Step Ahead: Reaching and Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Achieving a healthy weight requires a balance of healthy eating and regular physical activity. A healthy weight reduces your risk of many diseases, and positively affects how you enjoy life. What do we mean by a “healthy weight”? One way to determine whether your weight is healthy is by using the body mass index, or BMI. BMI is a measure of your body based on your height and weight. Click here to see where you fall. Healthy weight does not necessarily refer to how you look from a cosmetic or fashion perspective, but working towards a healthy weight for you should help you feel better about yourself.

Why Not “Diet”?

Here are some tools to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight:

People often try dieting when they want to lose some weight. “Diets” are designed to help you lose weight over the short term, but staying on a "diet" over a long period of time can be hard and often unhealthy. As a result, "diets" are not a good approach to maintain a lower weight over time. In fact, the average diet lasts only 42 days. Here are several reasons to stay away from dieting.

  • Even when people lose weight on a diet at first, that weight and more is often gained back.
  • When people can’t follow a diet, or when they gain back weight, they feel like they have failed. That feeling can make it even harder to try to lose weight again.
  • Some diets are not healthy to follow because they are not balanced. They may not include the foods your body needs to be healthy. Some diets suggest large amounts of foods that aren’t good for you, such as red meat which is high in saturated fat.

Try a Lifestyle Approach Instead.

What is the best way to achieve a weight that is healthy? Try for a balance between the calories in the food you eat and your activity levels. In other words, you will not gain weight if you use as many calories (energy) being active as the calories you eat over time. That's why it's so important to make changes in your lifestyle that you can keep up over a long period of time.

Scientists have been studying people who have lost weight and kept it off. They also have studied people who make changes in their lifestyle that are related to their body weight, such as increasing physical activity. Ask yourself these questions to see if you can make losing weight easier.

How active are you? Regular physical activity makes it much easier to manage your weight. Physical activity is the way to balance out the calories you eat every day. Also being active can help you feel less hungry, and gives you something to do instead of eating!

If you are not an active person, why not? The most common reasons people give for not getting enough exercise are that they don’t enjoy it and that they don’t have time.

Here are some ideas for people who don’t like formal exercise programs:

  • Walk as often as you can in your daily routines.
  • Try a sport you like.
  • Try a sport you have never tried.
  • Try walking or hiking or bike riding.
  • Yard work and housework are excellent ways to get physical activity.
  • Dance.
  • Walk and talk with a friend to make the time pass quickly. The friend can help you stick to your goals to be active, too!
  • Maybe a mix of different types of exercise will work better than always doing the same thing. Try walking a couple of days a week, dancing once a week and a quick workout three times a week.

 If you don’t have time to exercise:

  • Do it in small blocks of time (10 minutes a few times a day adds up).
  • Choose an activity you can do without going out of your way, such as walking up and down the stairs, or walking to do errands. Or, come in to work a few minutes early or stay a little late and add 10 minutes of stairs or walking.

What do you eat?

The idea that some foods are “bad” gets people into trouble. If you eat healthy foods in appropriate portion sizes most of the time, an occasional small treat of less healthy foods is fine. In fact, allowing yourself to eat all kinds of food in moderation may make it easier to eat healthy in the long run. Healthier foods include fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Don't forget about what you put in your salads, and on top of your food. Use low-fat dressings and condiments.

What do you drink? Fruit juices, soda, and energy drinks can have a lot of calories. Try drinking unsweetened or zero-calorie drinks like water, tea, coffee, or sodas. Don’t forget about what you put in your coffee and iced coffee drinks. Use skim or low-fat milk instead of full fat milk or cream. Alcohol calories do count. A 12 oz. beer has between 150 - 170 calories, light beer 110 calories and a 5 oz. serving of wine has between 100 - 110 calories. Watch out for mixed drinks. For example, a 12 oz. rum and Coke has 361 calories. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

How big are the portions you eat? Most portions that Americans eat are much too big. For example, 3 ounces of meat, about the size of a deck of cards, is considered one portion. Most Americans eat much more meat than that. Just because food is put in front of you, you don't have to eat the whole thing.

How is your plate organized? Usually we consider the meat the main dish and the vegetables and grains and starches as the side dishes. Try viewing vegetables and fruit as the main dish, and meat or protein as a side.

Why are you eating? Before you eat, ask yourself, Am I eating to feed my body what it needs to be healthy or for other reasons? Become familiar with your body's messages that it is hungry or satisfied. Understanding this may actually help you keep a healthy weight for the long term. Often we eat for other reasons than what our bodies need. This can make reaching a healthy weight difficult. Trying to understand why you want to eat is an important step to changing your lifestyle. A common reason for eating is enjoyment. Other common reasons include habit, feeling stressed, boredom, situations where you are sitting such as driving in the car or sitting at the computer, celebrations such as birthdays, and being polite in social situations. Think about the long term consequences, not just the immediate gratification, when you decide when and what to eat.

Are you getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep can cause you to gain weight. That is because lack of sleep can impact levels of hormones that are linked to appetite, leptin and grehlin, causing increases in appetite. Try to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.

Here are some ideas for goals:

  • Five days this week I will write down everything I eat.
  • When at work this week, I will have fruit for dessert.
  • This week I will eat one extra piece of fruit every day.
  • When at work this week I will walk from the farthest corner of the parking lot.
  • I will stop eating when my body has had enough and before I feel“full”.
  • I will move the candy jar off of my desk.
  • Two times this week I will take a walk during a break.

Pay attention to your weight and your eating and activity habits over time. Monitoring yourself is an important way to reach and maintain a healthy weight. By paying close attention, you are less likely to overeat or skip physical activity and more likely to notice small amounts of weight gain. Keeping records, or logs, is a helpful way to do this. Step Ahead has developed several logs to help you get started. See the tool section.

Set goals. And stick to them! Here are some general rules you can follow to help you make realistic goals for yourself and achieve them.

  • Your goal should be very specific.
  • Your goal should cover a very short period of time, like a week or two.
  • Your goal should be realistic. Make it something you can reach, such as keeping your weight the same or losing one pound.
  • Have some goals that are not about weight or a number of pounds to lose.
  • Imagine yourself achieving or working toward that goal.
To learn more about healthy eating, physical activity and healthy weight, check out these related links: