Keeping a healthy weight can be a struggle at the best of times, with confusing diet advice and intimidating exercise fads only adding to the struggle.
However, reaching a healthy weight can be extremely beneficial to both your mental and physical health.
Weight management is all about either losing or gaining weight to reach a healthy goal weight, or to maintain a healthy weight. Most of us want to lose a couple of pounds here or there and weight management is the process of getting rid of those extra pounds.
Having a healthy approach to weight management often includes overall lifestyle changes. When we lose weight we often want it to be gone quickly, but this typically isn’t a healthy or achievable approach.
Weight management is about more than just weight loss
While losing weight is an important first step in weight management, it isn’t the only step. Proper and healthy weight management involves keeping weight off long term and maintaining a healthy weight. Losing weight can be a battle, but keeping the weight off can often be just as hard.
Crash diets and exercise fads can help you to lose weight in the short term, but they’re often not sustainable. When they inevitably become too hard to maintain, we tend to go back to our previous lifestyle habits - the very ones that played a part in weight gain.
Healthy weight management is about implementing lifestyle changes that you can maintain on a long-term basis so that you can lose weight, but also keep it off. Reasonable diet changes and a maintainable exercise regime will leave you reaping the health benefits of weight loss.
Losing weight is only half the challenge - you also want to be able to keep it off in the long term. Through changes to exercise and eating habits, you can safely and effectively achieve steady long-term weight loss.
Weight issues can manifest in a variety of ways, so it’s important to be aware of how weight can become unhealthy and what to look out for.
Being overweight doesn’t come down to a simple number on the scale: we need to consider a person’s individual characteristics to determine whether they fall into the obese or overweight category.
BMI, or body mass index, is one way to calculate your weight range. BMI measures your weight in relation to your height to calculate a number.
Underweight = BMI of 18.5 or less
Healthy weight = BMI between 18.5 - 24.9
Overweight = BMI between 25 - 29.9
Obesity = BMI between 30 - 39.9
Extreme obesity = BMI of 40 or greater¹
However, BMI is not a fool-proof measure of weight classification. BMI only takes height and weight into account, while other measures like body fat and muscle mass are ignored. For example, a short, muscular person could be undeservedly classified in the overweight or obese categories.
While BMI is a handy tool, it is important to discuss your BMI results with your doctor before making any conclusions about your weight.
Another way to analyze if you’re overweight is through the waist-to-hip ratio. This method compares the circumference of your hips to the circumference of your waist. This is because if your waist is wider than your hips, you might be carrying excess weight.
You can figure out your waist-to-hip ratio by using a simple waist-to-hip ratio calculator. A measurement above .99 for men or above .90 for women falls within the unhealthy or overweight category.²
Carrying too many pounds can have a profound impact on your health. Research shows that being overweight or obese can increase your mortality risk and the likelihood of developing conditions such as:
Body pain and decreased mobility
High blood pressure
Some types of cancer
Depression and anxiety
When it comes to weight management, the focus is often on people who gain too much weight, but being below a healthy weight range or excessive weight loss can be just as dangerous.
Safe weight loss is considered to be around 1-2 pounds per week: while you might be tempted to exercise more or cut back on the calories to increase this loss, it can lead to some serious side effects.
Weight loss greater than 1-2 pounds per week can lead to issues, such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, slowed metabolism, muscle loss, and even gallstones.⁴ ⁵ ⁶ ⁷
In severe cases, extreme weight loss can manifest from eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. Eating disorders can lead to issues with your:
Eating disorders can also significantly increase the mortality rate. Research has found that patients with anorexia, for example, have a six-fold increased risk of death compared to the general population.⁸
You should contact your doctor if your weight:
is categorized as underweight or overweight/obese in relation to the BMI scale
is impacting your physical or emotional health
is dropping or gaining at an alarming rate
Am I at a healthy weight? | National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Weight, shape, and mortality risk in older persons: elevated waist-hip ratio, not high body mass index is associated with a greater risk of death (2006)
Adult obesity causes & consequences | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Weight loss: 6 strategies for success | Mayo Clinic
Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans (2010)
Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after The Biggest Loser competition (2017)
Gallstones | National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
What are eating disorders? Health consequences | National Eating Disorders Association
One of the most common reasons for weight gain is consuming excessive calories.
There are many foods out there that are deceptively high in calories that could be contributing significantly to your weight gain.
Full-sugar sodas, for example, can contain up to 150 calories per serving, and just a tablespoon of ranch dressing can contain roughly 73 calories.
Sometimes weight gain really just comes down to our genes. Children of obese parents are more likely to face issues with their weight. In fact, if both of your parents are obese, your likelihood of developing obesity rises to around 80%.¹
The hormone insulin plays an important role in glucose regulation and the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. High levels of insulin have been linked to obesity and could be a contributing factor in your weight gain.²
The overconsumption of added sugar in food and drink such as sugar-sweetened beverages is closely associated with weight gain and obesity.³
Food products containing added sugar are generally very enjoyable, which can lead to excess consumption of them and consequent weight gain.
Leptin is a hormone that plays an important role in appetite regulation. When high levels of leptin are present, appetite is usually reduced. However, in people with leptin resistance, the experience of appetite reduction from this hormone is reduced.
Leptin resistance is considered to have a significant influence on weight gain and obesity.⁴
Learn more about hormonal weight gain and what you can do to lose it.
Some medications can cause weight gain. If you’ve experienced unexplained weight gain then you might want to discuss a treatment regime with your doctor.
Medications that can cause weight gain include:
If you find that you’re losing weight unexpectedly or too rapidly, there are a few reasons why it might be happening. Some of the common causes of unintentional weight loss include:
Depression and anxiety can play a big role in weight loss, leaving you with a reduced appetite, low motivation to cook, often resulting in weight loss.
Your thyroid is a gland that produces thyroid hormone, which plays an important role in metabolism regulation. If your thyroid is producing too much of this hormone, your metabolism will speed up, and you’ll likely lose weight unexpectedly as your body quickly burns off calories. This condition is known as hyperthyroidism.⁶
Muscle is more dense than fat, so if you’ve been cutting back on exercise then you might notice unexpected weight loss. Muscle loss is a good example of how weight loss is not always ideal.
Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease cause inflammation in the gut, meaning sufferers have trouble eating and absorbing the nutrients.
One of the common side effects of these disorders is weight loss since they often interfere with the hormones that regulate appetite and hunger, resulting in a reduced appetite.⁷
Undertaking some unhealthy restrictive eating habits can cause you to lose weight too fast.
Disordered eating refers to irregular and unsafe eating habits. This includes anorexia and bulimia but can also include excessive calorie restriction, an obsession with food, meal skipping, and fasting.⁸
Learn more about the causes of unexplained weight loss here.
Why people become overweight | Harvard Health Publishing
Sugar Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease risk (2011)
Leptin resistance and diet-induced obesity: central and peripheral actions of leptin (2015)
Medicines and weight gain | Health Navigator
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) | Mayo Clinic
Determinants of weight loss prior to diagnosis inflammatory bowel disease: a retrospective observational study (2014)
What is disordered eating? | Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
There are a lot of snake oil salesmen in the weight loss industry, so it’s important to follow advice from professionals who are backed by research. And, with so many weight loss options out there, it can be confusing to even know where to start.
When you want to lose weight, the right method will depend on the underlying cause of the weight gain.
If your weight gain is due to excessive calorie intake then the solution will be to restrict calories and increase exercise.
However, if it is due to medication, for example, you might be able to talk with your doctor about alternative medication options.
Some causes of weight gain can be difficult to rectify, so diet and exercise will often be the most appropriate solutions in this case.
Weight can have a huge impact on both physical and mental health, so it’s important to keep your weight within a healthy range.
Obesity is a complicated health issue that can increase your risk of developing a range of health problems, including:
High blood pressure
Depression and anxiety
Research shows that losing weight can significantly improve health outcomes for individuals who exceed a healthy weight range.
Even moderate weight loss of 5-10% of your body weight has been linked to improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, along with reduced health care costs, depression, sexual dysfunction, and mobility, which can lead to an overall improved quality of life.
More significant weight loss (10-15% of body weight) results in further improvements across these areas and can lead to clinical improvement in comorbid conditions.¹
Most importantly, weight loss can also reduce your risk of death. A 2015 review study found that intentional weight loss was linked to a reduction of all-cause mortality by approximately 15%.²
Treatments for unintentional weight loss use a very similar approach to treatments for weight gain - investigating the cause of the weight loss and applying a targeted approach.
If mental health is responsible for weight loss, then combining both treatments for depression/anxiety and increasing calorie intake is likely to be the best fix.
If hyperthyroidism is the cause, however, antithyroid drugs can help to keep your thyroid hormones in check and allow you to regain some weight.
Treating unsafe weight loss often requires a more detailed and long-term approach. Disordered eating can be tough to treat and often requires a multi-disciplinary approach that addresses therapy, nutrition, and medication needs. In serious cases, hospitalization or an in-patient program may be required.³
If you’re concerned that you might be exhibiting signs of disordered eating, then it’s best to speak to your doctor or mental health professional.
Learn about the signs of disordered eating and next steps for getting a diagnosis here.
Like most areas of health, prevention is key to avoiding the need for intervention. Here are some healthy and safe ways that can help you keep your weight at a healthy level and avoid becoming under or overweight.
Keeping an eye on your food intake can help you decide whether you’re consuming too many or too few calories and if you need to moderate your eating habits slightly.
Ensuring you’re getting the right amount of fuel that your body needs is key to maintaining a healthy weight and preventing a drastic weight gain or weight loss.
Crash diets aren’t sustainable, but simple lifestyle changes to the types of food you eat can make a huge impact on your nutritional intake, helping you keep a stable weight goal for the long term. Ensure that you:
Eat at least three times a day
Eat a diet high in fiber, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains
Switch to low-fat dairy products when you can
Keep the majority of your protein intake to low-fat sources e.g., turkey, seafood, eggs, chicken
Finding an exercise routine that you enjoy is key to ensuring that you keep at it. Forget exercise fads that promise you instant results; look for workouts that you like and that can easily fit into your schedule. This way, you’re more likely to stick to it and to approach the exercise with a healthier mindset.
Exercise options to explore include:
Walking your dog daily
Taking a dance class
Mental health can play a huge role in weight maintenance. Stress, grief, depression, or anxiety can throw routines out the window and make a huge impact on weight.
Whether it’s emotional eating leading to weight gain, or anxiety-induced weight loss, keeping your mental health in check is an important step towards preventing these weight-related issues.
Be sure to reach out to your doctor or mental health professional to discuss your mental health and whether it’s impacting your weight management.
If you’ve been struggling with your weight management, you’re not alone. These statistics highlight the number of people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight.
According to the CDC, 73.6% of US adults aged 20 and over were overweight in 2017-2018. 42.5% of US adults aged 20 and over in 2017-2018 were classed as obese.¹
Medical costs for people with obesity in the US are $1,429 more than those in a healthy weight range.²
Obesity is one of the top five leading global risks for death, alongside high blood pressure, tobacco use, high blood glucose, and physical inactivity.⁴
The risk of developing an obesity-related comorbidity rises exponentially with increasing BMI.⁴
Patients with a BMI over 35 are almost 20 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than patients in a healthy BMI weight range.⁴
Women with a BMI over 30 are twice as likely to develop gallstones as non-obese women.⁴
Male and female infertility is associated with an increased BMI.⁴
Obesity and overweight | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Adult obesity facts | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Global health risks | World Health Organisation
There are many doctors and specialists out there that can help you target specific areas of weight management. The following specialists can assist with targeting the causes of weight gain and/or weight loss.
It can be tricky to know where to start with weight management. Often your first port of call will be to your family doctor.
If you’re worried about your weight then be sure to seek medical advice from your doctor and, possibly, a referral to a specialist.
Dealing with weight management can be confusing at the best of times. We’ve answered some common questions to help you understand safe and effective weight management strategies.
It’s important to distinguish between prescription weight loss medication and over-the-counter weight loss supplements.
Prescription weight loss medication can be safe and effective at helping you to lose weight. However, they can come with some side effects like nausea and diarrhea.
On the other hand, over-the-counter weight-loss pills aren’t regulated and can contain some dangerous ingredients. When it comes to weight loss pills, be sure to take only those prescribed to you by your doctor.
There is no universal ideal weight: a healthy weight range will vary depending on a number of factors like height, build, and muscular structure.
Weight analysis tools like BMI and hip-to-waist ratio can help you figure out if your weight falls within a healthy or unhealthy range.
The most effective weight loss technique will depend on the underlying reasons behind your weight gain. For example, if your weight gain is due to corticosteroid use, then switching medication could be all you need to experience weight loss.
In most cases, a combination of healthy eating and exercise habits tends to be the most effective way of helping you keep weight off long term. As always, if you want to understand how to lose weight, it’s best to talk to a health professional about your needs and possible weight gain causes.
A little bit of weight fluctuation is normal as the amounts of food that we eat and the energy that we burn differ on a day-to-day basis. You might find that you retain more water and so gain weight on days that you drink alcohol, are menstruating, or eat high-sodium foods.¹
Crash diets can also lead to some yo-yo-ing on the scales. Intense calorie-restrictive diets can lead to drastic weight loss, but they’re very hard to maintain and ineffective so that once you stop following them, you’re likely to return to your previous weight without lifestyle changes.