Know Your Healthy Weight Basics

Down to Basics

What is a healthy weight? The answer can vary from person to person. One way to determine whether you are at a healthy weight is by calculating your body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated using your height and weight. A person's BMI can fall into 1 of 3 categories: healthy, overweight, or obese.

Finding Your Healthy Weight

Using the chart below, find your height in the left-hand column and move across the row until you find your weight. For most people, BMI is a good way to tell if your weight is putting your health at risk. Be sure to talk to your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.

Your Waist Size Matters

It's not just the amount of excess weight you may be carrying—where you carry the excess weight is important too. Carrying weight mainly around the middle of the body can increase the risk of health problems. This is true even if your BMI falls within the normal range. For people with the same weight or BMI, women with a waist size of more than 35 inches, or men with a waist size of more than 40 inches, are at a higher risk than people with smaller waists.

Reasons for Weight Gain

Living in today's fast-paced world does not always make it easy to find the time to eat right and exercise regularly.

Many people eat when they are bored, sad, angry, or stressed—even though they are not hungry.

Family history
Being overweight or obese tends to run in families. For example, if a parent or grandparent has a weight concern, your chances also may increase.

As people age, muscle mass tends to decrease. Lowered muscle mass can lead to a slower metabolism—meaning that the body does not burn calories as rapidly. This can make it harder to keep off excess weight. Other factors related to aging, such as hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle, also may play a role.

Some medicines can cause weight gain. Ask your health care provider or pharmacist about the side effects of any medicines you are taking.

Understanding the Risks

Being overweight or obese affects more than just appearance. It might affect your health—increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain types of cancer. By eating right and becoming more active, you might be able to help lower any increased risks and manage your current health. Making 1 small change at a time can help you get started on the right path.

Losing Weight

Losing as little as 5% of your body weight may improve your health. For someone who weighs 200 pounds, this means losing 10 pounds. What's the safest way to lose weight? Slow and steady. A weight loss of a half pound to 2 pounds a week is ideal. Talk to your health care provider about a weight-loss goal that's right for you.

Tips for Losing and Maintaining Weight

For many people, the idea of losing weight and maintaining weight loss can feel overwhelming. Not sure where to begin? Here are 5 tips that can help you get started:

  1. Set specific and realistic goals. Select a series of short-term goals that get closer and closer to the ultimate goal. By making your goals specific and realistic, you'll have a better chance of meeting them. And of staying with your efforts.
  2. Always check with your health care provider before beginning any activity plan or increasing your activity. It's also important to ask him or her for your target heart rate to help determine the appropriate exercise intensity for you.

  3. Mini goals make good sense. Instead of setting 1 big or long-term goal, consider breaking it down into smaller, less overwhelming mini goals. For example, set weekly or monthly weight loss goals instead of a yearly goal. With each mini goal, you'll get closer and closer to the final goal.
  4. Keep track of all your efforts. Writing down what you've been eating, how active you've been, and how much weight you've lost can help you see how far you've already come. It also can make sharing information with your health care provider easier.
  5. Become more aware of your eating habits. For many people, social or environmental "cues" can lead to overeating. Take time to look at your cues that may cause you to overeat. Then, make a change. For example, if you tend to overeat when you’re with certain friends, do something active with those friends—go for a walk instead of going out to dinner.
  6. Reward yourself. Each time you reach a goal, celebrate it—but not with food. Do something nice for yourself. You deserve it.

Eating Right

Eating the right foods can help boost your weight loss efforts and give you more energy. Always be sure to talk with your health care provider before making any changes to your diet. In general, most people should aim for a diet that:

  • Focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars

Tips for Eating Right

Today's busy lifestyle and the convenience of fast-food restaurants sometimes can make eating right challenging. Here are 6 tips that can help you stay in control and make healthier choices.

  1. Start each day with a healthy breakfast. People who eat breakfast have a lower chance of overeating later in the day. Another bonus: Eating a healthy breakfast can help give you the energy you need to get through your day.
  2. Include more whole grains. Including whole grains in your diet, such as whole-wheat breads and pastas, oatmeal, and brown rice, can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Eat a variety of vegetables. Vegetables of different colors provide different nutrients. Try to include a rainbow of red-, green-, and orange-colored veggies on your plate whenever possible. For red, think beets or red bell peppers. Green could include broccoli or spinach. Carrots or sweet potatoes are good choices for orange.
  4. Keep healthy snacks on hand. The key to a healthy snack? Think low fat and low sugar. But that does not mean healthy foods have to be low in taste. Fresh fruit, low-fat cheese, and high-fiber, low-sugar cereal are healthy but flavorful choices. Eating healthy snacks such as these actually can help control hunger and prevent overeating.
  5. Watch your portions. Pay attention to serving sizes on food labels. Consider serving food on a plate instead of snacking directly from a bag or container—this can often lead to overeating.
  6. Because restaurant portions tend to be large, try splitting a meal or taking half home when you're dining out.

  7. Limit sweets, fats, and oils. Try cutting back on foods and beverages that are high in added sugars. Limit fats and oils as well. If you must use them, aim for healthier kinds, such as olive and fish oils.

Becoming More Active

Becoming more active is important for reaching a healthy weight. Activity can help you lose weight and keep it off. Adding physical activity also can reduce your overall risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Always check with your health care provider before beginning any activity plan or increasing your activity. It’s also important to ask him or her what your target heart rate is to help determine what exercise intensity is appropriate for you.

Tips for Becoming More Active

Becoming more active does not have to mean joining a gym or exercising for long periods of time. In fact, experts recommend working up to 30–45 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week. This could mean gardening, walking, biking, dancing—almost any activity that increases your heart rate counts. Make it fun. Here are 5 tips to help you get moving in the right direction:

  1. Start slowly. If you're not currently as active as you'd like to be, that's OK. Start slowly, even if it means starting with just 5 or 10 minutes of activity for now. Work your way up to 30 minutes a day. Be patient. You'll get there.
  2. Monitor your heart rate. Ask your health care provider about a target heart rate that's right for you. Target heart rate is a desired range of times that your heart beats per minute.
  3. Set goals. Setting current goals (such as walking 10 minutes 3 times a week) as well as future ones (walking 10 minutes 5 times a week) can give you something specific to work toward. Goals also can help keep you motivated.
  4. Get comfortable. Wear comfortable socks and shoes and select the right kinds of clothing for the activity you'll be doing.
  5. Think variety. Choosing from a variety of activities can help prevent boredom. It also can keep your mind and body challenged.

Reaching Your Goals

Achieving a healthy weight is a goal everyone can be proud of—family and friends, your health care provider, and especially you. Not only will you feel better—you'll also reduce your risk of developing health problems. Making healthy changes, such as eating the right foods in the right portions and adding activity, can help you get to a healthy weight and stay there.

Understanding the Words Your Health Care Provider May Use

You may hear some of these words:

Aerobic activity: Any physical movement that makes you breathe hard and increases your heart rate for a certain period of time.

Body mass index (BMI): A way to tell whether a person is at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. BMI measures your weight in relation to your height.

Calorie: A measurement of food energy.

Metabolism: The process by which the body converts food into energy.

Obese: A BMI of 30 kg/m2 or more.

Overweight: A BMI of 25 kg/m2 but less than 30 kg/m2.

Portion: The amount of food eaten at 1 time, which may be more or less than a serving size.

Serving size: The amount of food listed on a Nutrition Facts label—for example, number of pieces or ounces.

Target heart rate: A desired range of times that your heart beats per minute.

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