Managing obesity is mostly about making lifestyle changes, which may be easier said than done. To maintain your weight, you must burn the same amount of calories you take in when you eat. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. While it’s true that your body burns calories just doing the normal metabolic functions that keep you alive, it burns many more calories when you are active. But your body is a very efficient engine, so it takes a lot more time and energy to burn calories than it does to take them in.

Talk to your doctor about a weight loss program that is right for you. You are more likely to successfully lose weight and keep it off if you participate in a program that includes a combination of strategies, like diet, exercise, counseling, and medicine. Your doctor can refer you to a a dietitian and an athletic trainer for more personalized help.

Dietary Changes

Recommendations for a healthy diet change periodically as research evolves—and fads come and go. For example, a 2008 study found that dieters had more success following the Mediterranean diet or the low-carb diet , compared to the low-fat diet . However, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health compared four types of diets that emphasized different nutrients (like a low-fat/low-carb/high-protein diet). Interestingly, dieters lost weight regardless of which diet they followed. The key to successful weight loss in this study was in reducing caloric intake and not in reducing certain nutrients (like carbs). Adhering to the diet is what mattered most.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has its own weight reduction recommendations. For people who are obese, NIH's recommends:

  • People who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30-34.9—Reduce daily intake of 500 calories to achieve one pound weight loss a week and a 10% weight loss in six months
  • People who have a BMI of 35 to over 40—reduce daily intake of 500 to 1,000 calories to achieve a 1-2 pound weight loss a week and a 10% weight loss in six months

It's challenging to eat fewer calories, though, when the custom in the US is to be served large portions. Another team of researchers found that using special portion-control plates helped people who are obese and have type 2 diabetes lose weight and lower their diabetes medicines. If you are interested in buying a portion-control plate, you'll find a lot of information online. The product used in the study is called "The Diet Plate," which is made in England.

Your doctor and a dietician can help you create a safe and healthy diet that fits your lifestyle.

Physical Activity Changes

Exercise helps you to lose weight and keep the weight off after you've lost it. Participating in a regular exercise program can also reduce the risk of a number of health conditions, like high blood pressure , heart disease, and diabetes.

To be safe, check with your doctor before starting a program . You may also want to make an appointment with a certified athletic trainer , who can help you understand what elements of a fitness routine are most effective for you. There are three basic categories of exercise; each provides specific health benefits.

  • Aerobic exercise —raises your heart rate through repetitive movement of large muscles groups
    • For example: jogging , walking (eg, 10,000 steps a day), dancing, biking, swimming
  • Strength training exercise —increases the power, tone, and efficiency of individual muscles by contracting isolated muscles against resistance
    • For example: lifting weights, using resistance bands
  • Stretching —improves or maintains the flexibility of your muscles

Regardless of your weight and health status, there is a program that will work for you. If you are interested in working with a trainer, you can find one at a local gym or through a referral from your doctor or a friend.

Lifestyle Changes for Children and Teens

The growing prevalence of overweight children has become a serious health concern. In the US, an estimated 32% of children and young adults aged 2-19 are either overweight or obese. These children are more likely to have high cholesterol , high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes . There is also some evidence that being overweight or obese during late adolescence may shorten life expectancy as an adult.

If your child is struggling with a weight problem , what can you do? Just as with adults, kids benefit from making diet, exercise, and behavior changes. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) also recommends counseling for kids who are obese.

The National Institutes of Health offers some positive steps that you can take at home to help your child:

  • Encourage healthy eating habits—Make an effort to keep a variety of healthful foods— fruits, vegetables , low-fat dairy products, whole grains , and lean meats—on hand. Practice healthful eating habits, such as eating breakfast everyday, eating fast food less often, and healthy snacking. A dietician can work with you and your child to create a healthy meal plan.
  • Encourage daily physical activity—Help your child get some exercise everyday. When it’s safe and feasible, let him walk to school, the store, or a friends' houses. It also helps to encourage physical education in school and participation in extracurricular sports teams or classes. For a more structured routine, a trainer can work with your child to create a fun and safe exercise program.
  • Discourage inactive pastimes—Limit the time your child is allowed to watch TV, play video games, and surf the internet. A reasonable rule is no more than two hours per day total of screen time.

Another option is a weight-loss camp for your child. At camp, your child will have an opportunity to learn about fitness and nutrition in a fun environment. He may also lose some weight at the camp by exercising more and eating healthier food.