Dropping some unneeded pounds matters, even if it's only a few. The Mayo Clinic reports that losing between 5 and 10 percent of your body weight can lower blood pressure, enhance the way your body burns sugars, improve your cholesterol levels, and even better your mood. Losing this amount of weight also reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular problems, diabetes, sleep disorders, some types of cancer, back pain, asthma, Alzheimer's disease, gout, and osteoarthritis of the spine, hips, and knees.
Dropping pounds effectively requires one thing first of all -- a sense of perspective. Losing weight doesn't have to be a grim, miserable existence full of deprivation and want. If it is, you won't stick with it. Or, on the off chance you are one of the stalwart few who can go hungry all the time, you'll be miserable to live with. Healthy weight loss is not about dieting. It's about subtle and gradual re-examination of your relationships with both food and physical activity that will ultimately leave you healthier, thinner, and even happier.
If you're shedding weight at a rate higher than one or two pounds a week, you've reduced your caloric intake too much, says Laura Kruskall, Ph.D., R.D., a chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Your body has finely tuned survival instincts, and it will go into conservation mode, becoming more reluctant to give up its fat stores. Also, you may lose weight rapidly through fad diets, but you're not losing much fat. You also lose disproportionate amounts of muscle mass when you restrict your diet too much. Your body doesn't just burn fat stores when you send it into deprivation mode -- it also breaks down muscle to use as energy. And having less muscle makes it even harder for your body to burn calories in the future. It also makes you appear less toned and fit.
Years ago, doctors used height/weight charts to determine who was a healthy weight and who wasn't (some insurance companies still use them). A few decades ago, those were slightly refined into Body Mass Index (BMI) charts, which are commonly used in the doctors' offices today. The problem with using just height and weight as measures is that people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Bodybuilders, who weigh a lot because of all that muscle, are considered overweight or even obese by BMI charts. People who are big boned (yes, you really can be big-boned) also appear fatter on paper than they really are. It goes the other way, too. Mayo Clinic research recently showed that seemingly normal-weight people may actually be overweight or even obese.
Mayo Clinic researchers recommend determining your body fat percentage, which is exactly what it sounds like: the percentage of your body weight that is made up of fat. In women, you're generally considered fit if your fat stores are between 21 and 24 percent of your overall weight. If your body has over 32 percent fat, you enter the realm of obesity. A fit man, on the other hand, should maintain a body fat percentage between 14 and 17. Men are considered obese once their body fat reaches 25 percent or higher.
Fortunately, it's easier than ever to measure body fat. Many companies make scales that also incorporate a body fat analyzer. The analyzer passes an imperceptible current through your body. Because fat conducts electricity differently than muscle, these devices can tell what you're made of.
The second answer to how much you should weigh rests right around your middle. Scientists now know that if your waist circumference is more than 35 inches for women (40 inches for men) you are at greatly increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and all the other trappings of being too heavy. That's because belly fat (or "visceral" fat), which surrounds your internal organs and interferes with their functions, is more dangerous than fat that sits on your hips or under your chin. So, if you're a woman, your correct weight is one that gets your waistline below 35 inches. As a rough guide, it takes about five pounds of fat loss for a woman to lose an inch around the middle; for a man, it's about 10 pounds.
Remember that sustainable weight loss is a three-legged stool: better nutrition, increased activity, and steadfast motivation. Remind yourself that these are exciting times for you. You are about to change your life in ways that you might not even expect. This new way of living holds all kinds of remarkable surprises.