Achieving that ideal weight can seem elusive (see our ideal body weight calculator). But if you focus on the basics, you'll find there's no secret to successful weight loss.
Small changes in eating habits and daily activity can make a big difference in getting your weight to a healthy level. And you don't have to lose a lot for your health to improve.
"Even 10 or 15 pounds can lower your risks related to high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes," says Peiyi Wang, MD, Allina Health clinics.
When determining if it is time to lose weight, many health professionals tell their patients to look past the scale and to body mass index. BMI takes into account your height and weight. (Use our BMI calculator.)
When interpreting BMI, health professionals also consider age and sex. Generally, a non-pregnant adult should have a BMI between 19 and 25.
"If you have a BMI above 25, you need to lose some weight," says Dr. Wang.
When counseling patients about weight loss, Dr. Wang discusses counting calories.
A calorie is a unit of energy your body gets from food. If you eat more calories than you need, your body stores them as fat -- extra weight.
To lose extra weight, you should:
For example, if you first calculate 1,800 calories a day, go down to 1,600 one week. When you hit a plateau then it is time to decrease your calorie intake by another 100 to 200 calories and or increase your activity level.
To get the nutrients you need, there are limits to calorie cutting. Women should not go less than 1,200 calories per day and men no less than 1,500 to 1,600 calories.
Exercising more often means a change in habit.
"Most of us live a very sedentary lifestyle," says Dr. Wang. "We go to work and sit at a desk. Then we come home and sit in front of the TV."
She encourages her patients to get moving. "Aim for a cardiovascular workout 30 minutes a day, five days a week," says Dr. Wang. "You can split it into three 10-minute sessions or two 15-minute sessions."
A good workout can be as simple as walking fast on a treadmill, around the block, or up and down a stairway.
"To lose weight, you need to get your heart beating so that you're almost out of breath," says Dr. Wang.
Getting to and keeping a healthy weight is not a diet but a lifestyle change.
Remember to set realistic goals. One or two pounds weight loss per week is ideal for keeping the weight off.
Stay flexible. Don't think you have to give up every food you love.
Food portion sizes
Peiyi Wang, MD, Allina Health clinics; United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov
Rachel Baar, MS, RD, LD, clinical nutrition manager, Mercy Hospital
One pound of fat is about 3,500 calories. To lose one pound in a week, you need to cut out 500 calories per day.
Keep a food record to find out where extra calories come from. Note the time, place, type and amount of food you eat. After a few days, look over your food record to see where changes can be made. You might be able to identify trends, such as eating out of boredom instead of hunger.
Control food portions. Read food labels to determine the amount of food in a serving. To get to know what a ½ cup or 1 cup serving looks like, use measuring cups or our food portion sizes chart.
Check out Choosemyplate.gov to make a meal plan based on your age, gender, height and weight.
Fill up on fiber to stay full for longer. Aim for 5 to 9 servings of brightly-colored fruits and vegetables every day. Eat whole grain products like brown rice, whole grain breads, whole grain crackers, whole grain pasta.
Don't forget fluids. Aim for about eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
Eat breakfast. Research shows people who eat breakfast weigh less than those who do not. Also, do not skip meals.
Do activities you enjoy. You will be more likely to stick with exercise.
Find a friend. That way you will have someone else to be accountable to.