Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(12):2099-2100

What is a healthy weight for me?

This is a tough question to answer. Even though many people talk about weight, what really matters is how much of your body weight is fat. Your doctor can help you decide what weight is right for you.

The body mass index (or BMI, for short) is an approximate measure of body fat. It is based on your height and weight. A BMI between 19 and 24.9 is considered normal. A person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight. A person whose BMI is 30 or more is considered obese.

How can I lower my BMI?

The best way to lower your BMI is to take in fewer calories and to be more physically active. Long-term success is not about finding the “right” diet. It’s about changing unhealthy habits that have led you to take in more calories than your body needs.

You are more likely to make changes in your habits if you set a goal for yourself. For example, decide that you’ll be more active every other day of the week. Decide what kind of activity you’ll do and which days you’ll do it. Your new goal might be: “During my lunch hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I’m going to walk for half an hour in the park.” Once your new healthy behavior becomes a habit, you can move on to another goal.

Some Things That Can Lead to Being Overweight

Having weight problems in your family

Eating when you’re lonely, sad, bored, or stressed

Eating because you feel pressured by friends or family to eat

Eating when you are not hungry

Taking medicine that makes you feel hungry

Having health problems that slow your metabolism (how fast your body burns calories)

Why is physical activity so important?

Physical activity builds muscle, so even if you don’t lose weight, you will look and feel better if you are more active. Being active also reduces your risk of health problems like heart disease and diabetes, even if you are overweight.

What’s the best kind of activity for me?

First, ask your doctor if there is any kind of physical activity that you shouldnot do. Being more active doesn’t mean you need to have a complicated exercise program. Remember that the best kind of activity is the kind that you’ll keep doing. Whatever activity you choose, try to do it for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week.

Aerobic exercises, such as swimming, walking, and jogging, raise your heart rate and help burn calories. The longer you exercise, the more fat your body will burn. Walking can be very helpful even if you don’t walk fast. Weight training also has many health benefits. It helps build muscle, which helps you burn more calories each day.

How can I change my eating habits?

Change them one at a time. For example, focus on eating more slowly and enjoying the taste and smell of your food. Don’t watch TV, talk on the phone, or drive while you eat.

What’s so bad about foods that are high in fat and added sugar?

Foods that are high in fat and added sugar have lots of calories. Fat has almost twice the calories of carbohydrates and protein. Also, calories that come from fat are more easily used by your body to make body fat.

Why is skipping meals bad for me?

Even though skipping meals may help you lose weight for a while, it’s bad for you in the long run. When you skip a meal, you are likely to get too hungry, and then you may eat too much at once.

What can I do when my friends or family members pressure me to eat?

Telling people that you need their support might be enough to get them to understand that you’re trying to improve your health habits. If that doesn’t work, telling them it’s your “doctor’s orders” may work. If not, you may have to avoid those people until you feel comfortable enough to handle the pressure.

Healthy Habits

Eat breakfast.

Make lunch your biggest meal of the day.

Have a low-fat salad, soup, broth, or a glass of water before each meal.

Eat more vegetables and whole grains at each meal.

Drink fewer sweetened beverages (such as regular soda and fruit juice).

If you drink more than one regular soda per day, replace one of them with a diet soda, water, unsweetened tea, black coffee, or skim milk.

Limit the number of alcoholic drinks you have.

Eat slowly so your body has time to know when you are full.

Be more active in your daily life.

Replace some of the sugar in your diet with sugar substitutes.

Get support from family and friends. Support is very important for long-term success in changing unhealthy habits.

Will diet pills help me lower my BMI?

If you use certain diet medicines the way your doctor tells you to, they might help you lower your BMI. But these medicines are not the secret to long-term weight loss. Eating a healthy diet and being more active are the way to lose weight and keep it off.

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