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Health & Fitness

Health & Fitness


How healthy is your weight?

The usual way of working out if someone is underweight, average, overweight or obese is with something called the ‘body mass index’ (BMI) calculation. You divide your weight in kilograms (kg) twice by your height in metres (m). Our health MOT will do this for you.

Normal weight

If your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 then your weight falls within the normal range. The World Health Organisation reckons that adults should stick within this range and avoid weight gain of more than 5 kg (11 lb). If your BMI is below 18.5 you’re classed as underweight, a BMI of over 25 makes you overweight and a BMI of over 30 makes you officially obese.


The most important issue for people who are underweight or who have difficulty putting on weight is to make sure there is no underlying medical cause such as diabetes or an overactive thyroid gland. See your GP just to rule this possibility out and certainly do this before instigating any of the dietary suggestions given here.

Unless there is a medical reason, being underweight results from insufficient energy intake (food) relative to the amount of energy you are using up. The most effective approach for weight gain is to make permanent changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Firstly, ensure that you are eating enough carbohydrates, which should be your main energy source. The World Health Organisation (WHO), recommends that 55-75 per cent of the total calories consumed per day should come from carbohydrates, preferably wholegrains (brown rice, wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread). Try to eat a wide range of types.

The following strategies may be helpful:

  • Eat regularly Aim to eat regularly and have 5-6 meals each day (2-3 main meals and 2-3 snack-type meals);
  • Carbohydrates A high carbohydrate diet with some protein at each meal is the ideal way to eat;
  • Healthy protein sources Most foods contain some protein but concentrated plant protein sources include nuts, seeds, beans such as chickpeas, soya beans, kidney beans, baked beans and butter beans, lentils and peas;
  • Soya Soya beans and products based on soya beans such as tofu, soya milk, soya yoghurts, soya bean burgers and the like are especially rich sources of protein and are useful additions to the diet;
  • Meal ideas Try pasta, sauce and chickpeas; pitta bread with houmous and sprouted beans/grains; cereals with soya milk; bean pate in sandwiches; risotto with beans, nuts and seeds; soya mince made into shepherds pie etc.

Whilst fruits and vegetables are of course very important components of all diets, veggie diets with too great an emphasis on these foods will tend to be bulky and low in fat. When trying to gain weight this will obviously hamper your efforts! By eating higher-energy foods along with them, you get the benefits of very nutritious meals that will not be so low in calories. Nuts, nut butters (such as almond, cashew nut as well as the more common peanut butter), seeds, good quality oils, tofu, tahini (sesame seed paste), avocado, hummus and soya yoghurts all provide energy-rich foods which can be incorporated into meals – over salads, in shakes, added to soups, stir fries, stews and pasta dishes etc.

For more tips on ensuring that your diet is as balanced as it can possibly be, see the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation’s guide, Nutrition in a Nutshell.


A healthy rate of weight loss is around 1-2 lbs per week – and although some people on fad diets may report losing weight more quickly than that, in the long-term their diets are sadly more likely to fail. Treating weight loss as a race doesn’t work; it only makes us keener to go back to the eating habits that put us in need of losing weight in the first place.

People who have put themselves forward for study in a ‘laboratory bubble’ while they made the switch to a vegetarian diet have shown fantastic results. Their diets more closely matched current dietary recommendations when they became vegetarian, which is great news for health. And even those who didn’t significantly lose weight saw significant reductions in body fat, and going veggie took inches off their waists and hips! And these people weren’t even attempting to lose weight.

If you want to see the most noticeable results, then – besides going veggie – the answer is steering away from too many refined carbohydrates, such as sweets and pastries. These are high in easily digested sugars and starches and (in the case of pastries) are often very high in fat. Foods which are excellent inclusions are fruits, vegetables, beans and wholegrains – and nuts can also be added to the list, as eating a handful every day could actually help you lose weight. Adding extra fruit and vegetables to the diet is an excellent weight loss tactic – an extra three apples or pears every day has been shown to give good results. It is thought to work by making you feel full without adding many extra calories to your diet.

Healthy meal ideas

Try these tips for getting more goodies in your diet:


  • Sprinkle dried or sliced fresh fruit on your cereal;
  • Drink a glass of 100 per cent pure unsweetened fruit juice;
  • Make a delicious creamy smoothie using fresh fruit and soya, rice or oat milk;
  • Try a banana sandwich made with wholemeal/granary bread.


  • Take two pieces of fresh fruit to work with you each day and eat them instead of high calorie snacks;
  • Make little sticks of celery, carrot, asparagus tips or baby sweetcorn and dip them in reduced-fat hummus;
  • Grab individual portions of carrot batons, dried fruit and grapes at the supermarket instead of chocolate or crisps.


  • Add tomatoes, cucumber and mixed salad leaves to your sandwiches – and try different types of wholegrain bread including bagels, pitta and rolls;
  • Toss a selection of fruit, vegetables and salad leaves together, drizzle omega-3 dressing over and eat it with a crusty wholemeal roll;
  • Try different varieties of vegetable soup in colder weather.


  • Always try to include at least one or two vegetables with your evening meal;
  • Up your intake of veg in minutes by making a vegetable stir-fry;
  • Have fresh fruit salad for dessert.


More activity obviously helps with weight control, too. People who exercise the most are the least likely to be obese. Just as importantly, people who are the most physically active gain less weight as they get older than those who are sedentary.

Walking can be a great way of keeping fit and improving your health. There is one big ‘but’ – you need to take 10,000 steps a day. If you notch up this total you are likely to have less body fat and lower blood pressure.

A pedometer is a great motivator and helps you keep score. Clipped to your waistband, it not only counts your steps but can measure the calories you’ve burnt off and the distance you’ve walked.

You can check your level of activity using our Health MOT. If you do have a way to go to reach the 10,000 steps a day target, build up slowly. Aim for an extra 10 per cent or 500-1,000 steps a day. This way you can ease the change into your routine and stick to it.

You could notch up extra steps by:

  • Parking at the far end of the car park when shopping;
  • If you need only a few things from the shop, use your legs instead of the car;
  • Don’t go round the supermarket or shops in a logical order – you’ll be amazed how far you can walk going back and forth;
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator;
  • Get up from your desk at work little and often;
  • Give the dog an extra 5 minutes on his walk – or borrow a neighbour’s dog if you don’t have one!;
  • At work, walk to get your lunch or to find somewhere to eat it;
  • Walk to the corner shop instead of driving;
  • Hop off the tube or bus a stop early.

For more great slimming tips, check out the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation’s V-Plan diet or see our One Week Meal Plan.

Abdominal obesity

Obesity isn’t strictly about too much body weight but too much body fat – to a point that seriously endangers your health. And it isn’t solely about weight or fat, but shape, too. The way that fat is distributed around your body can influence your risk of developing certain diseases.

Those who have the highest risk are people who put on weight around their middle. It has the lovely title of ‘abdominal obesity’ (AO) and is linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and various cancers, including those of the breast, colon and kidneys.

You can work out if you have AO by measuring your waist circumference – place a tape around your waist just above your hipbone and take the measurement immediately after breathing out. A waist circumference of 102 centimetres (cm) (about 40 inches) or more for men, and 88 cm (about 34½ inches) or above for women is defined as AO.

Everyone should try to keep their weight less than half their height.