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Losing Weight

Why do I need to lose weight if I am overweight?

Being overweight increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, gallbladder disease 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. Being overweight can also increase complications in treatments or surgeries. There is also a psychological component that being overweight increases, such as poor self image causing a difficulty in getting jobs or a lack of social contacts with the opposite sex.

How can I know if I am overweight?

The number you see on the scale doesn't necessarily tell you whether you need to lose weight. That's because 2 people of the same height and weight can have different bone structures. They may carry different amounts of muscle and body fat. For most adults, determining your body mass index (BMI) and waist size are reliable ways to tell whether you are overweight and to estimate your risk for health problems.

The BMI uses your height and weight to estimate how much fat is on your body. A BMI of at least 25 indicates overweight. A BMI of 30 or more indicates you are obese. A BMI of 40 or more indicates you are morbidly obese. Generally, the higher your BMI, the higher your health risk.

Your waist size indicates whether you have an apple body shape and tend to carry fat around your midsection. Your health risks increase even further with increasing waist size. A waist measurement greater than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women indicates a significant increase in health risk, particularly for heart disease and diabetes. To calculate your waist size, measure your waist at the point below your ribcage but above your navel.

Disease Risk Relative to Normal Weight and Waist Circumference

BMI (kg/m2)
Men 102 cm (40 in) or less
Men > 102 cm (40 in)
 
Women 88 cm (35 in) or less
Women > 88 cm (35 in)
Underweight
< 18.5
 
 
Normal
18.5 - 24.9
 
 
Overweight
25.0 - 29.9
Increased
High
Obesity
30.0 - 34.9
High
Very High
 
35.0 - 39.9
Very High
Very High
Extreme Obesity
40.0 +
Extremely High
Extremely High
To tell whether your weight is a health risk, you can determine your BMI and health risk with a Body Mass Index chart. Click on the link below to calculate your BMI.

Calculating Your Body Mass Index (BMI)

Note that there are some limits to the usefulness of the BMI score. It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build. It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle mass. Your health care provider can give you a good sense of whether 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.

The BMI chart is not for use in pregnancy. If you are pregnant and want a guide to normal pregnancy weight gain, ask your health care provider for a chart.

What can I do to lose weight?

If you want to lose weight, you can begin with a safe, healthy, well-balanced weight-loss diet. However, the most effective weight management program is not limited to diet. Rather, it involves changes in your lifestyle, including your eating and physical activity habits, which you will be able to continue for the rest of your life.

A plan for weight reduction should include good nutrition, fewer calories, and physical activity. The best sources for information about a safe, healthy, effective weight reduction program are dietitians and health care providers.

A good weight loss plan includes:

  • a healthy diet
  • physical activity
  • understanding the emotions behind your eating patterns.

To start your program for losing weight:

  • Determine your weight goal.
  • Learn how many calories you need each day for a healthy weight.
  • Discuss with a dietitian or health care provider how to choose foods to get those calories.
  • Find ways to increase your physical activity.
  • Learn how you use food for reasons besides nutrition. For example, do you eat when you are bored or stressed? Do you reward yourself with food? Make changes to prevent these behaviors. For example, allow yourself to eat only at certain places, such as the cafeteria or break room at work and the kitchen or dining table at home. Do not eat meals or snacks in the car or in front of the TV.

What are calories?

A calorie is a measurement of the energy value of food. Your body burns calories for body functions and activities. Food is made up of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, which contain calories and produce energy. To lose weight, you should reduce the number of calories in your diet without sacrificing good nutrition. You should also use or burn more calories through physical activity.

The average woman needs 1800 to 2300 calories a day. Most weight reduction diets suggest 1200 to 1500 calories a day for women. Eating 500 calories a day less than you need to maintain your present weight can result in losing 1 pound a week.

The rate at which you can lose weight depends on your body's metabolism. This is the rate at which you use energy, or calories, for basic functions such as eating, sleeping, walking, etc. You may increase your body's rate of metabolism by regularly engaging in physical activity. Weight loss may occur more quickly at the start of a diet because the body releases extra water that was retained.

What are the dietary guidelines for losing weight?

In general, follow these guidelines:

  • Write down everything you eat and drink. This lets you see if you are eating a good variety of foods. Also, it allows you to count your daily calories, if you choose.
  • Drink plenty of water each day.
  • Choose unlimited amounts of vegetables and salads, but limit the amount of butter, dressings, and sauces you eat with these foods.

Choose:

  • 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 in appropriate amounts:

  • nonfat dairy products
  • legumes (lentils, peas, and beans)
  • unrefined carbohydrates (whole wheat bread, whole grain cereals without sugar)
  • raw fruits and canned fruits in their own juices, water, or light syrup.

Limit how much you eat of the following:

  • refined carbohydrates (sugar) and foods containing sugar
  • refined grain products such as white rice and white flour.

Limit:

  • saturated fats such as butter, margarine, and fat on meats
  • other foods that contain fats, such as pastries, cakes, and cheese
  • fried foods
  • processed meats (they are often high in fat, salt, and preservatives)
  • alcoholic beverages.

To have a balanced diet, be sure to choose a variety of foods from the basic food groups:

  • dairy
  • meat and other protein
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • whole-grain breads, cereal, and pasta.

Sit down and relax while you eat your meals. Avoid distractions such as the phone and TV. Chewing your food thoroughly helps digestion. Eating small, frequent meals instead of 3 full meals is helpful. You should eat every 4 to 5 hours. 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 as important as diet if you are trying to lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight.

  • It helps you lose weight because you burn more calories while you exercise.
  • It raises your metabolism for several hours so that you burn more calories after exercise as well.
  • It lowers your blood pressure, cholesterol level, and blood sugar level.
  • It makes you feel more energetic.
  • It improves muscle tone.
  • It helps you sleep better.

Don't overdo it at first. Moderate walking for 15 to 30 minutes 3 to 6 times a week is a good start. With your health care provider's approval, your goal should be 30 to 90 minutes of moderate exercise a day, most days of the week. Moderate aerobic exercise is generally defined as requiring about the energy it takes to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. You may need to exercise 60 minutes a day to prevent weight gain and 90 minutes a day to lose weight. Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting your exercise program.