It's well-known that one-third of American adults are overweight and an additional one-third are obese.1 In addition, 17% of U.S. children and adolescents are obese.2 Worldwide statistics are similar. These facts are strongly associated with ongoing epidemics in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes may cause loss of vision, kidney problems, and loss of circulation in the legs and feet. Cardiovascular disease includes high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. Being overweight or obese may cause diseases which require lifelong treatment. Personal action is needed to begin to restore good health, but it's important to understand the specific nature of the actions to take.
What is not required is a drastic reduction of body weight to some idealized norm of "thinness." It is not appropriate for people to attempt to force themselves to look like runway models. What does work is applying simple techniques and strategies to encourage a gradual loss of weight. Over time persons on such a plan will achieve a body weight that is normal for them. There are two key steps to reaching your normal weight.
The first step is to reduce your overall intake of calories by eating six small meals a day. If five small meals works best for your schedule and daily needs, that's fine. The main point involves total calories. With six small meals, each one is about 300 calories - a little less for women and a little more for men who are taller and more heavily muscled. For men the daily calorie intake is between 1800 and 2100 calories. For women, the daily calorie intake is between 1700 and 1800 calories. By experimenting a bit, you'll find your optimal calorie level that results in consistent weight loss. Make sure to combine complex carbohydrates and protein at each small meal. The numerous benefits of food combining include maintaining insulin levels in a normal range and improved cognitive/mental function.
For many people, this reduction in daily calories will have an immediate and dramatic impact. There may be real hunger pangs, and it will be important to remember that the next small meal is only a couple of hours away. The pounds you lose in the first couple of weeks will likely provide plenty of reinforcement to help you through the times when you are really hungry.
The next and simultaneous step is to begin a program of regular, vigorous exercise. Of course, if you haven't exercised in a long time you'll need to start slowly. Your goal is to build up to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise five times per week.3 Ideally you'll be doing both cardiovascular exercise and strength training, and in the process you'll build lean muscle mass. The result is an elevation in your basal metabolic rate which causes your body to burn fat even while you're resting!
As you follow these two health-promoting programs, you will notice that you're steadily and gradually losing weight. There will come a time, anywhere from 6 months to a year after you've begun your new lifestyle, when your weight loss will stop. For example, you'll notice you only lost half a pound over the previous week or two.
Then you'll know that you've reached your "ideal" body weight. You've reached the weight that is normal for you. It is very likely that your new body mass index (a ratio between your height and weight) is now in the normal range or very close to the high end of normal. You've taken control of your health and your life, and the very good news is that you've built new habits that will last a lifetime.
1Ogden CL, et al: Prevalence of obesity in the United States, 2009-2010. NCHS Data Brief No. 82. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 2012
2Waters E, et al: Interventions for preventing obesity in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 7(12):CD001871, 2011
3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vital signs: walking among adults - United States, 2005 and 2010. MMWR Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep 61:595-601, 2012