Note: The following information is not a substitute for discussing your general health, weight management and nutrition needs with your physician or health care provider. If you have health conditions that require medications on a regular basis or have a significant amount of weight to lose, see your physician or health care provider before beginning a weight-loss program.
Overweight and obesity in the United States among both adults and children have increased considerably during the recent decades. Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of maintaining your overall health.
The causes of obesity are varied and extremely complex. But for weight to change there has to be an energy imbalance. You have to put out more energy in physical activity than you take in from food (calories). When you focus on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, not merely losing weight, you are less likely to be an easy target for quick and painless weight-loss programs, books, devices and advice.
Being overweight or obese can lead to chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, high levels of blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis and certain breathing problems, as well as some types of cancer. However, being underweight can be risky, too. Severe underweight can increase the risk for osteoporosis and perhaps decrease the ability to ward off infections. Clearly, extremes at either end of the weight spectrum are not healthy.
The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adults. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight. Use the BMI calculator on the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Web site to determine if your body weight is within a healthy range.
Even a modest weight loss of 10 pounds can have health benefits, and the prevention of further weight gain is especially important. To maintain body weight in a healthy range and to prevent gradual weight gain over time, calories from food and beverages need to be balanced with the calories expended in physical activity. Those who are active—at any weight—are generally healthier than those who are inactive. Physical activity helps ensure that stored fat, rather than muscle, is used to meet energy needs when losing weight.
Each pound of stored body fat represents 3,500 calories of unused energy. An extra 100 calories a day from any food or beverage can add up to 10 extra pounds in a year if you do not increase your physical activity. So, go out and enjoy at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week: dance, walk, garden or hike. Just keep moving! Greater health benefits might be obtained if you engage in activities of more vigorous intensity or for longer periods of time. Involve your friends and family. Set the example so your children continue to enjoy regular physical activity throughout their adult lives.
When it comes to weight control, calories count. Healthy weight-loss diets can range in percent of calories from protein (10–35 percent), fat (20–35 percent) and carbohydrate (45–65 percent). Diets that are significantly out of these ranges and provide very low or very high amounts of protein, fat or carbohydrates are likely to be low in important nutrients—and not advisable for long-term use and health.
Visit MyPyramid and customize your own weight-control eating plan using the basic food groups at a calorie level that meets your needs. Build your food choices around a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains (especially whole grains), low-fat dairy foods, fish, poultry, lean meats, nuts, beans, eggs and selected oils. Many fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories and fat and provide dietary fiber, which can contribute to a sense of fullness. A serving of 4–5 dried plums provides about 3 grams of dietary fiber for about 100 calories.
Whether you want to maintain your current weight, prevent future weight gain, lose weight or gain weight, you must be ready to commit to long-term changes in your eating habits and physical activity level. You might benefit from a nutrition "coach", such as a registered dietitian. To find a registered dietitian in your area, look in the business pages of the telephone book and scan for the credential "RD" (registered dietitian). You can also find a qualified dietetics professional through the American Dietetic Association Web site, www.eatright.org.