Achieving and Maintaining a Healthful Weight

You may have heard that losing weight is as easy as eating less and exercising more. Well it is true—taking in fewer calories than you use each day is the simplest way to lose weight. Never mind the fad diets, weight-loss pills, and herbal remedies—it all comes down to a balanced diet and a regular exercise program.

Using the Body Mass Index

The first step is determining your current weight status: Are you underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese?

A good measure for this is the Body Mass Index (BMI), a standardized method used by health professionals to evaluate weight and body fat. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. You can also use pounds and inches squared, and multiply the value by 703. It gives you an indication of whether you are at risk of health problems that are related to being overweight or obese. If your BMI is 25 or higher, you are at risk for a number of serious health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, pregnancy-related disorders, and osteoarthritis.

To find your weight in kilograms, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.45. For example:

If your weight is 130 pounds: 130 x 0.45 = 58.5. Your weight in kilograms is 58.5.

To find your height in meters, multiply your height in inches by 0.0254. For example:

If your height is 5'6", that is 66 inches: 66 x 0.0254 = 1.6764. Your height in meters is 1.6764.

To square the number, multiply it by itself: 1.6764 x 1.6764 = 2.81

For the example above, the BMI is: 58.97 divided by 2.81 = 20.98

BMI values are interpreted as follows:

• 18.4 or less = underweight
• 18.5-24.9 = normal weight
• 25-29.9 = overweight
• 30 and over = obese

Although this is a reliable method, it is not foolproof. Because muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue, heavily muscled people may fall into the obese range when they are not obese.

Eating a Healthful Diet

To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you use. This is where your diet comes in; which may be in need of an overhaul. But, you do not want to lower your calories at the expense of nutrition. Try not to think of your new eating habits as "going on a diet," instead, think of it as a lifestyle change. Adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet and cutting back on animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol are good for you no matter what your age. Creating a healthful diet that you can stick to throughout your life will help you achieve and maintain your desired weight, and losing even 10% of your body weight may lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of diabetes.

It may also be a good idea to keep track of how much you eat and drink. When sitting at a meal, you should consume only small portions. Eating smaller portions has been linked to weight loss and maintenance over time. And of all the meals, breakfast is important. Skipping breakfast has been associated with increased body weight. But of course, make sure your breakfast is packed with fruits and whole grains—think oatmeal with slices of apple, not bacon and eggs.

Getting Regular Exercise

To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you take in; this is where exercise comes in. Not only does regular exercise help you get to an ideal weight, it can help you stay there too. Additionally, muscle burns more calories than fat, so building up your muscles will allow you to eat more while maintaining your weight. If you do not exercise already, it is time to get started.

There are several different types of exercise that you can do. An ideal exercise program combines four types of exercise:

A good goal for many people to work up to is exercising 4-6 times a week for 30-60 minutes at a time. Some guidelines suggest that to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, one should consider doing 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity weekly. But it is always a good idea to talk with your doctor before beginning any kind of exercise program. She can help you develop an exercise routine that will meet your weight and health goals.

No Time Like Today

Now that you have the tools, getting started is up to you. Start slowly, have carrots or an apple for a snack, instead of a bag of chips. And take a walk around the block before or after work today. Just remember, the sooner you begin working toward your ideal weight, the sooner you can reap the healthful benefits.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org/
United States Department of Agriculture
Food and Nutrition Information Center
http://www.usda.gov/

http://www.dietitians.ca/

References

American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home.html.
American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/.
Healthy weight—it's not a diet, it's a lifestyle! Body mass index.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/. Updated February 15, 2011. Accessed May 16, 2011.
Wee CC, Hamel MB, Davis RB, Phillips RS. Assessing the value of weight loss among primary care patients. J Gen Intern Med. 2004;19(12):1206-1211.
Douketis JD, Macie C, Thabane L, Williamson DF. Systematic review of long-term weight loss studies in obese adults: clinical significance and applicability to clinical practice. Int J Obes. 2005; 29(10):1153-1167.
United States Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, December 2010.
Last reviewed May 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 5/15/2011

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