Keeping a healthy weight is good for your physical and mental well-being. Good eating habits and moderate exercise are crucial to keeping a healthy weight and a fit body.
Every function of the body—from building cells to moving muscles—needs energy. Energy is measured in calories. Calories also measure how much fuel is in a certain food. The body uses only as much of its daily intake of food as it needs for energy. The energy that remains is stored as fat in the body. Fat normally makes up about 22–28% of a woman’s body weight.
An average woman needs about 2,000 calories a day. Women who eat more than that and do not burn the extra calories in exercise are likely to gain weight. In addition to physical activity and eating habits, a number of other factors affect weight gain: age, pregnancy, metabolism, growth and genes.
It is normal for women to gain a little weight as they grow older, especially after menopause. But gradual weight gain (even as little as 100 extra calories a day) can build up to an unhealthy weight.
A woman might not lose all of the weight she gained during pregnancy. If this happens with each pregnancy, the weight can add up.
Some women may have a hard time losing weight because of their metabolism—how their bodies use the energy found in foods they eat. Even if they do not overeat, they might find it hard to lose weight or keep a healthy weight if they do not exercise.
People gain extra weight when their fat cells grow larger. In most people, this happens with growth spurts, such as in infancy and childhood. If you have children, their doctors can help you devise a healthy eating plan for them.
Genes may affect a person’s weight directly or indirectly. Some people have genetic disorders that cause obesity. Others are at increased risk of becoming overweight or obese because of their genes.
Everyone must have some body fat. It is needed to carry vitamins through the body. It also helps regulate body functions. Fat provides a form of energy. The energy that is not used is stored in the fat cells. Extra fat in the abdomen (an “apple” shape) is believed to be a greater health risk than fat in the hips and thighs (a “pear” shape).
What Is a Healthy Weight?
To stay healthy, you should keep your weight at the level that is best for your height. The table “Body Mass Index” compares a woman’s height with her weight to see if she is overweight. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 19–24.9 is normal, and 25–29.9 is overweight. A person with a score of 30 or higher is obese. Nearly one third of adults in the United States have a BMI of 30 or greater.
Health Hazards of Being Overweight
Many health concerns relate to being obese or overweight. Sometimes being overweight may trigger conditions that lead to serious health problems: high cholesterol levels, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, certain types of cancer, such as cancer of the endometrium, breast, colon, and gallbladder, sleep apnea, musculoskeletal disease (damage to joints) and infertility.
If women who are overweight become pregnant, they may face certain problems during pregnancy. They are at an increased risk of diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy than women of normal weight. These women also are more likely to have a cesarean birth. There is an increased risk of problems during any surgery—including cesarean birth—for any overweight person.
Weight Gain During Pregnancy
If you are overweight before you become pregnant, you need to gain less than women of normal weight. Your doctor will be able to tell you how much weight you should gain based on your BMI before getting pregnant or at your first prenatal visit.
Never try to lose weight while pregnant. A healthy diet and a doctor-approved exercise program may help you stick to the recommended weight gain. The best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to balance the number of calories you eat and drink with the number you burn. For some people, maintaining a healthy weight may be harder than achieving it. Maintaining a healthy weight requires a life-long commitment to good nutrition and exercise.
When diet and exercise alone are not enough, your doctor may suggest medication or surgery to help reduce your weight. However, neither is a good option for you unless you are willing to commit to a lifestyle of balanced nutrition and physical activity afterwards.
A healthy diet should be the first step to weight loss. It is important to get the nutrients your body needs to grow, replace worn-out tissue, and provide energy. How much of each nutrient you need each day is called the recommended daily allowance (RDA) or, more recently, the dietary reference intake (DRI). To be sure that your diet gives you enough nutrients, you need to know which ones are in the foods you eat. On foods that have labels (see box), you will see a column labeled “% Daily Value.” This column shows how much of the DRI a serving supplies. Your daily goal is to reach 100% of each nutrient.
It is important to balance food and physical activity: getting more physical activity lets you eat more without gaining weight. The food pyramid developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, My Pyramid (www.mypyramid.gov), can help you plan a balanced diet. It takes into account your age, sex, and your amount of daily physical activity and shows the number of servings you should have each day from each of these six food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, oils, milk, meat and beans
Reading Food Labels
All packaged foods must be clearly labeled with nutrition information. Reading all food labels can help you make smart food choices. The labels will tell you how many grams of fat and how many calories are in each serving.
Serving Size: The amount served and eaten. The numbers on the label refer to this amount of food.
Total Fat: The amount of fat in one serving.
Saturated Fat: This type of fat comes mainly from meat and milk products. It tends to be solid chilled, such as butter and lard. Shortening, palm oil, and coconut oil also are saturated fats.
Trans Fat: This is a kind of saturated fat. Trans fat is made when liquid oil is turned into solid fat like shortening and hard margarine. This is done to make foods last longer and give them better flavor. Vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, and snack foods like potato chips contain trans fat.
Nutrients: A list of the nutrients the product contains. Nutrients often listed here are fat (saturated and trans), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate (dietary fiber and sugars), and protein.
Calories: Amount of energy the food supplies.
Percent Daily Values: The percentage of nutrients this product provides based on the DRI. It is based on a diet of 2,000 calories.
To be healthy, it is important to stay active. Regular exercise promotes health, mental well-being, and a healthy weight.
Consider the following when setting your exercise goals:
If you want to reduce your risk of chronic disease, you need to exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
If you want to maintain your weight, you need to exercise 60 minutes most days of the week and not take in more calories than you burn.
If you want to lose weight, you need to exercise 60 to 90 minutes most days of the week and take in fewer calories than you burn.
Getting enough physical activity does not mean that you have to enroll in a vigorous exercise program. Household chores and moderate exercise, for example, can help burn enough calories to control weight. Table 2 lists some physical activities and the number of calories each activity burns. If you are obese, pregnant, older than age 50 years, or have a medical condition and have not exercised for a while, work with your doctor to ease into a safe exercise program.
For some people, it may be hard to maintain weight only through diet and exercise. If a person has a BMI greater than 30, or a BMI of at least 27 with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, it is possible that medication will help with weight loss. It will be used in addition to diet and lifestyle changes. These medications should be used only under a doctor’s care.
There are two types of weight-loss medications available by prescription. One affects certain chemicals in your brain and makes you feel full. The other makes your body less able to absorb dietary fat. This type has some side effects, such as urges to have a bowel movement, excess gas, and oily discharge from the rectum. You should discuss these side effects with your doctor. If they trouble you, your doctor may be able to suggest other treatment options.
Medications for weight control cause a rapid weight loss at first that will later level off. Some people think the medication has stopped working, but it is still helping to maintain a lower weight. If you stop taking the medication, you will likely gain some of the weight back.
If all other options fail, a special type of surgery, bariatric surgery, may be an option for people who are very obese. For this surgery, bands or staples are used to close off part of the stomach. It alters the size of your stomach and changes the way your body digests and absorbs food.
Every surgery carries some risks. The risks for bariatric surgery may include:
Leaking of stomach juices into the abdomen, injury to other organs, such as the spleen, wearing away of the band or, staples used in the surgery, infection, complications from anesthesia and death.
This surgery may have long-term effects on your body, such as changes in bowel habits and eating patterns. You should not have this surgery unless you are serious about lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, dietary restrictions, and taking vitamin and mineral supplements. You also must be willing to commit to lifelong medical follow-up.
The key to weight control is a blend of good eating habits and regular exercise. Eat foods that are rich in nutrients, but low in calories. Choose exercise that you like, and vary it to get an overall workout. Talk to your doctor. He or she may suggest ways to help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Make a balanced diet and exercise a long-term habit. You will enjoy the benefits for the rest of your life