Getting to a Healthy Weight: Lifestyle Changes
What is a healthy lifestyle?
- Eating healthy foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you eat meat and
dairy foods, choose lean meats and low-fat dairy foods most of the time.
Healthy eating also means not eating too much sugar, fat, or fast foods. You
can still have dessert and treats now and then. The goal is moderation. See
- Making some kind of physical activity part of your daily routine. "Physical
activity" doesn't have to mean regular visits to the gym or running marathons.
There are lots of other ways to fit activity into your life. See
- Not smoking. Weight gain is a big concern for many people who want to quit
smoking. But many people don't gain weight. And it's more of a health risk to
keep smoking than it is to gain a few extra pounds when you quit. For
information, see the topic
- Drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol. That's up to 2
drinks a day for men, 1 drink a day for women.
- Managing stress. Many people find that
eating is their way of managing stress. If you have a lot of stress in your
life, it can be hard to focus on making healthy changes to your lifestyle. For
more information about how to deal with stress, see the topic
Becoming more active and improving your eating habits are
the two main ways to reach a healthy weight.
One Woman's Story:
"I see it as a whole life
change. I actually get mad at people when they say, 'You've been on a diet.'
I'm not on a diet. I've never been on a diet. I just changed the way I eat. I
changed the way I live."—Jaci
Read more about how Jaci lost 65 pounds.
First, change your thinking
If you need to make
some lifestyle changes to get to a healthy weight, you'll have more success if
you first change the way you think about certain things:
- Don't compare yourself to others. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Our culture focuses
much too much on thinness, and thinness is just not realistic or natural for
most of us. Yet we feel bad when we can't achieve such an unrealistic body
size. Body size isn't as important as being healthy.
- Pay attention to how hungry or how full you feel. When you
eat, pay attention to why you're eating and how much you're
- Forget about dieting. Dieting almost
never works over the long term.
- Decide that you're going to improve your health instead of deciding to go on a diet. For
example, you may want to:
- Become more fit.
- Lower your
- Lower your blood sugar (if
- Lower your
- Raise your
HDL (good cholesterol).
For more on how positive thinking can help you, see:
- Stop Negative Thoughts: Choosing a Healthier Way of Thinking.
- Weight Management: Stop Negative Thoughts.
- Stop Negative Thoughts: Getting Started.
One Woman's Story:
realized it wasn't a time-limited thing. It wasn't like, 'Well, I'm going to be
really good and stay on this food plan now until I get the weight off.' It was
more a realization that, 'You know, at 62, if I want to weigh 130 to 135
pounds, then I have to do these things.' I can't stop doing them just because I
lose the weight. So it became much more of a lifestyle change than a temporary
diet. The idea that somehow I could go back to my old ways was just not there
Read more about how Maggie changed her life and lost 50 pounds.
How do you change your lifestyle?
Making any kind
of change in the way you live your daily life is like being on a path. The path
leads to success. Here are the first steps on that path:
1. Have your own reasons for making a change
2. Set goals you can reach
3. Measure how your health has improved
Before you make lifestyle changes, ask your doctor
to check your
blood pressure, and
Research shows that you can
improve your health by losing as little as 5% to 10% of your weight.1 Here's what that means:
- 5% of
150 lb (68 kg) is
7.5 lb (3 kg), and 10% is
15 lb (7 kg).
- 5% of
200 lb (91 kg) is
10 lb (4.5 kg), and 10% is
20 lb (9 kg).
of 250 lb (113 kg) is
12.5 lb (6 kg), and 10% is
25 lb (11 kg).
Keep track of your weight.
- Weigh yourself no more than once a
week, unless your doctor tells to you to do so more often because of a health
- Try to weigh yourself on the same scale, at the same time
of day, in about the same amount of clothing.
- Remember that many
things can affect your weight. It's normal for your weight to go up and down by
a few pounds from one day to the next. Try to look at the general trend of your
weight, rather than the day-to-day changes.
- Aim to lose no more
than 1 to 2 pounds a week. Weight loss of more than that often means that you
are not getting enough nutrients to be healthy. And some of the weight you lose
may be from lean body tissue (muscle and organ tissue) or water loss, not
Have your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar checked again after you have lost 5% to 10% of your
weight or in 3 to 6 months. You can also check your blood pressure and blood
sugar at home.
- Blood sugar levels can tell you whether your
lifestyle changes or weight loss are helping to control your
- Cholesterol and
triglyceride levels can tell you whether your
lifestyle changes or weight loss are lowering your risk for heart
- Blood pressure can tell you whether your lifestyle changes
or weight loss are lowering your risk for heart disease and
Another way to measure improvements is to look for changes in your fitness level. For example, are you
able to walk longer and on more days than when you started? Can you climb a
flight of stairs without getting as tired or out of breath? Do you have better
strength and muscle tone? Do you have more energy?
4. Prepare for slip-ups
Here's one person's list of barriers to taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day, along with some possible solutions:
I might be too busy.
- My backup plan will be to break my
usual 30-minute walk into two 15-minute walks or three 10-minute walks.
I might get bored.
- I'll listen to music or a podcast
while I walk.
- I'll get my neighbor to walk with me.
It might rain.
- My backup plan will be to use an
exercise DVD or a treadmill in front of my TV when the weather's bad.
5. Get support
You can use a personal action plan (What is a PDF document?) to write down your goals and organize your support system.
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
October 21, 2011
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