According to the CDC, more than 7 in 10 U.S. adults older than 20 are either overweight or obese. Why is excess weight a concern? It may cause new health problems or worsen ones you already have.
Staying at a healthy weight is extra important if you have or had any of these:
Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
Cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, breast, or colon
High total cholesterol level
Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the back, knees, or hips
If your weight is not in the healthy range for your height and build, the best way to lose weight is to set a reasonable goal and lose it slowly. For example, lose 1/2 pound to 1 pound a week. An initial weight loss goal of 5% to 7% of body weight is realistic for most people. Create a healthy pattern of eating and exercising that you can follow for the rest of your life.
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight. A BMI over 30 is considered obese. To help you figure out if your weight is within a normal range, you can use a BMI calculator at the National Institutes of Health website.
If your weight is not in the healthy range for your height and build, the best ways to lose weight are to:
Set a reasonable goal. A realistic weight loss goal is 5% to 7% of your body weight.
Lose weight slowly. You can aim for ½ pound to 1 pound a week.
Build a healthy pattern of eating and exercise. Make this something that you can follow for the rest of your life.
Many types of diets can help with weight loss. These include low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, and Mediterranean diets.
Low-calorie diet. These diets can cause weight loss by having you eat fewer calories than you use. This causes the body to use stored body fat for energy. Types of foods are not restricted, just the number of calories you have each day.
Low-carbohydrate diet. Low-carb diets cause your body to lower insulin. This is a hormone that causes hunger. The diet also causes your body to burn stored fat for energy. This eating plan limits refined carbohydrates. These include white bread, white rice, pasta, crackers, and sweets.
Mediterranean diet. This is based on the eating patterns of people who live in the Mediterranean region. It includes healthy fats found in olive oil and nuts. It also includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish. It also allows wine in moderation, with meals. On this plan, you would not have any red meats, dairy foods, or processed foods.
But keep in mind that keeping up healthy eating behavior is more important than choosing a certain diet.
The best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you use up each day. It doesn’t matter if it is from fat, protein, or carbohydrate. A calorie is a calorie. High-fat foods tend to have more calories than foods that are high in carbohydrates or protein. You can eat a larger amount of foods that are low in fat as long as they are also low in calories. Be sure to check labels.
Limit butter and margarine. Even better, switch to reduced-fat margarine. Or try jam on your bread, bagels, and other baked goods.
Choose light or low-fat dairy foods. This includes milk, cheese, yogurt, or sour cream. Drink 1% or skim milk. You will still get the nutrients and taste. But not the fat.
Use less salad dressing. Use just 1 tablespoon of dressing. Even better, use light or fat-free salad dressing. The same idea applies when using condiments. A little mayonnaise is all you need. Or use the light or fat-free kind.
Choose lean meats. These include beef round, loin, sirloin, pork loin chops, turkey, chicken, and roasts. All cuts with the name loin or round are lean. If you cook it yourself, trim all visible fat. And drain the grease.
Use oils in small amounts. Try olive and canola oils. Bake chicken without the skin. Choose a potato instead of French fries.
Pick healthy, easy-to-grab foods. Try little bags or containers of ready-to-eat vegetables. These include celery sticks, cucumber wedges, cherry tomatoes, and baby carrots. Or make healthier choices for store-bought snacks, such as pretzels. Keep them with you in your briefcase, handbag, office, car, and home.
Eat when hungry and stop when full. Take smaller portions. Don't go back for seconds.
Think small when dining out. Restaurant servings are often too large. When dining out or ordering in, ask for half of a serving. Or get a doggy bag. That way you won’t be as full, and you can have some tomorrow.
Be careful when ordering fast food. Not all fast food is high in fat and calories. Order a lean roast beef or grilled chicken sandwich. Stick with regular and small portion sizes. Order items without the cheese.
Cut down on drinks and sweets. Try not to drink alcohol or drinks with added sugar. Try to skip sweets such as candy, cakes, and cookies.
Regular exercise is vital to manage your weight. But before you start a new exercise plan, talk with your healthcare provider if you:
Are older than 50. If you plan to begin a program of physical activity, first talk with your healthcare provider. This is to be sure you don’t have heart disease or other health problems.
Have ongoing (chronic) health problems. These include heart disease, diabetes, or obesity. Also talk with your provider first if you are at high risk for these conditions.
Here are some exercise tips for staying at a healthy weight:
Try different types of exercise. Aerobic exercises and strengthening exercises burn calories by increasing your heart rate. Try to include all 4 types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
Don't try to make exercise hard. Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to give you health benefits. No matter what your age, you can benefit from a medium amount of physical activity. Do this each day if possible. You can reach a medium amount of activity in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as 30 minutes of brisk walking). You can also reach it in shorter sessions of more strenuous activities (such as 15 to 20 minutes of jogging).
Start with short amounts of activity. If you have not been active, start with short intervals (5 to 10 minutes) of physical activity. Slowly build up to the activity level you want to reach.
Do things that you enjoy. If you like to walk and talk with friends, find a partner and start a walking routine. If you want to release stress-related energy or anxiety, try boxing. Find an exercise program you will enjoy!
Find ways to be active throughout the day. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Do wall pushups while you wait for the breakfast coffee to brew. Park at the far end of the parking lot and walk briskly to the building. Even small changes—when done regularly—can make a big difference in your overall fitness.
Don't get discouraged if you miss a day or two. Vacations, illness, and schedule changes may interrupt your exercise plans. Just get back on track when the interruption is done.