When is watching your weight necessary?

Learn whether you're at risk for weight-related medical problems—and how to move toward better health

Feet on a scale


This content is provided to Johns Hopkins employees through a partnership with EHP.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70 percent of U.S. adults older than 20 are either overweight or obese. Extra weight is a concern because it may worsen existing health problems or cause new ones.

How do you know if you're in the danger zone? Body mass index—a measure of body fat based on height and weight—of 25 to 30 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese. To help you figure out if your weight is within a normal range, you can use a BMI calculator.

Staying at a healthy weight is especially important if you have, or have had, any of the following conditions:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, breast, or colon
  • High total cholesterol level
  • Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the back, knees, and hips

If your weight is not in the healthy range for your height and build, the best way to lose weight is to set a reasonable goal and lose it slowly and gradually, perhaps 1/2 to 1 pound a week. An initial weight loss goal of 5 to 7 percent of body weight is realistic for most people. Develop a healthy pattern of eating and exercising that you can follow for the rest of your life.

Healthy tips for maintaining your weight

Know your calories

A calorie is a calorie, whether it's from fat, protein, or carbohydrate. Foods that are high in carbohydrates or protein generally have fewer calories than high-fat foods, but the truth is, the best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn each day. Many types of diets can help with weight loss. These include low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, and Mediterranean diets. You can eat a larger amount of foods that are low in fat as long as they are also low in calories, but be sure to check labels or read educational materials to make sure you're getting what you think you are. Maintaining healthy eating behaviors is more important than choosing a certain diet.

Low-calorie eating plans can cause weight loss through taking in fewer calories than you burn. This creates an energy shortage, as the differential triggers the body to use stored body fat for energy. Certain types of foods are not restricted, just the number of calories consumed.

Low-carbohydrate diets trigger your body to lower insulin (a hormone that causes hunger) and burn stored fat for energy. This eating plan limits refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, pasta, crackers, and sweets.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the eating patterns of people who live in the Mediterranean region. It stresses healthy fats found in olive oil and nuts along with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish. It also allows wine in moderation, with meals. On this plan, you would avoid red meats, dairy, and processed foods.

Make good choices

Fruits, vegetables, and other foods that are low in fat and calories can help reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Start your day off right by eating breakfast. If you drink juice to start the day, choose 100 percent fruit juice (freshly squeezed, from a carton, or canned). Spruce up your breakfast—a banana or a handful of berries will liven up your cereal, yogurt, waffles, or pancakes. Take a piece of fruit to munch on during your commute.

Use butter and margarine sparingly. Even better, switch to reduced-fat margarine or try jelly on your bread, bagels, and other baked goods.

Use light or low-fat dairy products. Those include milk, cheese, yogurt, and sour cream. Drink 1 percent or skim milk. You will still get the nutrients and taste but not the fat.

A little bit of salad dressing goes a long way. Use just 1 tablespoon of dressing, or even better, use light or fat-free salad dressing. The same idea applies when using condiments. A little mayonnaise is all you need. Or use the light or fat-free kind.

Choose the leanest cuts of meat, such as beef round, loin, or sirloin; pork loin chops; roasts; turkey; and chicken. All cuts with the name loin or round are lean. When you're doing the cooking, trim all visible fat and drain the grease.

Use oils sparingly. Try olive and canola oils. Bake chicken without the skin. Choose a baked potato instead of French fries.

Opt for healthy, quick, and easy-to-grab snacks. Try little bags or containers of ready-to-eat vegetables such as celery sticks, cucumber wedges, cherry tomatoes, and baby carrots. Or make healthier store-bought choices, such as pretzels. Keep them with you in your office, car, and home.

Choose low-fat or fat-free baked goods, cookies, and ice cream. Cut down on the portion size and on how often you eat them. Or choose fruit, which is filling and provides energy.

Eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. Take smaller portions. Never go back for seconds.

Think small when dining out. Restaurant servings are often twice the size of a single serving. When dining out or ordering in, ask for half a serving or put aside half of it for another meal.

Be careful when ordering fast food. Try a lean roast beef or grilled chicken sandwich instead of something high in fat and calories. Order items without the cheese. Stick with regular and small portion sizes.

Cut down on drinks and sweets. Try not to drink alcohol or drinks with added sugar, and avoid most sweets, such as candy, cakes, and cookies.

And don't forget to exercise

Regular exercise is critical to effectively managing your weight. Here are some tips for staying at a healthy weight:

Try everything. Both aerobic and strengthening exercises burn calories by increasing heart rate. Try to include all four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

Exercise doesn't have to be hard. Physical activity doesn't have to be strenuous to provide health benefits. No matter what your age, you can benefit from a medium amount of physical activity—each day if possible. You can reach a medium amount of activity in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as 30 minutes of brisk walking) or in shorter sessions of more-strenuous activities (such as 15 to 20 minutes of jogging).

Start with short bursts of activity. If you have not been active, you should start with short intervals (5 to 10 minutes) of physical activity. Slowly build up to the level you want to achieve.

Talk with your health care provider if you have chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity before starting an exercise program. Also talk with your provider first if you are at high risk for these conditions.

If you're older than 50, see your health care provider before beginning a program of vigorous physical activity. This is to be sure you don't have heart disease or other health problems.

Start slow. Increase the exercise intensity as your strength and endurance grow.

Do things you enjoy. If you like to walk and talk with friends, find a partner and develop a walking routine. If you want to release stress-related energy or anxiety, try kick boxing. The point is to get involved in an exercise program you will enjoy.

Find ways to be active throughout the day. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Do wall pushups while you wait for the breakfast coffee to brew. Park at the far end of the parking lot and walk briskly to the building. Even small changes, when done regularly, can make a big difference in your overall fitness level.

Don't get discouraged if you miss a day. Vacations, illness, and schedule changes may interrupt your exercise plans. Just get back on track as soon as you can.

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