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Watch Your Weight

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The Basics

To stay at a healthy weight, you need to balance the calories you eat with the calories you burn (use up). To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you eat. A healthy diet and physical activity can help you control your weight.

Calories are a measure of the energy in the foods you eat. You burn calories when you are physically active.

How do I know if I’m eating the right number of calories?
Use this tool to find out how many calories your body needs each day. This is the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. If you are overweight or obese, burn more calories than you eat to lose weight.

How do I know if I’m at a healthy weight?
Finding out your body mass index (BMI) is the best way to learn if you are at a healthy weight. Use this Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator to find out your BMI and what it means for you.

If you are already at a healthy weight, continue to get regular physical activity and choose healthy foods.

What can losing weight do for me?
If you are overweight or obese, losing just 10 pounds may lower your risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Early death

Plus, eating healthy and being physically active can give you more energy throughout the day. Move more and eat healthy foods to help:

  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Lower your blood sugar
  • Raise your “good” cholesterol
  • Lower your “bad” cholesterol

Take Action!

Make a promise to eat well, move more, and get support from family and friends. If you need to lose weight, do it slowly over time.

Remember that to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.

Talk to a doctor.
If you are planning to lose weight, talk to a doctor. Your doctor will explain your options, like joining a weight-loss program. Check out these questions to ask your doctor about losing weight.

What about cost?
Screening and counseling for obesity are covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Set realistic goals.
Start out by setting small goals, like:

  • I want to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week.
  • I will add 10 minutes of physical activity to my daily routine.
  • I will avoid second helpings of meals this week.

Keep a food and activity diary.
Write down:

  • When you eat
  • What you eat
  • How much you eat
  • Your physical activity

Print a food and activity diary or make your own. When you know your habits, it’s easier to make changes.

Get active.
Move more to balance the calories you take in with the calories you use.

Eat healthy.
Make your calories count. Use this interactive tool to practice using the nutrition facts label to make smart food choices.

Here are some easy ways you can eat healthy.

  • Choose fat-free or low-fat versions of your favorite foods.
  • Drink water or fat-free milk instead of soda or other sugary drinks.
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit.
  • When you eat out, ask for sauces or dressings “on the side” so you can control how much you use.
  • Try this menu planner for healthy meal ideas. External Links Disclaimer Logo

Eat smaller portions.
Eating healthy food is important. But you also need to pay attention to how much food you eat. Take the Portion Distortion Quiz to test your knowledge. External Links Disclaimer Logo

Here are some tips for watching your portions:

  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast.
  • Eat small, healthy snacks during the day. This will keep you from overeating at mealtimes.
  • Put a small amount of food in a bowl instead of eating out of the package or container.
  • Serve food on plates and leave the main dish on the stove. You will be less tempted to go back for seconds.
  • If you are eating out, only eat half of your meal. Take the other half home.
  • Read the label to find out how many servings are in a package. There may be more than one!
  • Eat slowly – this will give you time to feel full.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV. It’s harder to keep track of how much you are eating.

Learn more ways to keep your heart healthy and prevent type 2 diabetes.

Start Today: Small Steps

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Content last updated on: August 22, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133