Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, the United States Surgeon General, recommends that overweight and obese individuals lose weight to promote health and longevity. Overweight and obesity are defined by body mass index (BMI), which is based on a ratio of height to weight. A BMI of 25 is overweight, while a BMI of 30 or more is obese. If you are overweight or obese, you have extra body fat, increasing your risk of serious illness or death. Fortunately, losing just 5 to 15% of your body weight can make a difference.
If you stay at an unhealthy weight, you are more likely to have high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar, Type 2 diabetes and elevated lipid levels, including cholesterol and triglycerides. Hypertension and high cholesterol are both associated with deadly heart attack and stroke, and the surgeon general has stated that lowering your body weight may reduce the risk of these dangerous cardiovascular events. By using the Surgeon General’s guidelines, you can safely lose weight and avoid these health complications.
Find a Healthy Target Weight
The surgeon general recommends finding your ideal weight and then taking steps to reach that goal. The simplest way to determine your healthy weight range is to use the BMI system. This is easy with an online BMI calculator, like the one on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Plug in your height and weight to find out your BMI, and then keep that goal in mind during your weight-loss efforts.
A healthy BMI range is between 18.5 and 24.9. A BMI of 18.5 or lower means you are underweight, which can be unhealthy, particularly if you are not eating enough nutrients. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you are considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher indicates obesity.
Watch Your Diet
According to the surgeon general, you can lose weight by choosing sensible portion sizes as well as adhering to the latest U.S. dietary guidelines. The Mayo Clinic echoes this sentiment, stating that diet is the single most important factor for losing weight.
To drop pounds, fill your plate with whole grains like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta; lean proteins like seafood, egg whites and cottage cheese; and plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables. Minimize fat intake, and avoid trans fats and most saturated fats.
While it may be tempting to go on crash diets or fasts that severely limit food intake, these are unhealthy and rarely lead to permanent weight reduction. When you lose weight rapidly, you risk losing water and muscle instead of fat. What’s more, crash dieting deprives you of essential nutrients. You are likely to binge afterwards to compensate, causing the weight to come back — plus maybe some extra.
Get Your Exercise
The surgeon general recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week for adults. Children need at least 60 minutes. This exercise helps to burn off the calories you consume throughout the day, making it easier to expend more energy than you consume. To lose a single pound of fat, you must burn off 3,500 more calories than you eat. Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is a healthy weight loss goal, and requires cutting 500 to 1,000 calories from your normal diet each day. Your calorie needs vary according to gender, height, weight and activity level. A calorie calculator can help you determine your ideal intake. Keep in mind that you should not consume less than 1,200 calories per day.
You can exercise in shorter sessions throughout the day if you do not have 30-minutes blocks of time in your schedule. Walking, running and riding a bicycle are great ways to stay active, but you can also get your exercise through more entertaining activities like dancing, playing volleyball or jumping rope. Doing chores like raking, pushing a stroller or washing your car will also help you lose weight.
When you exercise, engage in activities that are at least moderately intense. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), moderate physical activity is anything that makes your heart rate and breathing get noticeably faster. The CDC also states that if you do more vigorous exercise, such as running, you will reap the same benefits as moderate exercise in half the total weekly time.
Skip the Screen Time
According to the The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation, watching television contributes to obesity by encouraging a sedentary lifestyle. What’s more, you may pig out on high-calorie foods while glued to the screen without ever noticing how much you have eaten. A study conducted at Yale University in 2009 showed that both children and adults were compelled to snack on whatever was available after watching commercials for food.
It may be hard to break the television habit, but your weight may depend on it. Sitting on a computer screen can also contribute to excess fat in the same way watching television does. The solution is to watch only your favorite programs and limit Internet time. Use your screens for enjoyment or necessity, but not to stave off boredom.
Diets: This article from the National Institutes of Health offers advice on how to eat a healthy diet. It also provides links to dozens of specialized diet plans.
Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour: The Mayo Clinic provides a chart of common aerobic activities and how many calories they burn per hour at various weights.
Physical Activity for Everyone: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide these guidelines for physical activity among all age groups.
Rapid Weight Loss: This WebMD article goes over crash dieting, and outlines the dangers of losing weight too quickly.