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Achieving and Maintaining a Healthful Weight

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Achieving and Maintaining a Healthful Weight

You may have heard that losing weight is as easy as eating less and exercising more. Well it's true—taking in fewer calories than you use each day is the simplest way to lose weight. Never mind the fad diets, weight-loss pills, and zany herbal remedies—it all comes down to a balanced diet and a regular exercise program.

Using the Body Mass Index

The first step is determining your current weight status: Are you underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese?

A good measure for this is the Body Mass Index (BMI), a standardized method used by many health professionals to evaluate weight and body fat. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. It gives you an indication of whether you are at risk of health problems that are related to being overweight or obese. If your BMI is 25 or higher, you are at risk for a number of serious health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis.

To find your weight in kilograms, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.45. For example,
if your weight is 130 pounds: 130 x 0.45 = 58.5. Your weight in kilograms is 58.5.

To find your height in meters, multiply your height in inches by 0.0254. For example,
if your height is 5'6", that is 66 inches: 66 x 0.0254 = 1.6764. Your height in meters is 1.6764.
To square the number, multiply it by itself: 1.6764 x 1.6764 = 2.81

For the example above, the BMI is: 58.97 divided by 2.81 = 20.98

BMI values are interpreted as follows:

  • 18.4 or less = underweight
  • 18.5 to 24.9 = normal weight
  • 25 to 29.9 = overweight
  • 30 and over = obese
Although this is a reliable method, it is not foolproof. Because muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue, heavily muscled people may fall into the overweight or obese range when they are not overweight or obese.

Eating a Healthful Diet

To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you use—this is where your diet comes in. It may be in need of an overhaul. But, you don't want to lower your calories at the expense of nutrition. To learn how to develop a balanced diet—high in vitamins and minerals, low in fat and cholesterol, and moderate in calories—read our food pyramid tipsheet .

Try not to think of your new eating habits as "going on a diet." Instead, think of it as a lifestyle change. Adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet and cutting back on saturated fat and cholesterol are good for you no matter what your age. Creating a healthful diet that you can stick to throughout your life will help you achieve and maintain your desired weight.

Getting Regular Exercise

To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you take in—this is where exercise comes in. Not only does regular exercise help you get to an ideal weight, it can help you stay there too. If you don't exercise already, it is time to get started. A good goal for many people to work up to is exercising 4 to 6 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. You can divide the time up into 10-minute intervals, if you like. If you are not sure how to begin, read our tipsheet: Starting a Regular Exercise Program . If it has been a while since you have exercised or you have any chronic health problems, see your doctor before starting an exercise program.

There are several different types of exercise that you can do. An ideal exercise program combines all four types. To learn more about each one, click on its name:

It is a good idea to talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

No Time Like Today

Now that you have the tools, getting started is up to you. Start slowly. Instead of a bag of chips for a snack, have carrots or an apple. And take a walk around the block before or after work today. Just remember, the sooner you begin working toward your ideal weight, the sooner you can reap the healthful benefits.


American Dietetic Association

Food and Nutrition Information Center

American Council on Exercise



American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home.html .

American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/ .

Guidelines on overweight and obesity. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/e_txtbk/index.htm . Accessed on February 25, 2007.

Overweight and obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/ . Accessed on February 25, 2007.

Last reviewed February 2007 by Janet H. Greenhut, MD, MPH

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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