Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk of problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, making weight a key factor in your overall health. Calculating your body mass index and determining an appropriate calorie intake is a good place to start when you're trying to manage your weight. However, keep in mind that it's not a specific number on the scale that matters as much as eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise.
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Calculating Your Body Mass Index
Body mass index is an indirect measurement of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. Physicians use this measurement to assess your health status and risk factors that are related to how much you weigh. It's an easy tool to use as a general guideline, but it's crucial that you avoid obsessing over the scale. The formula to calculate your BMI is your weight in pounds, divided by your height in inches squared. As an idea, the BMI for a person who is 5 foot, 4 inches tall and weighs 155 pounds is 26.6. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is classified as normal weight, while 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or above falls in the category of obesity, and below 18.5 is considered underweight.
Understanding Calorie Intake
Simply put, you become overweight when you consume more calories than your body burns. Think of it like a scale that must be equal on both sides. When the amount of calories you eat each day equals the amount you burn, it's called energy balance, which plays a role in maintaining a healthy weight. To lose weight, you must take in slightly less calories than your body needs. This is called an energy deficit, and when it happens, your body uses other forms of energy such as stored fat to make up for the deficit. The end result is that numbers on the scale start to go down.
Regularly eating too many calories and gaining weight is more than just a cosmetic issue. Your body converts excess calories to a form of fat called triglycerides and stores it in fat cells for future energy needs. But having too much triglyceride circulating in the blood increases your risk for heart disease and boosts your chances of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.
Determining Calorie Needs
You'll find various calorie calculators online that help to estimate your calorie needs. These calculators determine how many calories you need based on your basal metabolic rate. BMR refers to the amount of calories you burn through basic biological processes and does not include exercise. The formulas vary, but most are based on your age, gender, height and weight. Some calorie calculators also take your activity levels into account.
If your goal is to lose weight, the most common method is to reduce your daily calorie intake by 500 calories to start. If you currently eat 2,300 calories, for example, you'll aim to eat 1800 calories per day to help get the scale going in the right direction. The typical calorie needs for a moderately-active person between the ages of 19 and 30 is 2,000 to 2,200 calories. Keep in mind that many Americans consume more than the recommended amount of calories, so you may find that you eat more than this on some days. But you can still slim down if, on average, you burn more calories than you consume.
Exercising and Choosing Nutritious Foods
Getting enough exercise and following a healthy meal plan are cornerstones of maintaining a healthy weight. For sustained weight loss, the best way to do this is to aim for 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day and, once you reach your goal weight, 60 minutes per day to maintain that goal.
Cleaning up your diet is just as crucial. Focus on fresh or frozen whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes and whole grains, as well as lean meat, fish, nuts and seeds. Stray away from highly processed foods, as they have too many calories, fat and sugar and too few nutrients. Examples include processed meats such as chicken nuggets, hot dogs and bacon, microwave meals, convenience snacks like potato chips, and snack cakes and sugary breakfast cereals.
While you may find that you're eager to get the weight off as quickly as possible, you'll actually have more success if you take things slowly. When it comes to long-term weight loss, slow and steady wins the race.