Your ideal weight depends on your how tall you are, your build, and whether you are a man or a woman. One of the best ways of calculating a healthy weight is to work out your body mass index (BMI) by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. The ideal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Your risk of a number of health problems rises significantly from a BMI of 27 while anything over 29.9 is a serious health concern.
Another good check for healthy weight is to measure your waist. For women, a waist circumference of over 80 cm indicates a greater risk of disease, and more than 88 cm (35 inches) puts you at substantially increased risk. For men the figures are 94 cm and 102 cm (40 inches).
If you are overweight you have a greater chance of dying early, developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, joint problems, gallbladder disease, sleep and lung problems and some cancers (including prostate, bowel, gallbladder, ovarian and breast cancers). Abdominal body fat, the ‘apple shape’, is a higher health risk than the ‘pear shape’. Also, the relationship between weight and cardiovascular risk is continuous — the more you gain weight the higher your risk.
Being overweight is more of a problem the younger the person and the longer they stay overweight. Also, if you are overweight you may not feel your best and this can have an effect on your confidence and many parts of your life.
If you are overweight you should try moving more and eating less, and to build up muscle mass — because it burns more energy at rest than fat does.
Decide what is a healthy, achievable and sustainable weight for you and give yourself a time-frame to achieve it. Take it very slowly (about a kilogram a month) as weight lost quickly comes back quickly. Set a number of short-term goals so you have a sense of achievement, and reward yourself with non-food treats when you achieve them.
Most weight loss is from eating less, but exercise is what keeps it off. Most people seem to find it easier to reduce their kilojoule intake than to burn off kilojoules through exercise. But reducing your kilojoule intake slows the body's metabolism and it starts to burn off fewer kilojoules than before. Then your weight loss will slow or stop, or, if you resume eating at previous levels, you'll even put on weight.
The trick is to find ways to put a bit more physical effort in every day to offset the slowing in metabolic rate caused by the reduced kilojoules.
Start slowly, perhaps with a gentle walk for 15 minutes 3 days a week. Work up to 30 minutes to an hour of moderate (where you can still hold a conversation) exercise most days of the week.
If you can't fit in an hour of exercise at once, try shorter bursts of activity, such as walking around the block at lunch time, after dinner, from a car park further away from the office or up the stairs, several times a day. Exercise is cumulative. Find something you enjoy and that is easy to get to or organise, otherwise you won't do it. Do it with a friend or the family.
Strength training increases your metabolism. Muscle burns more fuel (kilojoules or calories) at rest than does fat. Each day, a pound of muscle burns over 10 times as much energy as a pound of fat just to maintain itself. So a couple of extra pounds or kilos of muscle will automatically mean you burn off more food. Also, the stronger you are, the more likely you are to exercise, and you'll look trimmer because you are toned.
Record your daily food intake and exercise. Studies have shown that this is the best way to ensure your weight-loss programme will succeed.
Before you start, check with your doctor if you have any health problems, are currently taking any medicine, or plan on taking any medicine, or plan to lose more than 6 to 8 kilograms. There are many dietitians, weight-loss programmes, personal trainers, gym programmes and self-help books available. Choose a programme that teaches you how to make permanent changes in eating habits and levels of physical activity so you take weight off AND keep it off. If it offers a quick fix, forget it.
Weight will be regained unless the change in diet and the increase in activity are ongoing. Beware of the ‘made it’ syndrome, where, having reached a target weight, you return to old habits.
Quick-loss, low-kilojoule diet methods, most pills, potions and herbs, passive machines and rub-on creams do not help you lose weight. Prescription weight loss medications are usually used by people with a high BMI, or a moderately high BMI plus other health risks, who have not been able to lose weight with diet and exercise alone. They must always be taken under medical supervision and together with lifestyle changes.
Last Reviewed: 30 June 2008