Working to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight? These 3 evidence-based tips may help

The Bottom Line

  • Combining diet and exercise is more effective for weight loss than either strategy on its own. Vegetarian diets may increase weight loss.  
  • Low-fat diets, eating more fruits and vegetables, monitoring your heart rate while exercising, and receiving reinforcement through text messages or support groups may help with weight maintenance.   
  • Mindfulness training shows positive effects on decreasing impulsive and binge eating behaviours and increasing physical activity.    
  • Lifestyle counselling programs can improve behaviours around diet and exercise, and decrease weight. Weight loss programs that provide personalized feedback are more effective than those that do not.  
  • Be sure to consult with your health care provider before making changes to your diet or exercise routines. 

Overweight and obesity are global issues. Worldwide, more than 650 million individuals over the age of 18 were living with obesity in 2016 (1;2), and over 1.2 billion adults were classified as overweight (1). These groups represent folks who are at a greater risk of a variety of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and heart disease (1;3). People living with overweight or obesity may also find it more challenging to complete necessary or desired everyday activities (4). These impacts highlight the importance of achieving and/or maintaining a healthy weight. However, making this goal a reality is no easy feat. Click the links below for some tips that that can help you find success.

1. Consider changes to diet and exercise, using strategies that provide encouragement, and self-monitoring

When it comes to losing weight, research paints the picture that in adults who are classified as overweight, making changes to your diet alone is more beneficial than making changes to your exercise routine alone. But the best strategy is one that combines both diet and exercise (5). In terms of dietary patterns, there is some evidence that those who follow vegetarian diets can lose more weight than those who do not (6).

When it comes to maintaining weight, it appears several strategies may assist in holding off weight gain in adults, although no specific strategies can be suggested over others. Overall, diet changes such as following a low-fat diet or eating more fruits and vegetables, along with monitoring your heart rate while exercising and receiving reinforcement through text messages or group support may be beneficial (7).

2. “Live in the moment” with mindfulness training

Mindfulness training is a technique that emphasizes being aware of what you are thinking, feeling, and sensing, and of what is around you (8). Encouraging evidence shows that engaging in mindfulness activities can reduce impulsive eating and binge eating in adults with overweight or obesity. It can also help folks trying to increase their physical activity (9). If you are looking to “dip your toes” into mindfulness, a number of internet-based programs are available (10).

3. Seek support through lifestyle counselling programs

Sticking to changes you have made to your diet and exercise routine can be hard. The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. Research on behavioural lifestyle counselling programs, which often provide participants with in-depth guidance and support, reveals that behaviours around diet and exercise can be improved. What’s more, in adults who have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, positive effects can be seen on a variety of health outcomes, including body weight, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes (11;12).

The importance of an interactive component within lifestyle programs is highlighted through additional research. This research found that online weight loss programs that provide personalized feedback can help overweight and obese adults lose more weight in the short-term than programs that do not offer this type of feedback (13).

If you are considering making changes to your diet or exercise routines, speak with your health care provider before you start. They will help you assess whether these changes are right for you or how to best go about applying them.

It is no secret that the road to achieving or maintaining a healthy weight can sometimes be a bumpy one, and that is okay. This is a long-term journey. Luckily, from diet and exercise to mindfulness training, there are several strategies that show promise in helping you attain results and overcome hurdles along the way.

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  1. World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. [Internet] 2020. [cited June 2020]. Available from
  2. Barrett S, Begg S, O’Halloran P, et al. Integrated motivational interviewing and cognitive behaviour therapy for lifestyle mediators of overweight and obesity in community-dwelling adults: A systematic review and meta-analyses. BMC Public Health. 2018; 18:1160. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-6062-9. 
  3. World Cancer Research Fund International. Body fatness and weight gain and the risk of cancer. [Internet] 2018. [cited June 2020]. Available from
  4. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight & obesity: Adult obesity causes & consequences. [Internet] 2020. [cited June 2020]. Available from
  5. Schwingshackl L, Dias S, Hoffman G. Impact of long-term lifestyle programmes on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors in overweight/obese participants: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Syst Rev. 2014; 3:130.
  6. Huang R, Huang C, Hu F, et al. Vegetarian diets and weight reduction: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Gen Intern Med. 2016; 31(1):109-116. doi: 10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7.
  7. Hutfless S, Gudzune KA, Maruther N, et al. Strategies to prevent weight gain in adults: A systematic review. Am J Prev Med. 2013; 45(6):e41-e51.
  8. Kabat-Zinn J. Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New-York, US: Delta Trade Paperbacks; 1990.
  9. Ruffault A, Czernichow S, Hagger M, et al. The effects of mindfulness training on weight-loss and health-related behaviours in adults with overweight an obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Res Clin Pract. 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.orcp.2016.09.002
  10. Spijkerman MPJ, Pots WTM, Bohlmeijer ET. Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev. 2016; 45:102-114. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.03.009.
  11. Lin JS, O’Connor E, Evans CV, et al. Behavioral counseling to promote a healthy lifestyle in persons with cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review for the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2014; 161:568-578.
  12. Zhang X, Devlin HN, Smith B, et al. Effect of lifestyle interventions on cardiovascular risk factors among adults without impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2017; 12(5):e0176436. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176436.
  13. Sherrington A, Newham JJ, Bell R, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of internet-delivered interventions providing personalized feedback for weight loss in overweight and obese adults. Obes Rev. 2016; 17(6):541-545. doi: 10.1111/obr.12396.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

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