Illness & Conditions - Special Health Issues
Discusses healthy weight and why it is important. Covers the main steps to reaching healthy weight. Discusses difficulties of losing weight. Covers nutrition, lifestyle changes, and physical activity. Offers tips for preparing for changes.
What is a healthy weight?
A healthy weight is a weight that lowers your risk for health problems. For most people, body mass index (BMI) and waist size are good ways to tell if they are at a healthy weight.
But reaching a healthy weight isn't just about reaching a certain number on the scale or a certain BMI. Having healthy eating and exercise habits is very important.
If you want to get to a healthy weight and stay there, healthy lifestyle changes will work better than dieting. Reaching a certain number on the scale is not as important as having a healthy lifestyle.
Why pay attention to your weight?
Staying at a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your health. It can help prevent serious health problems, including:
But weight is only one part of your health. Even if you carry some extra weight, eating healthy foods and being more active can help you feel better, have more energy, and lower your risk for disease.
Why isn't dieting a good idea?
In today's society, there is a lot of pressure to be thin. But being thin has very little to do with good health. Many of us long to be thin, even though we're already at a healthy weight. So we get desperate, and we turn to diets for help.
Since dieting doesn't work, what can you do?
If you decide that you do need to make some changes, here are the three steps to reaching a healthy weight:
Frequently Asked Questions
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Are You at a Healthy Weight?
Your first step to find out if you are at a healthy weight is to find out what your BMI , or body mass index, is and what your waist size is. For most people, these are good clues to whether they are at a healthy weight.
What's your BMI?
A healthy weight is one that is right for your body type and height and is based on your body mass index (BMI) and the size of your waist (waist circumference). If you are age 20 or older, use the Interactive Tool: Is Your BMI Increasing Your Health Risks? to check your BMI when you know your height in feet, weight in pounds, and waist circumference.
If you are Asian, your recommended weight range may be lower. Talk to your doctor.
It's important to remember that your BMI is only one measure of your health. A person who is not at a "normal" weight according to BMI charts may be healthy if he or she has healthy eating habits and exercises regularly. People who are thin but don't exercise or eat nutritious foods aren't necessarily healthy just because they are thin.
What's your waist size?
After you know your BMI, it's time to look at your waist size.
Measuring your waist can help you find out how much fat you have stored around your belly. People who are "apple-shaped" and store fat around their belly are more likely to develop weight-related diseases than people who are "pear-shaped" and store most of their fat around their hips. Diseases that are related to weight include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Measure your waist size with a tape measure. The tape should fit snugly but not press into your skin.
For most people, the goal for a healthy waist is: 1
If you are Asian, the goal for a healthy waist is:
Your doctor may want to take another measurement, called a waist-to-hip ratio. This measurement is a comparison of your waist size to your hip size. A higher waist-to-hip ratio means that you are more "apple-shaped" than "pear-shaped" and therefore at a higher risk for weight-related disease.
Body fat testing is sometimes used to help find out if a person has a healthy percentage of body fat.
Do you have other health problems?
If you are in the overweight or obese category and your waist size is too high, it's important to talk to your doctor about weight-related health problems you may have, including:
If you have two or more of these health problems, your doctor may advise you to make some lifestyle changes and/or lose weight. He or she may also refer you to a dietitian, an expert in healthy eating.
Are you unhappy with your weight?
If you're at a healthy weight but are still unhappy with your weight, you're not alone. Lots of people are.
It can be hard to be satisfied with how you look when TV and magazines show unrealistic images of what it means to be thin. Here are some things to think about:
What Affects Your Weight?
Genetic makeup—what you inherit—plays the biggest role
When we say "genetic makeup," we're talking about everything you inherited from your ancestors, from the color of your eyes or the shape of your toes to the way your brain works and the way your body stores fat.
Your genetic makeup has a very big effect on your weight. It affects:
Nutrition—what and how you eat—also affects your weight
The average American meal contains too many calories. It also contains too much saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein, salt, alcohol, and sugar.
It can be hard to make healthy food choices:
For more information, see the topic Quick Tips: Cutting Calories.
Physical activity—how much you move—is the third factor that affects your weight
Being physically active is an important part of staying at a healthy weight.
Getting to a Healthy Weight: Lifestyle Changes
What is a healthy lifestyle?
A healthy lifestyle means:
Becoming more active and improving your eating habits are the two main ways to reach a healthy weight.
First, change your thinking
If you need to make some lifestyle changes to get to a healthy weight, you'll have more success if you first change the way you think about certain things:
For more on how positive thinking can help you, see:
How do you change your lifestyle?
Making any kind of change in the way you live your daily life is like being on a path. The path leads to success. Here are the first steps on that path:
1. Have your own reasons for making a change
2. Set goals you can reach
3. Measure how your health has improved
Before you make lifestyle changes, ask your doctor to check your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
Research shows that you can improve your health by losing as little as 5% to 10% of your weight. 1 Here's what that means:
Keep track of your weight.
Have your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar checked again after you have lost 5% to 10% of your weight or in 3 to 6 months. You can also check your blood pressure and blood sugar at home.
Another way to measure improvements is to look for changes in your fitness level. For example, are you able to walk longer and on more days than when you started? Can you climb a flight of stairs without getting as tired or out of breath? Do you have better strength and muscle tone? Do you have more energy?
4. Prepare for slip-ups
5. Get support
Eating a healthy, balanced variety of foods is far more satisfying than following a strict weight-loss diet that leaves you feeling deprived and hungry. And healthy eating paired with increased activity is more likely to get you to a healthy weight—and keep you there—than dieting is.
Dieting is not healthy eating
Dieting may make you feel like a failure if you can't lose weight or stay on your diet. Instead of blaming the diets, people who are overweight tend to blame themselves. You may think, "If I could just stay on that diet, I would be thin." This doesn't take into account that your body has powerful regulators that affect your weight—things you can't do anything about. And if you've dieted again and again without success, you can get into a cycle of negative thinking—and even gain more weight.
When you go on a diet, you deprive yourself of food. For many people, that means being hungry most of the time and not having enough energy. It also can lead you to think about food all the time. So you're much more likely to overeat when you finally give yourself permission to eat. It's important to make healthy eating changes that you can keep doing, instead of dieting.
Many different diets and programs promise rapid weight loss but rarely work for the long term. Some might even be dangerous.
But what does healthy eating mean? Everywhere we turn, we get conflicting advice on what foods are good for our health. It can be hard to know where to start after you've decided to make a change.
First, learn to pay attention
Know your body signals
Young children are good at paying attention to their body signals. They eat when they're hungry. They stop when they're full.
But as we grow older, and fast food, huge portions, and delicious snacks are everywhere, many of us start to ignore our body signals. We eat for other reasons—or sometimes without thinking at all.
You can ignore those body signals for a while, but they are powerful. And if you ignore them for a long time (by dieting, for example) you lose your ability to pay attention to them. You get out of practice.
Know your eating triggers
Common triggers to eating when you're not really hungry are:
Identify your eating triggers by keeping an eating journal for a week or two. Write down everything you eat, plus the time of day and what you were feeling right before you ate.
After you understand why and how you eat, it's time to look at what and how much you eat.
Many people classify foods as "good" or "bad" based on their calorie or fat content and, sometimes, on how nutritious they are. But a healthy diet has room for all kinds of foods.
A healthy, balanced diet means getting the right amounts of:
Tips for choosing your food sensibly
Control your portions
Just cutting back on the size of your portions can be a great way to get to or stay at a healthy weight—without giving up any of your favorite foods.
Regular activity makes you healthier
Physical activity is key to improving your health and preventing serious illness. Experts say to do either of these things to get and stay healthy: 2
Being active in several blocks of 10-minutes or more throughout the day can count toward these recommendations. You can choose to do one or both types of activity.
If you're not active right now, you don't have to start out at this level. Instead, start small and build up over time. Moderate activity is safe for most people. But it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.
Regular moderate-intensity physical activity lowers your risk of: 3
Work activity into your daily life
Brushing your teeth and getting dressed are regular parts of your day, right? You hardly think about it.
It can be that way with physical activity too. With practice and repetition, you can make activity—whether it's formal exercise or an activity like gardening or walking the dog—so routine that it becomes something you just do because it's part of your day and you enjoy it.
Like any lifestyle change, changing your activity level may be easier if you have a plan. Set small goals. Be creative. For more information, see Getting to a Healthy Weight: Making Lifestyle Changes.
Don't wait until you are "thin" to do the activities you want to do. Just make sure to start slowly. If you aren't active at all, talk to your doctor first.
No matter what you do, the key is making physical activity a regular, fun part of your life. And as soon as you start seeing the results, you'll be even more motivated to keep doing it.
What's the right amount?
It's best to get some moderate physical activity for at least 2½ hours a week. Brisk walking is one kind of moderate activity.
But if you're not active at all, work up to it. For example, you may want to start by walking around the block every morning, or walking for just 10 minutes. Over time, you can make your walks longer or walk more often throughout your day and week.
Here's how you can tell if an activity or exercise is making you work hard enough:
You can also use the rating of perceived exertion scale.
Walking is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get moving for most people. Keep track of the number of steps you take each day with a step counter or pedometer, which you can buy at a sporting goods store. Wearing a step counter may motivate you to walk more in order to increase your total steps.
Identify your barriers
There are lots of reasons why you may have trouble getting more active. These are called barriers.
These barriers can range from "I don't have time" to "I'm too embarrassed."
Figuring out your barriers and how you will respond to them is a big step in planning the lifestyle changes that will lead you to a healthy weight and help you stay there.
For more information, see the topic Fitness: Getting and Staying Active.
Other Places To Get Help
Last Revised: September 23, 2013
Author: Healthwise Staff
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health (2000). The Practical Guide: Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults (NIH Publication No. 00-4084). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/prctgd_c.pdf.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.
Nabel EG (2010). Diet and exercise. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, Clinical Essentials, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
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