“How much weight should I lose?” “What should I weigh?”
Even though these are common questions and ones that seem to have a straight answer, I really don’t give a straight answer. Your weight – anyone’s weight – is very personal, so it’s not up to me. The most helpful thing I can do is to share information and professional experience, so you can make up your own mind.
Of course, this conversation is for people with overweight or obesity. Unfortunately, society often encourages us to be quite thin and puts pressure on us to lose weight even when it isn’t healthful.
You can look at this BMI chart to give you some guidance about your own weight status.
How much weight should I lose?
Here’s what I want you to know before you pick a weight loss goal.
- Healthy habits – eating a balanced, plant slant diet; getting adequate sleep; and being physically active everyday – are critical regardless of your weight.
- If you’ve been gaining weight, the most important weight goal is to gain no more.
- Any amount of weight loss is a boon to health.
- Losing 10% of starting weight – say 20 pounds for someone weighing 200 pounds – is an enormous improvement. You do not have to lose gobs of weight to improve your health.
- Your weight loss goal can change as time goes on. You might pick a goal to lose 5% of your weight and then decide to lose another 5%. Or you might pick a goal to lose 25 pounds and decide that you’re happy – thrilled even – with a loss of 18 pounds. It’s okay to put the breaks on your weight loss plan. And it’s okay to restart a weight loss plan next month, next year or anytime.
- As a health professional, I care more about how much weight you can keep off than I care about how much weight you can lose. I hope you do too. Seriously, losing 5 or 10 pounds and keeping it off is better than losing 45 and then gaining 50.
- Weight loss isn’t a race. I know, I really, really know that you want those excess pounds gone NOW. But my experience tells me that it’s better to lose weight gradually and learn to keep it off than to engage in unsustainable eating and exercise habits.
What losing only a few pounds can do for you.
Even if you don’t see a big difference in the mirror, good things are happening under the surface.Losing a few pounds improves insulin function, lowers blood pressure and LOTS more.Click To Tweet
- In a a very cool study among people at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, losing only 5% of body weight improved insulin sensitivity in the fat, muscle and liver cells and even improved insulin production in the beta-cells of the pancreas. Fat from the liver dropped too. As the participants lost more weight – first to 11% and to 16% of their starting weights, they benefited even more. They lost more liver fat, had more improvements in the beta-cells and experienced more insulin sensitivity at the muscle cells.
- Many studies have found that moderate weight loss has helped people prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. In the federally-funded Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), losing about 7% of starting weight reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by a whopping 58% during the 3-year study. And 15 years after the start of the study, their risk was still 27% lower. Do keep in mind, however, that not everyone with prediabetes carries excess weight. Thin people may not benefit from weight loss, but there’s still plenty they can do to prevent diabetes.
- Losing about 9 pounds helped people with high blood pressure lower both systolic (the top number) and diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure.
- Weight loss improves cholesterol levels and markers of inflammation, such as c-reactive protein.
- When women with obesity and knee osteoarthritis lost an average of 15 pounds, they reported less pain and better quality of life.
- Weight loss might boost fertility in women.
- Dropping a few pounds might lower your risk for several types of cancer. We don’t yet have concrete research to say just how much weight loss lowers risk, but we do know that excess body fat is linked to at least a dozen types of cancer, including postmenopausal breast cancer and cancers of the pancreas and colon. Fat is actually active tissue and affects the body’s levels of insulin, estrogen and other compounds like cytokines that influence cancer risk. Losing weight also affects these levels and likely lowers your risk.
And there’s more. We often see less back pain, better sleep and even better moods and improved self esteem.
While weight loss is important, it’s certainly not the only thing you can do to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and other health problems. Far from it! A common problem with “dieting” is that it puts most – or all – of the focus on the pounds lost instead of emphasizing the healthy habits that promote weight loss and help to maintain the new lower weight. I’d rather you lead a healthy lifestyle and lose no weight than achieve some ideal thinness and not be healthy and happy.
Instead of focusing on the weight, focus on the process. Put your energies into finding healthy habits (check out 5 Steps to Building Healthy Habits), such as making time for exercise and meal preparation, scanning your day for potential obstacles, learning to speak kindly to yourself and recognizing your accomplishments. Don’t waste your time and energy on rigid, boring diet rules.
Have you lost weight? Tell me about the benefits of being lighter?