Womens Health Centre:

Weight Loss



The number of people in the United States who are overweight has increased over the last two decades. Current estimates are that approximately one quarter to one third of 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 preventable causes of death and disability among adults. As a result, the government has set the health goal of no more than 20 percent of adults and 15 percent of teenagers to be obese by the year 2000.

People become overweight when they take in more calories than they burn. The rate at which people burn calories is determined by a number of factors including their: 1) genetics, 2) amount of exercise and physical activity, and 3) relative amount of body fat and muscle.


The most common way to decide if someone is overweight is by using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI looks at how much you should weigh based on your height. Experts used to think that people could have a higher BMI as they got older and still be healthy. Now, most sources will tell you that it is better not to put on extra pounds as you grow older.

Although experts don't always agree on desirable ranges for BMI, it is clear that health risks tend to increase as BMI increases. Note that BMI only measures whether people are overweight, not necessarily whether they are "overfat." Some people, e.g., football players may be overweight based on BMI, but because they have a great deal of muscle, not really excess fat. However, for most people, BMI provides a pretty good indication of degree of excess fat. Your doctor is in the best position to tell you how much weight you need to lose, if any.

What is a healthy weight for you? There is no perfect answer to this question. Researchers are always trying to come up with the best way to describe healthy weight. In the meantime, you can use the guidelines suggested below to help judge if your weight is healthy. See if your weight is in the appropriate range for your height. First calculate your BMI using the instructions below, then check to see where you fall on the height/weight table. If you check the BMI for some of the suggested weights on the height/weight table, you'll notice that it usually recommends a BMI between 19 and 25. The BMI helps to determine these suggested ranges for weight.

To calculate your BMI: First multiply your weight by .45 to get kilograms. Then take your height in inches and multiply it by .0254 to get meters. Multiply that number by itself. Now divide it into your weight in kilograms. Your BMI is your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters.
For example, John is 6'2" and he weighs 220 pounds. Therefore, he is 74 inches tall.
74 (inches) x .0254 = 1.8796 meters. 1.8796 x 1.8796 = 3.5329.
220 (pounds) x .45 = 99 kilograms.
Now we can put it all together 99/3.5329 = 28
Therefore, John has a BMI of 28, and therefore is probably somewhat overweight.


Table of Suggested Weights for Adults
Height 1 Weight in pounds 2
5'0" 97-128
5'1" 101-132
5'2" 104-137
5'3" 107-141
5'4" 111-146
5'5" 114-150
5'6" 118-155
5'7" 121-160
5'8" 125-164
5'9" 129-169
5'10" 132-174
5'11" 136-179
6'0" 140-184
6'1" 144-189
6'2" 148-195
6'3" 152-200
6'4" 156-205
6'5" 160-211
6'6" 164-216
1 Without shoes.
2 Without clothes.
3 The higher weights in the ranges generally apply to men, who tend to have more muscle and bone; the lower weights more often apply to women, who have less muscle and bone.
Source: National Research Council, 1989

Weights slightly below the range may be healthy for some small-boned people but can also be unhealthy. Being underweight can be a problem, especially if the weight was lost suddenly. Weights above the range are believed to be unhealthy for most people.


Extra pounds are bad enough, but it also matters where those pounds are stored. If they are around your belly, you are "apple-shaped." If they are around your hips and thighs, you are "pear-shaped." Where you store weight is for the most part inherited from your parents, just like the color of your eyes or hair, although men tend to be "apple-shaped," and women "pear-shaped." If you are apple-shaped, you are at a greater risk for heart disease which may help to explain why men are more likely than women to develop heart disease. Being "apple-shaped" can also be thought of as having extra weight around the abdomen, or a large waist-to-hip ratio. But whether you are an "apple" or a "pear," you should take steps to lose extra pounds.

How to check your waist-to-hip ratio:
    A look at your profile in the mirror may be enough to make it clear that you have too much fat in the abdomen. Or you can check your body this way:
  • Measure around your waist near your navel while you stand relaxed, not pulling in your stomach.
  • Measure around your hips, over the buttocks, where they are the largest.
  • Divide the waist measure by the hips measure to get your waist-to-hip ratio. Research in adults suggests that ratios close to or above one are linked with greater risk for several diseases. However, ratios have not been defined for all populations or age groups.

If your weight is outside of the healthy range for the height/weight table, or if your waist-to-hip ratio places you at risk, you may wish to consider making an effort to lose some weight.

And by losing weight, you will not only lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, but also feel better, be more able to exercise, and reduce your chance of having a heart attack.

Remember, obesity occurs when calorie intake exceeds calories burned. Therefore, the best advice to help you lose weight: Eat fewer calories than you burn. Don't try to see how fast you can lose weight. It's best to do it slowly. Fad diets do not work over the long haul because they cannot be followed for life. When people go back to their old way of eating, they usually regain the weight, leading to cycles of weight loss and gain. These cycles can be destructive to your body, both physically and emotionally.

Try to lose about 1/2 to 1 pound a week. This isn't as hard as it sounds. One pound equals 3,500 calories-or 7 times 500. So if you cut 500 calories a day by eating less and being more active, you should lose about 1 pound in a week. For example, in one day if you replace a chocolate candy bar at lunch with a small apple, have a piece of baked chicken instead of fried chicken at dinner and then take a 15-minute brisk walk after lunch and dinner instead of lingering at the table, you can cut your calories by 500. Making these kind of changes every day will help you to lose about a pound a week.

Here are some tips on how to lose weight.


  1. Choose foods low in calories and fat. Low calorie foods are great for losing weight, but you may not know that the healthy low fat foods can also be low in calories. Fat, no matter what kind it is, saturated or unsaturated, is a concentrated source of calories. Protein and carbohydrate both have about 4 calories in each gram, but all fat-saturated, polyunsaturated or monosaturated fat-has 9 calories in each gram. So if you replace fatty foods with less fatty foods, but keep the same portion sizes, you'll eat fewer calories. For example, save calories by eating baked fish instead of fried fish or low fat yogurt instead of ice cream. Fatty foods to cut down on include: butter and margarine, fatty meats, whole-milk dairy foods (such as cheese), fried foods and many sweets and snacks. However, also be aware that some packaged foods that may advertise they are low in fat make up for the reduced fat with extra calories. You cannot assume that "reduced fat," means "reduced calories."
  2. Limit your serving size. To reduce your daily calorie intake, you'll need to watch how much you eat, not just what you eat. This means cutting down on portion sizes.

    Try to take only mid-sized helpings of foods high in starch and fiber, and only small helpings of fatty foods, such as cheese and high fat meats. And don't go back for seconds.

    One good way to change what and how much you eat is with a food diary. For 2-3 days, record what you eat, when you eat it, and why. Try to include one weekend day. Be sure to include snacks. This will tell you what food habits you have-and what bad habits may be causing you to be overweight.

    Once you understand your habits, you can set goals to change them. For example, you may find you often snack on fatty, high calorie foods while watching television. Change this habit by having fresh fruit, unsalted popcorn, or unsalted pretzels handy as you watch TV. Or, you may find that you skip breakfast and then eat a very large lunch. Perhaps you picked up the habit because you don't have enough time in the mornings to eat breakfast at home. Instead of eating too much at lunch, take a low fat muffin, bagel, or cereal with you and eat breakfast at work.

    The other part of using more calories than you eat is being physically active. Regular activity helps you lose weight-and keep it off-and improves the health of your heart and lungs.

  3. Be physically active. Regular activity does more than help you lose weight: It makes you feel and look better, helps lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, and can reduce your risk of having a heart attack.

    You don't have to run marathons to benefit from physical activity. Any activity, if done at least 30 minutes a day over the course of most days, can help.

    Certain forms of activity are best for conditioning your heart and lungs. Called "aerobic," they cause the body to use oxygen more efficiently. Examples include brisk walking, swimming, bicycling, and running. The activity should be done for at least 30 minutes, three or four times a week.

    Whatever the activity, if you don't have 30 minutes, try two, 15-minute periods or even three, 10-minute sessions. But do something! Many people are able to start an activity without seeing a doctor first. However, before beginning an activity, check with a doctor if you are taking high blood pressure medication, have heart disease, have had a heart attack or a stroke, or have any other serious health problem.

    Otherwise, get out and get active. Start slowly, if necessary and work up to a comfortable pace and schedule. You may want to start doing an activity only twice a week. Then build to three or four times a week. The key is to begin and stay with it.

The DietMate program provides an easy and effective method for losing weight. Click here for information on DietMate.


Some people may turn to appetite suppressing drugs if they feel incapable of losing weight "on their own." Some of these drugs include fenfluramine, the preferred prescription diet drug today, and phenylproplalmine, which is nonprescription and the most commonly used diet drug. Although drug treatments are often associated with larger and faster weight loss than dieting naturally, you are even more likely to regain weight lost through taking drugs, than weight lost through behavioral changes.

Another problem is that tolerance to these drugs is very common. Larger and larger doses become necessary to suppress the appetite. Therefore, the initial success of diet and exercise may not be as great as that experienced with taking drugs, but weight loss is easier to maintain. There is a simple explanation for this. When you lose the weight on your own, you develop the confidence you need to keep off the extra pounds. If you lose the weight through drug treatment, you have no confidence in your ability to maintain the lower weight because you attribute your success to the drugs (and rightfully so). Losing weight through sensible diet and exercise is usually the best choice. However, if you feel that you are unable to lose weight without drugs, you should consult your doctor to discuss possible causes of your resistance to dieting and what options are available to you.


Along with smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, obesity is another major risk factor for heart disease. The good news is that by losing weight through sensible diet and exercise, you may lower your blood pressure and cholesterol as well. Remember, the best way to lose weight is slowly and gradually. Start making moderate changes to your diet that involve eating fewer calories and decreasing your fat intake. And don't forget one of the most crucial elements of weight loss--getting on a program of regular physical activity.


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