According to the National Institute of Health, in the United States, 35 percent of adults are obese and 17 percent of children are affected by obesity. Obesity describes someone whose body weight, or more accurately body fat, is greater than what is considered healthy for a given height. Looking at body mass index (BMI) can help you estimate if you’re at a healthy or unhealthy weight.
If you want to lose weight, then diet and exercise are key. The first step is correcting your “energy balance,” or calories in versus calories out. Eating less and exercising more will result in weight loss. Exercise can be as simple as walking 30 minutes a day, or may include a more intense training regimen.
Here are some beginner guidelines to keep in mind:
- A healthy pace to lose weight is one to two pounds per week. This may mean reducing your calorie intake by 500-1000 calories.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that’s rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
- Avoid processed foods such as sugary drinks, chips, and white grains.
- Changes happen over time, not in a week or a day.
- All movement counts and exercise minutes add up. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150-250 minutes (30-50 minutes, 5 days a week) of moderate intensity exercise for weight loss.
Keep reading to learn more about healthy diet and weight loss tools.
Safe vs. fad diets
While some diets that promise fast weight loss may sound promising, they are often unhealthy and involve strict rules that are hard to follow. Some popular fad diets to avoid include the cabbage diet, the grapefruit diet, and the Master Cleanse diet. Losing weight too quickly (more than three pounds a week) can also increase your risk for gallstones.
But how can you tell the difference between a fad diet and a safe one? Signs of a fad diet include:
- encouraging fast weight loss
- limiting the types of food or entire food groups
- too much exercise, too fast
- no exercise required
- lack of scientific evidence
Following a diet with these guidelines can result in weight cycling, also known as yo-yo dieting. Repeatedly losing and gaining weight can actually increase your risk for cardiovascular diseases, even if you’re not overweight.
A safe diet will focus on realistic expectations and balance. A safe diet will talk about portion size, eating more vegetables and other high volume foods to feel full, and adding exercise to your daily routine.
A few examples of healthy diets are:
It’s also important to include foods that you enjoy eating - that’s the secret to sticking with a diet.
Tips and tricks for dieting
Luckily, we live in an age where helpful hints for weight loss are all around us. It’s important to remember that a healthy diet and exercise program are lifelong changes. Some steps you can take to incorporate a healthy lifestyle include:
- Plan balanced meals in advance.
- Eat mindfully. It helps to count to thirty while you chew.
- Using an app that tracks weight loss and exercise, such as MyFitnessPal, which is a free calorie counting app.
- Using social media to track your progress and keep yourself accountable.
- Make an effort to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Walking counts!
Various medications are only effective when paired with a healthy diet and exercise. Make sure to contact your doctor to see if these are right for you.
While you can use your BMI to provide a general idea of whether you’re over or underweight, relying on this measurement is not accurate for specific groups of people. Athletes, for example, may be considered overweight by their BMI classification, but their weight is not due to fat. Therefore, they’re at a healthy weight. Other groups, such as older adults, may have a normal BMI, but still be considered overweight because they’ve lost lean body mass and fat makes up most of their weight. Calculating body fat requires calipers or equipment for accuracy, but you can get an idea using this calculator.
What causes obesity and weight gain?
Burning fewer calories than you eat is the most basic explanation for weight gain. It’s important to make sure that you are watching both your calorie intake as well as your dedication to burning off those calories. Not exercising regularly can also affect weight management.
Other factors of weight gain include:
Age: As we get older, our metabolisms slow down and we burn calories at a slower rate.
Genes: Your genes and family history also play an important role in weight gain. You’re also likely to develop the same eating habits as your family.
Medical conditions: Pre-existing health conditions, such as an underactive thyroid, also make it harder to keep your weight down.
Lifestyle factors: Lack of sleep, certain medications, smoking, and stress contribute to weight gain.
What are the risks associated with obesity?
The most common complications that develop due to obesity include:
- coronary heart disease: Coronary heart disease reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood that gets sent to your heart. This increases your risk for heart attack or heart failure.
- high blood pressure: Your heart needs to pump even harder to reach the cells all over your body. While high blood pressure itself has no symptoms, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.
- type 2 diabetes: It’s not clear why people who are obese are more likely to develop this disease, but obesity increases your risk for diabetes. About 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are obese or overweight.
Obesity also increases your risk for:
- sleep apnea
- joint pain
- trouble breathing
The good news is that starting a healthy journey towards a weight loss can start any day. The best way to ensure a safe weight loss journey is to stay as informed about the process.