Topic updated: March 2013

Weight Control

There are many ways to lose weight, but it is not always easy to keep the weight off. The key to successful weight loss is making changes in your eating and physical activity habits that you can keep up for the rest of your life. The information presented here may help put you on the road to healthy habits.

Health experts agree that you may gain health benefits from even a small weight loss if:

A weight loss of 5 to 7 percent of body weight may improve your health and quality of life, and it may prevent weight-related health problems, like type 2 diabetes. For a person who weighs 200 pounds, this means losing 10 to 14 pounds.

Even if you do not need to lose weight, you should still follow healthy eating and physical activity habits to help prevent weight gain and keep you healthy over the years.

Body Mass Index

BMI is a tool that is often used to determine whether a person’s health is at risk due to his or her weight. It is a ratio of your weight to your height. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. (You can find a BMI chart at the original article.)

How can I lose weight?

To lose weight you need to take in fewer calories than you use. You can do this by creating and following a plan for healthy eating and a plan for regular physical activity.

You may also choose to follow a formal weight-loss program that can help you make lifelong changes in your eating and physical activity habits. See below for more information on weight-loss programs.

Your plan for healthy eating

It may be hard to stick to a weight-loss “diet” that limits your portions to very small sizes or excludes certain foods. You may have difficulty making that work over the long term. Instead, a healthy eating plan takes into account your likes and dislikes, and includes a variety of foods that give you enough calories and nutrients for good health.

Make sure your healthy eating plan is one that:

  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, bean, eggs, and nuts.
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.

Your plan for regular physical activity

Regular physical activity may help you lose weight and keep it off. It may also improve your energy level and mood, and lower your risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, experts believe all adults should be physically active. Some activity is better than none, and individuals who engage in any amount of physical activity may gain some health benefits. The majority of your physical activity should be moderate to vigorous in intensity. However, adults should aim to include muscle-strengthening activities as well.

You can be physically active every day for one extended period of time, or you can break it up into shorter sessions of 20, 15, or even 10 minutes. Try some of these physical activities:

  • walking (15 minutes per mile or 4 miles per hour)
  • biking
  • tennis
  • aerobic exercise classes (step aerobics, kick boxing, dancing)
  • energetic house or yard work (gardening, raking, mopping, vacuuming)

What types of weight loss programs are available?

There are two different types of weight-loss programs-clinical and nonclinical. Knowing what a good program will offer and what to look for may help you choose a weight-loss program that will work for you.

Nonclinical Program

What it is: A nonclinical program may be commercially operated, such as a privately owned weight-loss chain. You can follow a nonclinical program on your own by using a counselor, book, website, or weight-loss product. You can also join others in a support group, worksite program, or community-based program. Nonclinical weight-loss programs may require you to use the program’s foods or supplements.

A safe and effective program will offer:

  • Books, pamphlets, and websites that are written or reviewed by a licensed health professional such as a medical doctor (M.D.) or registered dietitian (R.D.).
  • Balanced information about following a healthy eating plan and getting regular physical activity.
  • Leaders or counselors who show you their training credentials. (Program leaders or counselors may not be licensed health professionals.)

Program cautions:

  • If a program requires you to buy prepackaged meals, find out how much the meals will cost - they may be expensive. Also, eating prepackaged meals does not let you learn the food selection and cooking skills you will need to maintain weight loss over the long term.
  • Avoid any diet that suggests you eat a certain formula, food, or combination of foods for easy weight loss. Some of these diets may work in the short term because they are low in calories. But they may not give you all the nutrients your body needs and they do not teach healthy eating habits.
  • Avoid programs that do not include a physical activity plan.
  • Talk to your health care provider before using any weight-loss product, such as a supplement, herb, or over-the-counter medication.

Clinical Program

What it is: A clinical program provides services in a health care setting, such as a hospital. One or more licensed health professionals, such as medical doctors, nurses, registered dietitians, and psychologists, provide care. A clinical program may or may not be commercially owned.

Clinical programs may offer services such as nutrition education, physical activity, and behavior change therapy. Some programs offer prescription weight-loss drugs or gastrointestinal surgery.

Prescription Weight-loss Drugs. If your BMI is 30 or more, or your BMI is 27 or more and you have weight-related health problems, you may consider using prescription weight-loss drugs. Drugs should be used as part of an overall program that includes long-term changes in eating and physical activity habits. Only a licensed health care provider can prescribe these drugs. See “Additional Reading” for more information about prescription medications for the treatment of obesity.

Bariatric Surgery. If your BMI is 40 or more, or your BMI is 35 or more and you have weight-related health problems such as diabetes or heart disease, you may consider bariatric surgery (also called gastrointestinal surgery). Most patients lose weight quickly. To keep the weight off, most will need to eat healthy and get regular physical activity over the long term. Surgery may also reduce the amount of vitamins and minerals that are absorbed by your body. The rapid weight loss as a result of bariatric surgery may also cause gallstones. See the “Additional Reading” section for more information about bariatric surgery.

What a safe and effective program will offer:

  • A team of licensed health professionals.
  • A plan to help you keep weight off after you have lost it.

Program cautions:

There may be side effects or health risks involved in the program that can be serious. Discuss these with your health care provider.

Regardless of the type of weight-loss program you choose, be sure you have follow-up visits with your health care provider. He or she may suggest ways to deal with setbacks or obstacles you may face along the way, as well as answer any questions you may have as you move forward.

For more detailed information about choosing a safe and successful weight-loss program, see the “Additional Reading” section at the end of this brochure.

It is not always easy to change your eating and physical activity habits. You may have setbacks along the way. But keep trying-you can do it!

Read more at WIN - The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

scale and measuring tape

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