Weight Management Basics

Weight Management Basics

Also called: Weight Control Basics

Summary

Weight management includes all the steps a person takes to maintain a healthy weight. This typically involves eating a well-balanced diet in which calorie intake matches energy output. Regular physical activity is another crucial component of weight management.

A person’s weight also depends on several other factors, including age, gender, behaviors and health status. Genetic factors also play a significant role, helping to determine a person’s height, size and shape of body frame. In addition, the eating and activity patterns established during childhood help to determine those patterns for life.

Diet and exercise are the chief controllable factors that influence a person’s weight. Generally, experts recommend a diet that is lower in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Such a diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and other healthy foods.

Experts recommend that women and inactive men consume approximately 2,000 calories a day while men and very active women consume 2,500 calories a day. Each pound of body fat is equal to 3,500 calories. To lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, a person might consume between 300 and 500 fewer calories a day.

Regular physical activity is a crucial component of effective weight management. People are urged to get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Ideally, this will include aerobic exercise (e.g., walking, jogging or swimming) as well as stretching and strength-training exercises (e.g., weight lifting or calisthenics). However, even activities such as gardening, vacuuming and brisk walking can make an important contribution to overall health.

Other tips for reducing or burning calories include avoiding consuming large amounts of empty calories, eating breakfast every day, broiling and baking foods instead of frying them, ordering carefully in restaurants, and reducing alcohol intake.

About weight management

Weight management involves all the steps a person takes to maintain a healthy weight. Each individual has an optimal weight that falls into a statistical range that is likely to promote good health. People who fall outside this range are at increased risk for disease and other ailments.

A person’s weight depends on several factors. These include how much food a person eats and the type of food consumed, and whether or not they engage in regular physical activity. A person’s age, gender, behaviors and health status influence weight. Genetic factors also play a large role, helping to determine a person’s height, size and shape of body frame. Finally, the rate at which a person’s body burns calories (metabolic rate) and a person’s overall body composition (e.g., how much muscle they have in relation to body fat) plays a significant role in managing an individual’s overall weight.

Diet and exercise are the chief controllable factors that influence a person’s weight. Many Americans eat too much. The result is often overweight or obesity. According to the Institutes of Medicine (IOM), overweight is defined as an excess of body weight, which can include bone, muscle or fat. Obesity, on the other hand, is defined as an excess of body fat. Obesity is also associated with high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. An estimated 65 percent of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese, according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The problem of an overweight population is not unique to the United States. For example, experts in the United Kingdom recently warned that the growing epidemic of obesity there threatens to eventually bankrupt the public health system.

Overweight and obesity are known risk factors for the following:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Gallbladder disease, gallstones
  • Osteoarthritis (joint disorder due to the degeneration of the cartilage and bone)
  • Sleep apnea and other breathing problems
  • Several types of cancer
  • Gout (joint disease caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood)

Extra weight places strain on the entire body, including the muscles, joints, lungs, heart and other organs. This causes organs and joints to work harder throughout the day. Excess weight also hinders physical activity, leading to increasing inactivity that causes muscle loss and additional weight gain.

Excess weight gain also can take an emotional toll on people and may contribute to a negative body image, poor self-esteem or social isolation.

Some people in America also are underweight, although this condition is much less common than overweight and obesity. In some cases underweight is the result of an eating disorder, and the person will require medical attention and treatment. In other cases, factors can conspire to suppress a person’s appetite. These include illness, pain, fatigue, depression, stress, medication or disease.

There are many benefits to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Losing even a small amount of excess weight may improve many of the physical problems and health risks associated with overweight and obesity. For example, an obese person who loses just 5 percent to 15 percent of body weight can lower their blood pressure, total blood cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. Weight loss can also improve blood sugar control and contribute to a positive body image and improved self-esteem.

Healthy living and healthy eating are lifelong choices. They should not be thought of as a series of temporary fixes or short-term goals discarded after the initial weight is lost. When trying to lose weight, it is important to design a long-term eating and living plan that will help maintain a healthy lifestyle. Throughout this process, small changes can help build upon these goals.

Generally, experts recommend a diet that is lower in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol to manage weight. However, some fat is important to good health, so people are encouraged to consume moderate levels of unsaturated fats. A healthy diet should also be rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and other healthy foods.

Successful weight management

Maintaining a healthy weight level is challenging for many people. Some recent research has found that the body may even be programmed to resist attempts to lose weight. However, many steps can be taken to achieve a healthy weight and they all revolve around three important concepts:

  • Limiting the amount of calories in the diet
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Getting regular exercise

People maintaining a current healthy weight need to balance calorie consumption with the amount of calories burned through activity. People hoping to lose weight should try to expend more calories than they consume until they lose the amount of weight necessary to bring them to a healthy weight appropriate for their age, gender and body type.

However, individuals should be wary of fad diets and miracle cures. These “quick-fix” schemes rarely work for long. People are encouraged to avoid crash diets and fasting. Crash diets that suddenly and dramatically reduce calorie intake deprive the body of important nutrients that can cause health problems. Meanwhile, fasting tends to cause weight loss that is mostly water-based and also deprives the body of important nutrients.

People are urged to take inventory of eating habits and activity patterns and set realistic goals for achieving a healthy weight. This usually should be done in consultation with a physician or dietitian. In identifying a healthy weight for an individual person, certain factors will be taken into account, including:

  • Body mass index (BMI). Weight in relation to height that does not directly measure body fat. A BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 is said to be in the healthy range. Anything above that range may indicate increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. Anything below that range may indicate increased risk for menstrual irregularity, infertility and osteoporosis.
  • Waist-to-hip-ratio. The location and amount of body fat. Some people are said to be shaped like an apple, while others are shaped more like a pear. People shaped like an apple carry more abdominal and upper-body fat and may be at greater health risk than those who are shaped like a pear and who have greater excess weight in the hips, buttocks and thighs. Waist circumference measurement also can help determine whether a person has a healthy weight or not. A waist measurement of 40 inches (102 centimeters) or more in men and 35 inches (89 centimeters) or more in women signifies increased health risk, particularly in people who have a BMI of 25 to 35.
  • Risk factors. These include weight-related problems such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke.

Experts recommend a gradual and systematic program of weight loss for shedding excess pounds. The tried-and-true methods for losing weight include portion control, eating the proper types of foods and regular exercise. Research shows that people who lose weight are more likely to keep it off if the weight loss is gradual and results from making long-term dietary changes and exercising regularly.

In addition, people who try to lose weight too rapidly by dramatically reducing their calorie intake are at risk for excessive loss of lean tissue. Severe calorie restriction is also often the first step in developing an eating disorder.

Experts recommend that women and inactive men consume approximately 2,000 calories a day, while men and very active women consume 2,500 calories a day. Each pound of body fat is equal to 3,500 calories. To lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, a person might consume between 300 and 500 fewer calories a day. Or, a person could divide the calorie loss between eating less and exercising more. For example, eating 250 fewer calories a day and burning an extra 250 calories a day through increased exercise would result in a total reduction of 500 calories a day.

A typical goal for losing weight in a healthy way might be to lose 10 percent of weight within a six-month period. For example, a woman weighing 170 pounds would strive to lose 17 pounds over a six-month period. To lose one-half pound a week, a person has to reduce daily intake by 250 calories. To lose 1 pound a week, reduce caloric intake by 500 calories (and so on).

People should also be wary of “wonder supplements.” Many diet pills have been associated with serious health risks, and people are urged to consult with their physician before taking them. Most of these drugs contain caffeine-like stimulants that can cause serious harm to the cardiovascular system, such as elevating blood pressure and causing abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). There is no cure or remedy for obesity available in a pill. Weight loss requires a serious commitment to a well-structured program of healthy diet and regular exercise.

Nationally recognized programs are available that offer support and education about healthy eating. Studies continue to show that structured, disciplined weight-loss programs of diet, exercise, support and other strategies successfully help people to slowly lose weight and keep the weight off for five years.

People with a body mass index of 30 or more are at greater risk for heart disease or other serious illnesses and should consult with a physician or dietitian for further guidance on how to lose weight. A medical professional can help develop the best and safest course, based on an individual’s physical condition and realistic objectives.Health problems also can result when a person’s food intake is severely low (e.g., low blood pressure, fatigue, dehydration, arrhythmias). This sometimes occurs in people with eating disorders. Physicians can be consulted for treatment and a plan for managing weight gain.

Design and implemention

People are urged to create a weight-management plan that includes both a well-balanced diet and other healthy lifestyle changes, such as developing a regular exercise plan. Incorporate changes and activities that take one’s own preferences into account. A person is less likely to stick with a new plan if it relies on depriving oneself of enjoyable foods and activities or engaging in unpleasant sacrifices.

In designing a well-balanced diet, follow guidelines established in the Food Guide Pyramid, DASH diet and heart-healthy diet models. These guidelines emphasize eating a variety of foods in moderation from the six basic food groups, which are:

  • Bread, cereal, pasta and rice (especially whole grains)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Milk, yogurt and cheese (preferably fat free or low fat)
  • Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts (preferably lean or low fat)
  • Oils

    MyPyramid

There also should be flexibility in the diet to occasionally reward oneself with a small treat that may be less healthy, but a treat is relatively harmless when enjoyed on occasion.

There are three nutrient categories that supply calories to the body – carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Alcohol also supplies calories. Cutting back on fats and alcohol can help aid healthy weight goals because these substances provide more calories than carbohydrates and proteins. Vitamins, minerals and water are nutrients that do not provide any calories to the body.

Poor eating habits should be weeded from one’s life. In particular, try to eliminate habits such as eating when bored or snacking while watching television. Concentrate on planning regular meal times in which food is consumed from a plate rather than pulled out of packages. People who travel a lot or find themselves eating frequently in restaurants are urged to identify foods ahead of time that are healthier.

Proper weight management is not restricted simply to one’s diet. Regular physical activity is a crucial component of effective weight management. It also offers numerous health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Emotionally, exercise can relieve stress, reduce depression and boost self-esteem. In addition, people who exercise often find they have reduced appetites, particularly after working out. Many studies have repeatedly shown that developing a healthy diet along with regular exercise is far more effective than dieting alone for weight loss.

The goal is to lose weight and tone up the entire body – exercise plans that aim at a particular area of the body (so-called “spot reducing”) do not work. While it is possible to lower your level of total body fat, you cannot target your weight loss to one specific area of the body, such as the abdominals or the thighs.   

Experts typically recommend that people get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most days of the week, and preferably on each day of the week. Ideally, this regular physical activity will include aerobic exercise (e.g., walking, jogging or swimming) as well as stretching and strength-training exercises (e.g., weight lifting or calisthenics). This type of exercise can burn significant calories.

However, even simple activities such as gardening, vacuuming and brisk walking can make an important contribution to an overall health and a more active lifestyle. To increase the odds of success, choose enjoyable activities.

Men over the age of 40, women over the age of 50 and people with chronic health problems should not begin a rigorous exercise program without first consulting a physician.

Examples of activities and the number of calories they burn in one hour of continuous exercise are as follows:

ActivityCalories
(120-lb. person)
Calories
(170-lb. person)
Jogging385540
Tennis or soccer385540
Swimming330460
Gardening275385
Biking220310
Brisk walking220310
Weight training165230
Bowling165230
Housework135190
Driving a car110155
Eating80115
Reading70100
Watching TV5575

When establishing a weight management plan, it is best to set small, realistic, specific and action-oriented goals. This will make the plan more attainable, and achieving this series of smaller, short-term goals eventually will pay off in the form of realized larger goals. It is important to make all goals flexible to allow for slips and failures. In this sense, a goal of walking for 15 minutes, five days a week is more likely to lead to success than a goal of walking for 15 minutes every day.

Tackle each goal gradually or one at a time. Experts say that it takes approximately six months to exchange one old unhealthy habit for a new healthier one.

People are urged to periodically re-evaluate their plan and to redesign the plan or individual goals as circumstances dictate. This may include a follow-up visit with a physician or dietitian who helped define these goals initially.

Support groups, exercise partners or friends with similar goals can be great sources of motivation and help keep a weight management program on track.

Keeping a food diary and activity log for a few days may be helpful. Journaling can help to track or identify situations, behaviors or habits that may undermine weight management efforts. Starting in the morning, write down all foods and drinks consumed throughout the day. Write down what and how much was eaten, as well as the time it was eaten. It is best to make these entries immediately after a meal rather than relying on memory later.

Use the diary to keep track of feelings and circumstances that surround eating by asking questions such as:

  • How did I feel prior to and during eating?
  • Was I hungry, comfortable or full prior to eating?
  • What was I doing while eating (e.g., watching TV, talking on the phone)?

If this review reveals signs of progress, a reward may be in order. However, it is best to reward oneself with something other than food. As successes multiply, people often lose weight, feel increased self-esteem and have an increased sense of control over their eating habits and their lives.

Reducing or burning calories

In planning a healthy diet, consumers can make good use of the nutrition facts section included on food labels. Information found here includes levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, fiber and certain nutrients found in each serving.

Other tips for reducing or burning calories include:

  • Avoid consuming large amounts of empty calories. Junk food and other snacks often contain many calories and few nutrients. Avoid these foods and substitute healthy alternatives, such as fruits, low fat cheese and yogurt.
  • Eat foods with lower energy density. Foods containing water (e.g., broth-based soups), fiber (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and less fat (e.g., skim milk) also provide fewer calories to the body while contributing a sense of fullness. This can be helpful to people trying to manage their weight.
  • Eat breakfast every day. People who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat throughout the course of the day. In addition, breakfast provides a vital boost of energy that helps people think and function right from the start of the day.
  • Try to broil or bake foods. When foods are fried, they absorb more of the fats from the cooking oils that are used. This increases a person’s dietary fat intake. When frying, try to use polyunsaturated oils such as corn oil.
    Fats & Oils
  • Order carefully in restaurants. Food served in restaurants tends to be more fattening and served in bigger portions than meals created in the home. When dining in restaurants, order low-fat meals. Or, order half an entrée, or an appetizer as an entrée.
  • Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol supplies 7 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and proteins supply 4 calories per gram. Women should have no more than one drink a day, while men should have no more than two per day. Alcohol intake also stimulates the appetite, which can add additional calories to the diet.
  • Stay active. Each type of physical activity burns calories. Even basic fidgeting has been shown to reduce a person’s calorie stores. Other tips for burning calories during the day include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting off the bus early and walking an extra block or two to one’s destination, washing the car by hand, and parking the car farther away and walking to stores, theaters and restaurants.
  • Drink plenty of water. Drinking water regularly throughout the day helps increase feelings of fullness, reducing hunger. Adequate water intake also helps the gastrointestinal tract to adjust to a diet higher in fiber. While adding fiber to your diet can reduce calorie intake, the body may experience side effects (such as abdominal discomfort) as it adjusts to this higher fiber content. Water can reduce these side effects.

Questions for your doctor

Preparing questions in advance can help patients have more meaningful discussions with health professionals regarding their conditions. Patients may wish to ask their doctor or registered dietitian the following questions related to weight management basics:

  1. Do I appear to be overweight, underweight or obese?
  2. Does my present weight raise my health risks?
  3. Where can I find advice on constructing a diet that will help me maintain an appropriate weight?
  4. How many calories should I trim out of my diet every day?
  5. What are some exercises that can help me achieve an appropriate weight?
  6. How much weight should I expect to lose in the first six months?
  7. Can you give me some tips to overcome frustration if I do not lose weight right away, or do not lose as much as I had hoped?
  8. How often can I indulge in foods that are unhealthy but appealing to me?
  9. Where can I go to have my body mass index or waist-to-hips ratio checked?
  10. Where can I learn more about how to keep a proper food diary?
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