Beat the bulge

Is 2014 going to be the year you shift that stubborn half stone? Good for you! Carrying extra weight can put strain on your heart and your joints, and even losing a small amount of excess weight can improve your health.

Is 2014 going to be the year you shift that stubborn half stone? Good for you! Carrying extra weight can put strain on your heart and your joints, and even losing a small amount of excess weight can improve your health. Your practice nurse will be delighted to help. Speak to the practice receptionist about making an appointment - ideally, keep a food diary for a week and take it to the appointment (don't forget to include drinks!). The nurse will be able to help with diet and exercise advice, as well as information on local NHS weight loss groups. Your GP can explain how losing weight will help with any medical conditions you have

To maximise your chances of success:

  • Enlist the help of the whole family, so they don't come home with chocolates or biscuits
  • Aim to lose 1-2lb a week
  • Combine regular exercise with a sensible calorie-controlled diet.

Need more energy - on your bike!

Are you tired all the time? Sometimes there are medical causes, including anaemia, underactive thyroid or diabetes. But often amidst the stresses and strains of modern life, our bodies are trying to tell us to slow down. You might think that exercise will make it worse. In fact, regular exercise has been proved to be one of the most effective treatments for tiredness, because it releases 'feelgood' hormones which boost energy.

You don't need to take up extreme sport to benefit. A brisk daily walk, building up to half an hour, five or six times a week, will help your heart and cut your risk of osteoporosis as well as burning calories.

Weight loss groups

Support groups like Weightwatchers and Slimmers' World can be a great way to get support in your efforts, share top tips and keep up the impetus if you're tempted to give up on your diet. There are hundreds across the country and you could meet new friends too.

Ready-made or made from scratch?

In an ideal world, the smell of home-cooked food would waft from all our kitchens. However, we're all pushed for time sometimes and want an easy option. Make a big batch of healthy vegetable soup and freeze some for another day; add toasted seeds, a poached egg and low-calorie dressing to salad leaves for a quick supper. Many ready meals are high in fat and salt, as well as additives. Ready meals are fine sometimes and help with calorie counting, but choose healthy options like Morrison's NuMe range, which have lower salt, sugar and fat options as well as high fibre or extra vegetables.

What are the benefits?

Losing just 10% of your weight will:

  • Reduce your total cholesterol by 10%
  • Cut your 'bad' LDL cholesterol (which furs up your arteries and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke) by 15%
  • Raise your 'good' HDL cholesterol (which actually protects you against heart attack and stroke)
  • Lower your blood pressure by about 10 mm Hg (about the same as a regular blood pressure lowering tablet)
  • If you have diabetes, it will lower your average fasting blood sugar by 50%.

Fad diets - do they work?

'Lost a stone in a month!' 'Cure your diabetes!' Headlines like these, along with celebrity endorsement in newspapers and magazines, have made them a tempting quick fix for many. But the vast majority are just that - a short-term solution. If you restrict your diet too much, you can end up short of essential vitamins and minerals. You may burn off muscle rather than fat, and feel tired and irritable. Diets like the Atkins diet are often high in saturated fat, which is bad for your heart. What's more, drastic changes to your diet don't help you to learn long-term healthier eating habits. If you 'go on a diet' you're likely to 'come off a diet', and most drastic dieters regain all the weight they've lost and more in a year.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.