Weight Management Basics

Written by Robin Madell | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP


Managing your weight involves balancing the number of calories you consume with the calories you burn off through activity. Weight management generally focuses on healthy eating and regular exercise.

Maintaining proper body weight is an important part of overall health, wellness, and quality of life for both men and women. Research has shown that being overweight or obese can increase your risk for a number of serious health problems including:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • stroke

Being underweight also carries health risks, including nutritional deficiencies, weakened immunity, fatigue, and fertility problems for women. To avoid these issues, it’s important to find your proper weight range and maintain it through caloric balance.

Assessing Your Weight

The first step toward weight management is finding out if your current weight is healthy. You can find this out by measuring either your body mass index (BMI) or waist size.

Body Mass Index

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your BMI gives you a reliable way to check your level of body fat. BMI is based on the ratio of height to weight.

To figure out your BMI, you can use either a BMI Calculator or a BMI Index Chart, both of which are free online from many organizations including the CDC. A BMI value of less than 18.5 is considered underweight, while a BMI over 25 is classified as overweight.

Waist Size

You can also assess your weight by simply measuring your waistline. To do this, wrap a tape measure around your bare stomach, placing the tape just above your hip bone. The tape should be snug on your skin but not tight.

Relax and exhale before measuring. A waist of more than 40 inches for a man and more than 35 inches for a woman is too high, according to the CDC, putting you at greater risk for health problems.

Controlling Your Weight Through Calorie Balance

Successful weight control is about striking the right calorie balance over time. Although many diet fads claim to hold the key to weight maintenance, whether or not you gain or lose weight really all comes down to the calories you consume versus the calories your burn. When you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. When you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight.

A calorie is a unit of energy attained from all food you eat and beverages you drink — carbohydrates, fats, sugars, and proteins all contain calories. You can think of caloric balance like one of those old-fashioned scales from chemistry class. To keep your scale in balance and to maintain your current weight, you need to eat about the same number of calories that your body uses for daily activities, exercise, and normal body functions.

When you eat more calories than your body uses, it stores the extra calories as fat, and you gain weight. When you eat fewer calories than your body uses, it must find energy by burning fat cells, and you lose weight.

Two ways to modify your body weight involve changing how you eat and adjusting your exercise level. Because 1 lb. of body fat is equal to 3,500 calories, you need to burn off an extra 500 calories per day for seven days or decrease the number of calories you eat by 500 per day for seven days in order to lose a pound a week.

Eating an extra 500 calories a day will cause you to gain a pound a week. The American Heart Association (AHA) says that most people need both regular exercise and a balanced diet for proper weight management.

Managing Your Weight Through Physical Activity

Physical activity is one proven way to help control weight. Daily activities and exercise both help increase the number of calories you burn each day.

While the amount of exercise needed for each person’s weight maintenance varies, the AHA suggests that adults aged 18 to 64 engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, each week. (This amounts to about 30 minutes a day, five days a week.)

Adults should also focus on strengthening activities, such as lifting weights, at least twice a week.

You may need to increase the intensity of your workouts or the amount of time that you work out to control your weight. Vigorous aerobic activities like running, biking, and jumping rope burn more calories per hour than walking.

The CDC’s guidelines suggest that 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly can provide the same health benefits, including weight loss and maintenance, as 150 minutes of moderate exercise.

Managing Your Weight Through Healthy Eating

Weight management also depends on following a balanced, low-fat eating plan. Reducing extra calories is just as important as increasing calories burned.

The principles of a healthy diet that can help you manage your weight include:

  • eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products
  • eating lean protein such as chicken, fish, beans, and nuts
  • avoiding cholesterol, salt, saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars

Taking in fewer calories doesn’t always have to mean eating less food. By replacing higher-calorie foods with lower-calorie options, you can cut calories and still feel full, resulting in slow and steady weight loss.

Eating smaller portions can also help with weight management. According to the CDC, research shows that people eat more when given larger portions, leading to higher caloric intake.

When it comes to diet and exercise, making lifestyle changes is key to successful weight management.

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