Treatment - Lifestyle - Obesity

Treatments for obesity include:

  • lifestyle changes, including eating well, being active and sleeping well
  • managing other health conditions you may have
  • looking after your mental health
  • medicines
  • surgery

Lifestyle changes can help you to:

  • manage your weight
  • improve your quality of life
  • reduce your risk of weight-related health problems

Making lifestyle changes

It's normal if you find it hard to change your habits and routines.

It can help to:

  • plan what changes you will make
  • keep a diary of your habits - for example your sleep, mood, eating habits
  • set goals - make 2 or 3 small changes at a time

Get good quality sleep

Sleep is important for your health and your weight. Not sleeping well impacts your metabolism and hunger levels.

You're more likely to eat higher energy foods and be less active when you sleep badly.

Tips for better quality sleep:

  • Routine - try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
  • Daylight - getting daylight can help you sleep at night.
  • Smartphones, computers and TVs - do not look at screens for a few hours before going to bed.
  • Food and exercise at night - avoid eating large meals 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Physical activity - being physically active during the day may help you sleep better at night.
  • Caffeine - avoid caffeine in the evenings.
  • Drink less alcohol - taking a break from or cutting down on alcohol can help improve your sleep quality.

How sleep can affect your weight

Eating well

Eating well means that you focus on:

Changing your eating habits can be hard. Keep a note of your eating and drinking habits. This can help you see where you can make changes.

Your GP may refer you to a dietitian. They can support you to eat better.

Learn more about healthy eating

Eat at regular intervals

Eating regularly and spreading your meals and snacks across the day can help you manage obesity.

This is because:

  • you're getting enough calories over the day to keep your energy levels steady
  • it reduces your chance of getting hungry late in the day
  • you're more likely get the nutrients that you need for your health

It may help to eat something every 3 to 5 hours during the day. But you may prefer to eat more or less often than that.

Find an eating routine that works best for you.

Eating nutritious foods

Eat a variety of foods from each of the different food groups every day. This helps you to get all the nutrients your body needs.

Healthy eating includes:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • fish, meat, poultry, eggs, beans and other vegetarian sources of protein
  • high fibre or wholegrain starchy foods, including bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes with the skin on
  • dairy foods for calcium and Vitamin D
  • foods that contain unsaturated fats, such as olive oil or rapeseed oil
  • water 

Avoid fad diets

Talk to your GP to figure out the best approach for you.

A fad diet is a plan that promises fast weight loss, but in an unhealthy way.

Losing weight very fast can affect your metabolism and cause you to regain weight again in the future.

Being physically active

You may be told to be more active as part of your treatment for obesity.

Physical activity can:

  • help you lose weight and stop you gaining weight - it works alongside a healthy diet
  • improve your fitness and strength
  • improve your mood
  • reduce anxiety and stress
  • lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers

Physical activity doesn’t have to be hard or take a long time. Aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity, 5 days a week.

Set realistic goals and record your activity each day. This can help you see what works best for you.

Fitness for your lifestyle

Find a local sports club - sportireland.ie

Getting started

Talk to your GP if you are worried about becoming more active due to:

  • an existing medical condition
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • joint pain

You could:

  • start slowly and build up your activity level
  • pick an activity you enjoy
  • ask a friend to join you
  • play games with your children (if you have them) that involve you being active
  • exercise at the same time each day - this will help you to form a habit
  • set a reminder on your phone or leave comfortable shoes by the door so you don't forget
  • sign up for a charity walk or a fun run
  • reward yourself for meeting goals with something you enjoy doing

Getting more active

Get more active by increasing:

  • the number of days you do exercise
  • the amount of time you exercise for each day

You could join an exercise group or class, or learn how to use hand weights at home.

If you are already active for 30 minutes a day, then you could build to being active for 60 minutes a day.

Sit less

Sitting less can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Try to break up long periods of time spent sitting, for example when you're watching TV or using your computer.

Get up every 30 minutes and stand or walk for 2 to 3 minutes.

Strengthen your muscles

Try to do strength exercises 2 to 3 days a week. Use small dumbbells (1kg to 3kgs).

Exercising indoors, including strength activities

HSE support courses for people with obesity

The Best Health programme is a group course for people who have obesity.

The course covers:

  • sleeping well
  • being active
  • eating well
  • looking after your mental health

It is a free 12 month course, and is run by dietitians.

Ask your GP or healthcare team about accessing this programme.

Managing other health conditions

Having other health conditions can make it more difficult to manage obesity.

They may affect your mobility or your ability to do day-to-day tasks such as preparing or cooking meals.

This can make it harder to be active and eat healthy.

Getting support to manage these conditions can help you manage obesity.

Your GP may:

  • talk about your symptoms
  • discuss the best treatments to manage your health condition with you
  • discuss your medicines
  • talk to you about any other issues that might be impacting on your health

There are a number of courses to help support you with managing some other health conditions such as:

Look after your mental health

Looking after your mental health is important when living with obesity.

Support is available if you are finding it hard to cope with stress.

Your healthcare team may recommend you talk to a mental health professional as part of your treatment.

Looking after your mental health

Weight bias and weight stigma

Weight stigma and weight bias exist because of poor understanding of the causes of obesity.

Weight stigma happens when you are treated unfairly because of your weight or body size. It can lead to discrimination at work, school, or in the healthcare system.

Weight bias is when other people have negative attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes about you because of your weight or body size.

It can lead to you experiencing feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety. This is known as ‘internalised weight bias'. It can have a negative impact on your mental health and make it harder to manage your weight.

Your GP may be able to provide resources on weight bias and weight stigma.

Learn more about weight stigma from the Irish Coalition for People living with Obesity - ICPObesity.org

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 9 August 2022
Next review due: 9 August 2025