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Weight Management

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Weight Management

Overview

What is a healthy weight?

A healthy weight is the weight at which you feel good about yourself and have energy for work and play. It's also one that lowers your risk for health problems.

Why pay attention to your weight?

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 heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Eating healthy foods and being more active also can help you feel better and have more energy.

What can you do to get to a healthy weight and stay there?

If you want to get to a healthy weight and stay there, making healthy lifestyle changes will often work better than dieting. These steps can help.

  • Eat healthy foods. On most days, eat a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and lean meats. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be part of healthy eating. Even sweets can be okay.
  • Be active. When you're active, you burn calories. This makes it easier to reach and stay at a healthy weight. Try to be active for at least 1 hour every day.
  • Change your thinking. When you're trying to reach a healthy weight, changing how you think about certain things may help. Here are some ideas:
    • Don't compare yourself to others. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
    • Pay attention to how hungry or full you feel.
    • Focus on improving your health instead of dieting.

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Are You at a Healthy Weight?

Find out your body mass index (BMI)

Body mass index (BMI) can help you see if your weight is raising your risk for health problems. It uses a formula to compare how much you weigh with how tall you are.

  • A BMI lower than 18.5 is considered underweight.
  • A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.
  • A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

If your BMI is in the normal range, it means that you have a lower risk for weight-related health problems. If your BMI is in the overweight or obese range, you may be at increased risk for weight-related health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis or joint pain, and diabetes. If your BMI is in the underweight range, you may be at increased risk for health problems such as fatigue, lower protection (immunity) against illness, muscle loss, bone loss, hair loss, and hormone problems.

BMI is just one measure of your risk for weight-related health problems. You may be at higher risk for health problems if you are not active, you eat an unhealthy diet, or you drink too much alcohol or use tobacco products.

Measure your waist size

Waist circumference is the distance around your waist. Measuring it is a way to check how much fat is on your belly. Having extra belly fat increases your risk of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

For most people, the goal for a healthy waist is:footnote 1

  • Less than 40 in. (102 cm) for men.
  • Less than 35 in. (88 cm) for women.

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.

To find your waist circumference, use a tape measure to measure around your body at the top of your hipbone. This is usually at the level of your belly button. The tape should fit snugly but not press into your skin.

Check how much body fat you have

Body fat testing checks how much body fat you have. It may be done to find out if you have too much or too little body fat.

The test is one of the ways to measure healthy weight.

People who are trying to become more fit and lose weight sometimes use the test to check for changes in their body fat levels.

Experts have different opinions about what is a healthy body fat range. Body fat recommendations are based on a person's age, sex, and activity level.

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What Affects Your Weight?

When you take in more calories than you burn off, you gain weight. How you eat, how active you are, and other things affect how your body uses calories and whether you gain weight.

If you have family members who have too much body fat, you may have inherited a tendency to gain weight. And your family also helps form your eating and lifestyle habits, which can lead to obesity.

Also, our busy lives make it harder to plan and cook healthy meals. For many of us, it's easier to reach for prepared foods, go out to eat, or go to the drive-through. But these foods are often high in saturated fat and calories. Portions are often too large.

Your genes

Genes determine what features (genetic traits) you inherit from your parents. They influence your weight by their effect on:

How your body uses calories (energy metabolism).
Some people need fewer calories to fuel their bodies. They may have "leftover" calories that are stored as fat. Other people need more calories to fuel their bodies. They have fewer leftover calories to store as fat.
Basal metabolic rate (BMR).
BMR is how much energy you burn when you're at rest. If you have a lower BMR, it's easier to gain weight.
Body signals.
Hunger, fullness (satiety), and appetite are body signals that tell you how much to eat.
Set point.
Your body may try to keep your weight within a specific range, or set point.
Fat distribution.
Men tend to store fat in the belly, while women store more in the hips and thighs. As women age, more fat is stored in the belly.

Calories from the foods you eat

Food gives your body energy. Energy from the food you eat is measured in calories. This energy keeps your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working.

Your body needs a certain number of calories each day. After your body uses the calories it needs, it stores extra calories as fat.

To lose weight safely, you have to eat fewer calories while eating in a healthy way.

How active you are

Being active is one of the best things you can do to get fit and stay healthy. It helps you feel stronger and have more energy. It can help you lose fat, build muscle, and reach a healthy weight. Being active may also help you feel better, sleep better, and focus.

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How Can You Get to a Healthy Weight?

Make a plan

You might have heard that a certain diet plan helped another person lose weight. But that doesn't mean that it will work for you.

It's very hard to stay on a diet that includes lots of big changes in your eating habits. If you want to get to a healthy weight and stay there, making healthy lifestyle changes will often work better than dieting. These steps can help.

  • Make a plan for change.

    Work with your doctor to create a plan that's right for you.

  • See a dietitian.

    He or she can show you how to make healthy changes in your eating habits.

  • Be active.

    Part of reaching a healthy weight is being physically active.

  • Manage stress.

    Having a lot of stress in your life can make it hard to focus on making healthy changes to your daily habits.

  • Track your food and activity.

    You are likely to do better at losing weight if you keep track of what you eat and what you do.

Set goals

So you're ready to set goals to get to a healthy weight. That's great!

Focus on small goals.
For example, your large goal may be to lose 50 lb (22.7 kg). Your small goal could be to lose 5 lb (2.3 kg).
Write down your goals.
This will help you remember, and you'll have a clearer idea of what you want to achieve.
Make your goals specific.
For example, setting a goal to eat 5 helpings of fruits and vegetables 5 days a week is better than a general goal to "eat more vegetables."
Focus on one goal at a time.
You're less likely to feel overwhelmed and then give up.
When you reach a goal, reward yourself.
Celebrate your new behavior and success for several days, and then think about setting your next goal.

Change the way you think about weight

Our thoughts have a lot to do with how we feel and what we do. If you need to make changes to get to a healthy weight, you may find it helpful to start paying attention to how you think about weight and what kinds of things you tell yourself about your weight.

When you shift your thinking to become more positive and helpful, you may be surprised at how much better you feel about your goals and your ability to achieve them. Here are some things to remember:

  • Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Food is neutral. It's not "good" or "bad," and you aren't "good" or "bad" depending on what you eat.
  • You aren't a number on a scale.

With time and practice, you can change what you say to yourself. You can learn to think in a healthy way even when you have setbacks.

Keep track of your weight

Keep track of your weight. Tracking your weight can help you see how you're doing. It can inspire you to keep going and help you make a plan to avoid slip-ups.

  • Weigh yourself no more than once a week, unless your doctor tells you to do so more often because of a health problem.
  • Try to weigh yourself on the same scale, at the same time of day, in about the same amount of clothing.
  • Remember that many things can affect your weight. It's normal for your weight to go up and down by a few pounds from one day to the next. Try to look at the general trend of your weight, rather than the day-to-day changes.

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How Can You Stay at a Healthy Weight?

It can be hard to stay at a healthy weight, especially when fast food, vending-machine snacks, and processed foods are so easy to find. And activity may be low on your list of things to do. But staying at a healthy weight may be easier than you think.

Here are some dos and don'ts for staying at a healthy weight.

Do eat healthy foods

The kinds of foods you eat have a big impact on both your weight and your health. Reaching and staying at a healthy weight is not about going on a diet. It's about making healthier food choices every day and changing your diet for good.

Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods so that you get all the nutrients you need. Your body needs protein, carbohydrate, and fats for energy. They keep your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working.

On most days, try to eat from each food group. This means eating a variety of:

  • Whole grains, such as whole wheat breads and pastas.
  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Dairy products, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Lean proteins, such as all types of fish, chicken without the skin, and beans.

Don't have too much or too little of one thing. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be part of healthy eating. Even sweets can be okay.

If your favorite foods are high in fat, salt, sugar, or calories, limit how often you eat them. Eat smaller servings, or look for healthy substitutes.

Do watch what you eat

Many people eat more than their bodies need. Part of staying at a healthy weight means learning how much food you really need from day to day and not eating more than that. Even with healthy foods, eating too much can make you gain weight.

Having a well-balanced diet means that you eat enough, but not too much, and that your food gives you the nutrients you need to stay healthy. So listen to your body. Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you feel satisfied.

It's a good idea to have healthy snacks ready for when you get hungry. Keep healthy snacks with you at work, in your car, and at home. If you have a healthy snack easily available, you'll be less likely to pick a candy bar or bag of chips from a vending machine instead.

Some healthy snacks you might want to keep on hand are fruit, low-fat yogurt, string cheese, low-fat microwave popcorn, raisins and other dried fruit, nuts, whole wheat crackers, pretzels, carrots, celery sticks, and broccoli.

Do some physical activity

A big part of reaching and staying at a healthy weight is being active.

When you're active, you burn calories. This makes it easier to reach and stay at a healthy weight. When you're active on a regular basis, your body burns more calories, even when you're at rest. Being active helps you lose fat and build lean muscle.

Try to be active for at least 1 hour every day. This may sound like a lot, but it's okay to be active in smaller blocks of time that add up to 1 hour a day. Any activity that makes your heart beat faster and keeps it there for a while counts. A brisk walk, run, or swim will get your heart beating faster. So will climbing stairs, shooting baskets, or cycling. Even some household chores like vacuuming and mowing the lawn will get your heart rate up.

Pick activities that you enjoy—ones that make your heart beat faster, your muscles stronger, and your muscles and joints more flexible. If you find more than one thing you like doing, do them all. You don't have to do the same thing every day.

Don't diet

Diets don't work.

Diets are temporary. Because you give up so much when you diet, you may be hungry and think about food all the time. And after you stop dieting, you also may overeat to make up for what you missed. Most people who diet end up gaining back the pounds they lost—and more.

Remember that healthy bodies come in lots of shapes and sizes. Everyone can get healthier by eating better and being more active.

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References

Citations

  1. 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.

Credits

Current as of: September 20, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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