Being overweight increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. If you are overweight, losing just 5 to 10% of your weight and keeping it off lowers your risk for developing most of these diseases. Losing weight can also help relieve stress on your joints, muscles, and bones.
How can I know if I am overweight?
For most adults, your waist size and body mass index (BMI) are good ways to tell whether you are overweight.
Your provider will measure your waist at the point below your ribcage but above your navel. Your waist size is a measure of your belly fat. Your health risks increase as your BMI and waist size get larger. A waist size more than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
BMI is determined by looking up your height and weight on a BMI chart. A BMI of at least 25 indicates overweight. A BMI of 30 or more means that you are obese. Note that the BMI score may not be an accurate way to measure body fat if you are athletic or have a muscular build. It may underestimate body fat in older people and people who have lost muscle mass. Your provider will use a different chart if you are pregnant. The chart can also be used as a guide for normal weight gain during pregnancy.
Your healthcare provider can tell you if you have an increased risk of health problems because of your weight. Your provider can also help you find a weight-loss program that works for you.
What are calories?
Calories are a way to measure the energy value of food. Your body needs the right amount of calories for you to have the energy to do things. How many calories you should eat depends on your age, activity level, and whether you are trying to gain, maintain, or lose weight.
If you want to stay at your current weight, eat the same number of calories as you burn every day. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories and increase your physical activity.
Eating 500 calories a day less than you need to keep your weight can result in a loss of 1 pound a week. Most weight loss diets suggest 1200 to 1500 calories a day for women and 1500 to 1800 calories a day for men. However, your calorie needs may be different. Talk with your healthcare provider or a dietitian about the right calorie goal for you to lose weight in a healthy way.
What can I do to lose weight?
If you want to lose weight, you need a safe, healthy, well-balanced weight-loss plan. However, you also need to change your physical activity habits. Keep track of how many calories you take in, and how many calories you burn each day. You could use a journal or a calorie calculator. There are many free online tools to help track diet and calories. These tools can provide daily and weekly calorie totals for you.
The best sources for information about a safe, healthy, effective weight loss program are dietitians and healthcare providers. Here are some general guidelines:
Write down everything you eat and drink. This lets you see if you are eating a good variety of foods. It can help you count your daily calories.
Do not fast or follow fad diets.
Donâ€™t skip meals. Itâ€™s especially important that you eat a healthy breakfast.
It is helpful to drink a lot of water (4 to 8 glasses a day). If you drink a glass of water before each meal, it helps you feel full faster.
Choose unlimited amounts of vegetables and salads, but take care to add only small amounts of dressings and sauces to these foods.
Choose healthy fats (olive, canola, and soybean oils and the fat found in nuts, seeds, soybeans, fish, and avocado)
Lean meats, poultry, fish, or soy protein
Baked or broiled meat, fish, or poultry
Salad dressing containing little or no oil
Include the following foods in your diet every day but not in large amounts:
Nonfat dairy products
Lentils, peas, beans, and nuts
Whole grain products such as whole wheat bread, whole oats or oatmeal, whole grain cereals without sugar, brown rice, bulgur (cracked wheat), and popcorn without added fat.
Raw fruit, unsweetened frozen fruit, and canned fruit in its own juice, water, or light syrup
Limit how much you eat of the following:
Sugar and foods with a lot of added sugar. Foods with sugar can fit into a weight loss plan if they are eaten in small portions and not too often. Look for snack foods that are 100-calories per serving to help you with portion and calorie control.
Refined grain products such as white rice and white flour. Eat products made with whole grains instead of white flour whenever you can.
Saturated fats such as the fat in meat, poultry skin, butter, cheese, and other whole-milk products, and trans fats found in stick margarine, shortening, and many snack foods such as crackers, chips, and sweet baked goods. Look for products that have less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving and 0 grams trans fat per serving. Even healthy fats, such as canola, olive, peanut, and flaxseed oil are high calorie. Try to keep added fats to no more than a few tablespoons a day.
High-fat snack foods and fried foods.
Processed foods and meats because they are often high in fat, salt, and preservatives. Look for low-fat, low-salt products.
Alcohol. Men should have no more than 2 servings a day and women should have no more than 1 serving a day. Alcoholic drinks have calories without nutrition. They can also make you hungrier.
Sit down and relax while you eat your meals. Avoid distractions such as the phone and TV. Chewing your food thoroughly helps digestion. Eating 4 to 6 small meals instead of 3 large meals per day may be helpful. This keeps your blood sugar at a constant level and helps keep you from feeling hungry. Finish your meals with a piece of fruit instead of a sweet dessert.
What are the physical activity guidelines for losing weight?
Physical activity is a very important part of a successful weight-loss program. Once you reach a lower weight, exercise may help you stay at that weight.
A healthy goal for all adults is to exercise for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week (or 2 hours and 30 minutes or more each week), in addition to your regular activities. You don’t need to do 30 minutes of activity all at once. You can do shorter periods, at least 10 minutes each time. Some people will need to do up to 5 hours of physical activity a week to help them lose weight.
Almost any activity that involves mild to moderate effort is good. You may choose to walk, jog, swim, cycle, or do aerobics. Walking is a great way for almost everyone to get more exercise. Using a pedometer can be fun and motivating. A pedometer is a device that attaches to your clothing and tracks how many steps you take in a day. A good goal is to work up to 10,000 steps a day (5 miles).
Strength training will make your muscles stronger and able to work longer without getting tired. Strength training, or weight training, means doing exercises that build muscle strength. To build muscle you can lift free weights, use weight machines, use resistance bands, or use your own bodyweight, such as doing push-ups, pull-ups, or sit-ups. Muscle mass burns more calories than fat so as your muscle increases, you burn more calories.
Ask your healthcare provider what kinds and amounts of exercise might be right for you.
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Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2015-01-02 Last reviewed: 2015-01-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Losing Weight: References
Losing Weight. 08/2014. American Heart Association. Retrieved 12-29-2014 from