well as eating fewer.