You’ve heard it now for years – strive for a healthy weight. What does that mean and how can you achieve it? A healthy weight is one that helps to protect you from developing many chronic diseases, decreases wear and tear on your joints, and keeps you breathing and moving as well as you can. Being a healthy weight doesn’t mean you’ll never get sick, but it can help decrease your chances of having many health problems. What is your healthy weight?
There are currently two ways health care providers evaluate weight – the body mass index (BMI) and your waist circumference (not your pant size, but the measurement taken at about your belly button). Your BMI can be determined by looking at a BMI chart like the one at http://www.move.va.gov/download/NewHandouts/Miscellaneous/M06_BMIChart.pdf . Guidelines for what that number means are:
Underweight = BMI less than 18.5
Normal weight = BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight = BMI of 25 to 29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or more
For waist circumference, measure your waist at your belly button, making sure the tape measure is level all the way around your waist; don’t let it dip up or down. Men’s waist circumference should be less than 40 inches and women’s should be less than 35 inches. If you’re overweight or obese you are at risk for developing chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, gallbladder or liver disease, female health disorders, arthritis, some types of cancer, and sleep apnea. If you’re underweight you’re at risk for anemia and nutrient deficiencies, bone loss and osteoporosis, heart irregularities and blood vessel diseases, less ability to fight off infections, and poor wound healing.
How do you reach a healthy weight and stay there? If you’re underweight, talk to your Primary Care Provider (PCP) as you may be suffering from some health problem that can be corrected or managed. If you have problems with chewing, swallowing, appetite, etc. your PCP may send you to a dietitian for help with these issues. Eating more calories can usually help, but it is best to be evaluated to avoid eating the wrong foods while trying to gain weight!
If you’re overweight or obese, talk to your PCP as well. If there are no medical issues preventing you from losing weight, you may want to see a dietitian for help with weight loss. Even with medications or medical problems that may make it hard to lose weight, you can do it! You can also join the MOVE! Program to learn skills that will help, as well as have the support of others who are also trying to lose weight.
Most people need to lose weight, so the following hints and tips may help you:
• Do not skip meals! Eat within 1 hour of waking, then once every 4 to 6 hours after that or more often. Several small meals works best for some people.
• Pay attention to calories. Keeping food records is a great way to find out where your calories come from and help you choose where you want to cut back.
• Choose a variety of high fiber, nutrient-rich, lower calorie foods.
• Use smaller plates, glasses, and bowls than you usually do. This will help with portion control.
• Eat s-l-o-w-l-y. This helps you feel more full and satisfied with less food.
• Be as physically active as possible. Try to exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes each week. Even doing just 10-15 minutes each day will help.
• Get enough sleep (7 to 8 hours for most people) and work on non-food stress reduction techniques to help with food intake control.
Lifestyle changes that include healthy eating, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight are the keys to good health. If you need to lose weight, losing as little as 5-10% of your current weight can lower your risks for many diseases. A reasonable and safe weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week. It might take 6 months to reach your ultimate goal, but making gradual lifestyle changes can help you maintain a healthier weight for life. If you are normal weight, congratulations! To maintain your weight, engage in regular physical activity, eat wisely, and weigh yourself regularly.
If you have questions or are interested in making a healthy living change, please see your primary care team at the VA facility in which you receive health care.