Lose five pounds and spare the NHS £100 million. It almost sounds manageable, doesn’t it? That is what the Health Secretary Matt Hancock would like anyone who is considered overweight to do in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which he described as the “deadly wake-up call” Britain needed to tackle obesity.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Hancock unveiled the Government’s new strategy to slim the nation’s waistlines. The advertising of unhealthy food is to be banned online and before the 9pm watershed on television. Buy one get one free deals on chocolate and crisps will be axed and calorie counts placed on menus.
Meanwhile an army of “weight loss coaches” at GP surgeries will be trained to persuade millions of people to change their diets and reform couch potato lifestyles.
Obesity is estimated to cost the NHS more than £10billion a year because the secondary conditions it fuels – such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer – place immense strain on the healthcare system.
Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Hancock said that if everyone who is overweight lost five lbs, it could save the NHS “over £100million over the next five years”.
“More importantly,” he wrote, “given the link between obesity and coronavirus, losing weight could be life-saving.”
It comes as the Prime Minister opened up about his own battle with Covid-19, and shared his belief that being overweight played a part in the severity of his illness, admitting his hospitalisation was the “wake up call” that he needed to lose weight.
“I’ve wanted to lose weight for ages and like many people I struggle with my weight. I go up and down, but during the whole coronavirus epidemic and when I got it too, I realised how important it is not to be overweight,” he wrote.
Mr Johnson now starts the day by going for a run with his dog, Dilyn. “It’s gentle but getting faster as I get fitter, and I’ve discovered you actually feel more full of energy if you can get your weight down a little bit,” he wrote.
Research suggests being overweight can almost double your risk of dying from coronavirus. Mr Johnson – who revealed last week he had lost more than a stone since coming out of hospital – has admitted he has changed his “libertarian” view on state intervention in people’s diets.
So how should you begin to go about losing five pounds? We ask experts for their top tips on how to approach weight loss.
Commit to overhauling your routine for a month
Personal trainer Matt Roberts suggests making the changes you need to make for a month. “Think of a vision of what you want to look and feel like. Is it to be able to walk upstairs without getting out of breath? Is it to be able to do a mile of walking in the countryside? Or play a round of golf or game of tennis? If the vision of yourself is to look like that person, then, to a degree, suck it up for a month.
“Suck up the fact that it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable, it’s going to test you. Live with it for a month because you become used to it very quickly. Things you thought weren’t possible become very easy. Be bold with it and set some clear targets for what you want to look and feel like in a month’s time.”
Cut down on sugar
Trainer Annie Deadman says it’s a common misconception that fat is the thing to avoid when trying to lose weight. “Sugar is an absolute killer, people think it’s fat and it’s not, it’s sugar.
“Cut down on sugary stuff. Have one portion of starchy carbohydrate a day – oats, potatoes, rice, couscous, that kind of thing. Good carbohydrates.”
The food industry was given targets to cut sugar content in common foods such as breakfast cereals, yoghurts, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream and spreads by a fifth by 2020. But last year’s figures showed a fall of just two per cent, against a first year goal of five per cent, with no changes in the sugar content of chocolates or biscuits, while puddings became even sweeter.
The Government is now threatening “further action” if sugar consumption does not fall, with an extension of taxes to chocolate and other sweet foods not being ruled out.
Deadman says cutting down on snacking is key. “Concentrate on three meals and one snack if you need it, one good snack.”
Lucy Perrow, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetics Association, says drinking more water is also crucial, as is getting your five a day, “cooking more and having fewer takeaways”.
Recognise that what works for others might not work for you
Perrow says it’s important to realise that losing five pounds isn’t simple for all of us. “There are no two people I see that I would treat the same, because it’s such a personal thing.”
She adds that habit changing, and focusing on being healthier long term is more important than speedy, unsustainable weight loss.
“It’s about not just focusing on that 5lbs, it’s about generally getting healthier, “ she says. “We can lose 5lbs very quickly by going carb-free for a week, but it’s a balance between losing weight, getting healthier and maintaining that weight loss.
“It’s about not just losing it but changing habits to maintain that, and living a healthier life.
“Obesity and weight loss is so multifaceted. It’s social, it’s psychological, it’s about your environment, it’s about access. It’s hugely emotional.”
Consider your gut biome
The Government’s new strategy focuses on putting calories front and centre, but Roberts says it isn’t as simple as “calories in, calories out”.
“Yes, get some calories in and get some calories burning, but the most important thing to get right from the start with this is to make sure your gut is able to digest the food that you’re giving it,” he says.
“Take away anything which disturbs the normal biome of the gut, for example anything which is refined sugar based, anything processed, anything carcinogenic (so if you cook with vegetable oils at a high temperature they [may] become carcinogenic and they destroy the way in which your gut exists and works.”
Cut down on your alcohol intake
Roberts says alcohol and caffeine have a similar effect on the gut as refined sugar. “Alcohol and caffeine in high levels do the same thing – you can’t break down the food that you need to then give you the fuel you need to do the exercise so that you can burn more.
“So it becomes not just calories in calories out, you’ve got to think about what you’re consuming so your gut feels good and you aren’t bloated.”
Deadman suggests cutting out alcohol Monday-Wednesday. “Have those days off and make sure you’re doing something at the time that you’d normally have a drink. “You’ve got to go out for a walk and by the time you come back you forget about your glass of wine and it’s time to do Netflix or bathe the kids or whatever it is.”
Do 90 minutes of movement a day
The Government advises people to do 30 minutes of exercise a day. But Roberts says we should aim to be active, even in a very low intensity way, for 90 minutes every day. “We’ve got to start people being active for at least an hour or 90 minutes a day in some form or another,” he says.
“That can be moderate and low intensity. It can be a walk, you just want to be on your feet doing something for 90 minutes a day, not to be confused with exercise which can be just for half an hour at intensity.”
Do a mixture of strength training and cardio
Perrow says high intensity means something different to all of us. “Some people will be doing HIIT sessions every day, some people will hardly move off the sofa. But really you should be getting out and doing five x 30 minutes a week.
“You could do five x 30 minutes of good walking where you’re puffing, and you should be doing some strength training which helps you build up your muscle, which then really helps you burn fat while you’re sitting not doing very much. If your muscles are dense it helps to get your metabolic rate up.”
Roberts says that unless you have a health condition that prevents it (like high blood pressure) we shouldn’t be afraid to push ourselves.
“We’re designed to be pushed, so unless you have a distinct high blood pressure issue, you should be doing some heavy loading like some squats with some weights in your hands.” Roberts suggests going sets of 10-12 reps “where the 10th, 11th, 12th reps feel quite testing”.