Find over 200 print-friendly fact sheets about heart disease and related health topics.
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 even more important. When
you're active and eating well, your body will settle into a weight that is
healthy for you.
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
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.
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.
you decide that you do need to make some changes, here
are the three steps to reaching a healthy weight:
One Woman's Story:
"The biggest key
to my success is knowing that this is a process. It's not 'all or nothing at
all.' It's a matter of making choices every day. One day I might decide to eat
more than another day, and that's okay, as long as I'm paying attention. I
finally realized it wasn't a time-limited thing. It became much more of a
lifestyle change than a temporary diet. The idea that somehow I could go back
to my old ways was just not there anymore."—Maggie
Read more about how Maggie changed her life and lost 50 pounds.
Learning about healthy weight:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
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
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.
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.
waist size with a tape measure. The tape should fit snugly but not press into
For most people, the goal for a healthy waist
If you are Asian, the goal for a healthy waist is:
If you are ...
In the underweight
range on the BMI chart:
See your doctor to
find out if you have a medical problem that is causing your low
recommended BMI range and your waist size is within the recommendations:
Your weight is not
a problem for your health.
At or above the recommended BMI
range and your waist size is higher than recommended:
See your doctor to find out if
you have health problems that might be related to your weight.
You may need to change your eating habits and get more active.
In the overweight category on
the BMI chart but your waist size is within the recommendations:
Your weight may be right for
you. But you need to see your doctor to find out if you have health problems
that might be related to your weight.
In the obese category on the
BMI chart, no matter what your waist measurement is:
You may need to lose weight to
be healthier, as well as change your eating and activity habits.
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
Body fat testing is sometimes used to
help find out if a person has a healthy percentage of body fat.
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
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.
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:
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
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.
Being physically active is an important
part of staying at a healthy weight.
Becoming more active and improving your eating habits are
the two main ways to reach a healthy weight.
"I see it as a whole life
change. I actually get mad at people when they say, 'You've been on a diet.'
I'm not on a diet. I've never been on a diet. I just changed the way I eat. I
changed the way I live."—Jaci
Read more about how Jaci lost 65 pounds.
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:
realized it wasn't a time-limited thing. It wasn't like, 'Well, I'm going to be
really good and stay on this food plan now until I get the weight off.' It was
more a realization that, 'You know, at 62, if I want to weigh 130 to 135
pounds, then I have to do these things.' I can't stop doing them just because I
lose the weight. So it became much more of a lifestyle change than a temporary
diet. The idea that somehow I could go back to my old ways was just not there
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:
Before you make lifestyle changes, ask your doctor
to check your
blood pressure, and
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?
I might be too busy.
I might get bored.
It might rain.
You can use a personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to write down your goals and organize your support system.
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.
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.
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.
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
After you understand
why and how you eat, it's time to
look at what and how much you
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:
Keep a food diary(What is a PDF document?), writing down everything you eat for a week or two. It will
help you see which foods you need to eat more of and which foods you're eating
too much of.
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.
"Before I gained the weight, I
wish someone said, 'portion sizes.' If you're not thinking about it, you go to
a restaurant, you think you're getting a portion size. You're not thinking
they're serving you six plates of food."—Jaci
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
Physical activity for weight loss means burning more calories. Experts say more than 5 hours a week (aim for 60 to 90 minutes a day) of moderate activity can help you lose weight and keep it off.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
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
Like any lifestyle change, changing your activity level may be
easier if you have a plan. Set small goals. Be creative. For more information,
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
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.
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.
how you can tell if an activity or exercise is making you work hard
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
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
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
This Web site has information about healthy weight, nutrition, and physical activity for people of all ages.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sets standards for all types of prescribed diets. The
organization produces a variety of consumer information, including videos. This group will help you find a registered dietitian in your area who
provides nutrition counseling.
The USDA food guide website provides many
options to help people make healthy food choices and to be active every day.
Enter your age, gender, and activity level to get a food plan specific to your
needs. You can also print out worksheets for tracking your progress and goals.
On this website, you'll find answers to many of your questions about healthy
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is
part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This section of its website
provides useful, medically reviewed information about obesity and weight
The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a
service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. WIN supplies information
on weight control, obesity, and nutritional disorders for the public and for
CitationsNational 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.Other Works ConsultedAnspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Achieving a healthy weight and body composition. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 259–305. New York: McGraw-Hill.Dandelion (2004). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.Gee M, et al. (2008). Weight management. In
LK Mahan, S Escott-Stump, eds., Krause's Food and Nutrition Therapy, 12th ed., pp. 532–562. St Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier.Glucomannan (2011). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.Green Tea (2010). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.Guar gum (2004). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.Guarana (2005). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.Guggul (2004). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.Nabel EG (2010). Diet and exercise. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, Clinical Essentials, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.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.Purnell JQ (2011). Obesity. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 6, chap. 12. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.Spirulina (2007). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.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.Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Energy balance and body composition. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 240–260. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). The carbohydrates: Sugars, starches, and fibers. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 96–125. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Weight management: Overweight, obesity, and underweight. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 271–282. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
October 21, 2011
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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