If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that your doctor has told you that you need to lower your BMI to improve your health. What does that mean and how do you do it? Your BMI is a ratio of your weight to your height, and it helps you and your doctor determine what your weight category is.
- If your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, you are at a normal or healthy weight.
- If your BMI between 25.0 and 29.9, you are overweight.
- If your BMI is 30 or higher, you are obese.
If you’re obese, your risk is higher for getting sick and dying from diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. Losing weight will not only reduce this risk, but can also improve health issues like bladder control, sleep apnea and depression. The good news is, relatively small changes in your weight can give you dramatic improvements in your health.
To lose weight, and lower your BMI, you’ll need a program that you can stick with long term. Below are some tips for making changes to your diet, exercise, and general lifestyle that you can continue over time. And if you’re not quite ready to focus on losing weight, read anyway – even just stopping the weight gain to prevent your health from getting worse is a successful first step.
Set realistic goals
When you’re planning for weight loss it’s important to have a realistic goal. The first step is stopping the weight gain. Then focus on losing 5% of your weight. For a 200lb person that’s 10lbs. If you’re at risk for diabetes, that will cut that risk by 50%! If you have hypertension, your blood pressure will improve. You may even be able to lower your medication (with a doctor’s assistance, of course). Know that if you’re obese and eventually lose 15% of your weight and keep it off, that’s a true success even if it doesn’t meet your goal of being a specific clothing size.
As I tell my patients, maintaining the weight loss takes hard work. It is a marathon over time, with sprints and walks in between. At each 5% weight loss, slow down and take the time to get established with your new routine so it becomes a habit. Celebrate maintaining your weight loss! It’s important to break the cycle of yo-yo weight loss and gain. When you’re comfortable and confident that you can maintain your new routine, then take on the next 5% of weight loss.
However you choose to cut calories or burn calories, research shows keeping a record of how you’re doing will improve your likelihood of success. There’s a fine line between motivation and frustration, so see what works for you. You may want to check and record your weight daily or weekly. Definitely keep track of your exercise and be proud of what you do. Focus on the positive changes you’re making.
For your diet, try recording everything you eat for a while so you can look for places to improve your nutrition and cut your calories. Eventually you can keep a record of specific interventions like cutting down on alcohol. Look for triggers that derail you. It could be a place or a time of day. Maybe late night binge-watching shows is linked with eating too much junk food.
Learn about nutrition & meal planning
There are many diets out there to choose from, so it can be confusing. Mainly because there’s not one diet that will help everyone lose weight equally. There are too many variables. So whether you go low-fat or low-carb, or some other diet, choose a diet you can stick with for at least the beginning of your weight loss program.
You have to restrict calories, but while you’re doing that you want to maximize nutrition. The healthiest weight loss diets will be similar to the Mediterranean or DASH diet. You’ll be increasing your fruit and vegetable intake and cutting out processed, high calorie foods. These diets are also rich in nuts, seeds, beans, and complex carbs. You’ll be encouraged to drink water and drop high-calorie drinks. If you’re obese and at risk for medical conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease, this type of diet is the way to go.
Speak with a dietitian not only to learn about what to eat, but also to get tips for meal planning. It can take some time to learn good habits with grocery shopping, cooking, and making healthy choices when you eat out.
Exercise is a must to maintain weight loss and to prevent weight gain. The recommendations is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, but you can start slowly and work your up to it. Fit it in your schedule as best you can. Ideally, your routine will include aerobic exercise (like walking, biking, swimming) and resistance training, like lifting weights. This is important to burn calories, maintain your muscles, and stay active doing everything you want to do. But, again, start where you are and then work your way toward the recommendation – the most important thing is to start moving (You can read some specifics about starting an exercise program when you’re very overweight here).
Making changes in your diet and exercise are tough. Don’t try to do it alone. Work with your family and friends so that everyone is eating better and moving more. As you learn about nutrition, serve up healthier foods. Meet friends for walks rather than drinks. Consider joining a weight loss program, whether it’s in person or online. There are community-based and commercial organizations that can help with nutrition and exercise for weight loss. Look for programs where you can learn how to make lifestyle changes to lose the weight and then keep it off.
Talk to your doctor
Even with diet and exercise changes, some people need more help with weight loss. You may benefit from weight-loss medication if your lifestyle changes aren’t enough and your BMI is 30 or higher, or if your BMI is 27 or higher with an obesity-related medical problem like diabetes or heart disease. For those who are severely obese or obese with multiple medical problems, surgery for weight loss may be an option. Talk to your doctor about your options, or look for a doctor who specializes in obesity medicine.
Wherever you are today with your weight and your general health, stay positive! Small changes do make a difference, and they add up. Make a plan to add a few new habits to your routine, and know you’re already on your way to a healthier self! Celebrate the progress, and not just the end goal of pounds or inches lost. That first 5% of weight loss will dramatically improve your health, even if you don’t see or feel it quite yet.