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Introduction - Are You Overweight? - Nutrition - Exercise - Summary - For More Information


The number of people in the United States who are overweight has increased over the last two decades. Current estimates are that approximately two thirdsof adults and one quarter of children and teenagers in the United States are overweight. Obesity is a primary causal factor in a wide range of serious diseases including heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. It also tends to raise your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and makes you more likely to develop diabetes. Hence, obesity is one of the most significant and preventable causes of death and disability among adults.

The number of calories you eat and the number of calories you use each day control your body weight. So to lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you use. You can do this by becoming more physically active, by eating less or both. Your weight loss program should also help you make changes that you can maintain for the rest of your life.

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Are You Overweight?

The most common way to decide if you are overweight is to determine your Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI looks at how much you should weigh based on your height. It is a relative comparison of the proportion of fat versus lean in your body.

You can determine your BMI by using the following formula:

1.Divide your weight (in pounds) by your height (in inches) squared

2.Multiply the results of Step 1 by 705.

For example, if you are 5'3'' (63 inches) and weigh 138 pounds, the equation looks like this:

BMI=(138/(63x63)) x705=24.5

Your BMI should be somewhere in the 19 to 25 range. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is considered obese. If you are in doubt as to whether or not you are overweight, see your doctor.

If you decide that you need to lose weight, where should you start? First, you should concentrate on eating a healthy diet. Consider what you are eating. To lose weight while remaining healthy, you should try to lose only about 1/2 to 1 pound a week. One pound equals 3,500 calories. So if you cut out or exercise off 500 calories per day, you will lose about a pound a week. Losing weight will be easier if you combine exercise with diet management and good nutrition.

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A good diet has a structure known as the food pyramid. The idea behind the food pyramid is not necessarily to exclude any particular food, but to eat more of the healthy foods, and less of the unhealthy, fattening foods. You should eat more of the foods at the bottom, largest layer of the pyramid.

  • Grain Group - breads, cereals, rices, pastas and other foods made from grain. They provide B vitamins, iron, carbohydrates and some proteins. Six or more daily servings are recommended.

  • Fruit and Vegetable Group - Most vitamins, minerals, and fiber can be found in this group. Three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruit should be eaten every day.

  • Dairy and Meat Group - This group contains foods with a lot of protein. Some foods are milk, cheese, poultry, fish and eggs, as well as nuts and beans. In addition to protein, these foods have calcium, iron, phosphorus, B vitamins and zinc. Two to three servings from each group are recommended daily.

  • Fats, Oils and Sweets Group - The foods in this group provide calories, but little nutritional benefit. They include salad dressing, butter, margarine, sugar, sodas and candy. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 30% of calories come from fats per day.     

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The American Dietetic Association lists several warning signs to look for in a diet that signals bad nutritional advice:

  • Recommendations that promise a quick fix
  • Dire warnings of dangers from a single product or regimen
  • Claims that sound too good to be true
  • Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study
  • Recommendations based on a single study
  • Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations
  • Lists of "good" and "bad" foods
  • Recommendations made to help sell a product
  • Recommendations based on studies published without peer review
  • Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups

Remember that variety is the spice of life! Eating a variety of foods helps provide vitamins, minerals and fiber all of which may help reduce chronic disease risk. You don’t need to give up favorite foods when trying to maintain or lose weight, but you may need to eat less of it less often.

Some tips on eating well and losing weight:

  • Choose low fat, and low calorie foods. Eat grilled fish instead of fried fish; instead of french fries, have a baked potato (without all of the butter and sour cream).

  • Try to limit your serving size and actually measure out the portions of food you are going to eat. It is very easy to overestimate how much you are eating. Keep measuring cups and spoons at the ready.

  • Eat a variety of foods for maximum nutritional benefit.

  • If you want to be able to eat more food while losing weight, the answer is EXERCISE.

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Regular physical activity will not only help you to lose weight, but you will look and feel better. Exercise will lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, it can reduce your risk of having a heart attack and will temporarily suppress your appetite! Any activity that is done for at least 30 minutes on most days will help. You should try to exercise aerobically, meaning hard enough to make your heart pound a little and make you breathe heavier. If you are so out of breath that you can't comfortably talk to someone, you are exercising too hard. Slow down! To burn the maximum amount of fat, you should exercise at a lower intensity for a longer period of time. Check out the Health Authority web site on Fitness for more information.

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Exercise and eating well, when combined, are the most effective means of losing and maintaining weight. To get you on your way to losing weight, try using these strategies:

  • Monitor your weight and food intake. Depending on your personality, you may prefer to weigh yourself every week as opposed to every day. Use measuring cups to measure out food portions since it is very easy to overestimate amounts of food. Keep a record of what you eat and how many calories you have consumed each day.

  • Plan your meals ahead of time and have small, healthy snacks if necessary so that you don’t become so hungry that you overeat. A healthy snack is something like a piece of fruit or a handful of raisins or nuts.

  • Try to focus on your internal hunger signals instead of external stimuli telling you to eat. Don't eat if you are not hungry, even if that is the time you normally would eat. You can resist cravings for foods in between meals by doing something to take your mind of eating. Try taking a walk or doing something active to distract yourself until the craving passes.

  • Try to avoid high-risk situations where you would tend to overeat. When you feel tired, lonely, bored, depressed or anxious, you are more likely to eat when you are not hungry.

  • Try waiting 10 minutes if you have eaten your meal and you are still hungry. Give your mealtime to "catch up with you". Cravings for snacks may also pass if you tell yourself to wait 10 minutes or so before you give in.

Losing weight should be viewed as a long term goal rather than a short term fix. Remember that you didn't gain weight overnight, and you won't lose it overnight either. If after several months of eating right and exercising, you still are not losing weight, you may decide to see your doctor. Most people are capable of losing weight on their own, without medical intervention.

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For More Information



  • "American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide" by Roberta Larson Duyff and Jeff Braun

  • "Dieting for Dummies" by Jane Kirby, American Dietetic Association

  • "Fitting in Fitness" by the American Heart Association

  • Hasler, CM. The changing face of functional food. J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 2000 Oct; 19(5suppl):499S-506S.

  • Liu, S., JE Manson, IM Lee, SR Cole, CH Hennekens, WC Willett, JE Burring. Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of cardiovascular disease; the Women's Health Study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2000 Oct; 72(4): 922-8.

  • Weisburger, JH. Eat to live, not live to eat. Nutrition 2000 Sept; 16(9): 767-73.

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Page last modified Mar. 29, 2010