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Eating well for healthier lungs

I’m putting on too much weight

You may find your lung condition causes you to put on weight. This may be because you become less active and burn fewer calories. Taking some kinds of steroids can increase your appetite.

Being overweight can make breathing more difficult, especially if you’re carrying extra weight around your middle that squashes your lungs. If you’re carrying excess weight, it also takes more effort to be active. Bending becomes difficult and will make you feel short of breath.

When trying to lose weight, it's important not to cut out any food groups. Cutting out food groups altogether could prevent you from getting important nutrients and vitamins your body needs to function properly. Avoid fad diets as they tend to be unrealistic and misleading.

If you want to lose weight, speak to your doctor or health care professional. They can refer you to a dietitian or a local weight loss scheme.

Why is my waist size important?

It’s not just what you weigh on the scales, but also how you feel and where your extra weight is. Where we store our fat is particularly important. Carrying too much fat in your middle can make breathing more difficult, and it’s linked to a greater risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The diagram below is a guide to healthy waist measurements for men and women.

To measure your waist:

  • Place a tape measure around your waist, halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hip bone. If you have trouble finding this point, lean to one side and see where the skin folds. This is the point where you can measure your waist.
  • Make sure the tape is straight and snug but isn’t digging into your skin.
  • Breathe normally, and measure after you have breathed out.

You should try to lose weight if your waist is:

  • 94cm (37in) or more for men
  • 80cm (32in) or more for women

You're at an even higher risk of some serious health conditions if your waist is:

  • 102cm (40in) or more for men
  • 88cm (34.5in) or more for women

Top tips to lose weight if you are overweight

  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes, especially if eating out. You could try using a smaller plate.
  • Fill up on vegetables or salad. These should cover about half your plate. Vegetables are a good source of fibre which can help you to feel full. Use a vinaigrette or fat-free dressing on salads rather than mayonnaise or salad cream.
  • Avoid frying foods. Try grilling, steaming, boiling, baking, dry roasting or microwaving instead. To reduce salt, add herbs and spices when cooking.
  • Choose healthier food and drink options. If you take sugar in tea and coffee, use sweeteners or gradually reduce the amount of sugar you add. Try to avoid fizzy drinks, as these can make you feel hungrier, but make sure you drink enough water. Choose lean cuts of meat, trim off any visible fat, remove skin and choose reduced fat mince. Have skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat spread and low-fat yoghurts – but check the food label, as low-fat products aren’t always healthier.
  • Check food labels. Often low-fat products replace fat with high amounts of sugar, and low sugar or sugar free products can be high in fat. NHS have guidelines on how to read food nutrition labels.
  • Think about why you eat. Why do you snack between meals? Are you really hungry? Perhaps you’re actually thirsty. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so you may eat more than you need. Are you bored and eating out of habit or for comfort? Try distracting yourself with another activity.
  • Be as active as possible. Being active helps you retain muscle while losing weight. In the longer term, this can help with weight maintenance and muscle strength including how strong your lungs are.

Next: common questions about diet >>

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Download our eating well PDF (1.6MB)

Last medically reviewed: June 2020. Due for review: June 2023

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.