You may have heard that losing weight is as easy as eating less and exercising more. It is true that taking in fewer calories than you use each day is the simplest way to lose weight, but it is never easy. Never mind the fad diets, weight-loss pills, and herbal remedies—it all comes down to a balanced diet and a regular exercise program.

Using the Body Mass Index

The first step is determining your current weight status: Are you underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese?

A good measure for this is the Body Mass Index (BMI), a standardized method used by health professionals to evaluate weight and body fat. BMI is calculated by using your weight and height. It helps give you an indication of whether you are at risk of health problems that are related to being overweight or obese. If your BMI is 25 or higher, you are at risk for a number of serious health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, pregnancy-related disorders, and osteoarthritis.

If you want to know your BMI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website is equipped with BMI calculators for childen and teens, and adults.

BMI values are interpreted as follows:

  • 18.4 or less = underweight
  • 18.5-24.9 = normal weight
  • 25-29.9 = overweight
  • 30 and over = obese

Although this is a reliable method, it is not foolproof. Because muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue, heavily muscled people may fall into the obese range when they are not obese.

Eating a Healthful Diet

To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you use. This is where your diet comes in, which may be in need of an overhaul. Be aware that you do not want to lower your calories at the expense of nutrition. Think of your new eating habits as a lifestyle change. Adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet, while cutting back on animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol, are good for you no matter what your age. Creating a healthful diet that you can stick to throughout your life will help you achieve and maintain your desired weight. Losing even 10% of your body weight may lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of diabetes.

It may also be a good idea to keep track of how much you eat and drink. It's better to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Eating smaller portions has been linked to weight loss and maintenance over time. And of all the meals, breakfast is most important. Skipping breakfast has been associated with increased body weight. Make sure your breakfast is packed with fruits and whole grains—think oatmeal with slices of apple, not bacon and eggs.

If you are having a hard time getting started, consider talking with a dietitian for ideas with meal planning.

Getting Regular Exercise

To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you take in. This is where exercise comes in. Not only does regular exercise help you get to an ideal weight, it can help you stay there too. Additionally, muscle burns more calories than fat, so building up your muscles will allow you to eat more while maintaining your weight. If you do not exercise already, it is time to get started.

There are several different types of exercise that you can do. An ideal exercise program combines four types of exercise:

A good goal for many people to work up to is exercising 4-6 times a week for 30-60 minutes at a time. Some guidelines suggest that to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, one should consider doing 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity weekly. Make sure you talk with your doctor before beginning any kind of exercise program. Your doctor can help you develop an exercise routine that will meet your weight and health goals.

No Time Like Today

Now that you have the tools, getting started is up to you. Start slowly, have carrots or an apple for a snack, instead of a bag of chips. Take a walk around the block before or after work today. Just remember, the sooner you begin working toward your ideal weight, the sooner you can reap the healthful benefits.