Being above your healthy weight can first affect your lifestyle, energy levels, self-esteem and confidence and, if it continues, your health. So, if you have weight concerns bring them up with your doctor or nurse and don’t ignore them.
Being below your healthy weight can also affect your lifestyle and mental and physical health. You can read more about being seriously under weight on the Health Navigator website, where you can also find support for a potential eating disorder.
New Zealanders have a big problem with over-weight – there’s no hiding from it. A 2018/19 survey found 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 9 children were a long, long way above their healthy weight. And Pasifika and Māori were many more times at risk than the general population in this respect.
At Local Doctors, we can give you reliable information on what your healthy weight should be and strategies to help you move nearer to it. We will tell you about how to book an appointment with our friendly and caring Wellness Support Team. Or we can refer you to a specialist dietitian.
What is an unhealthy weight?
The most common way to check if your weight is healthy is to compare it with your height. This is called a body mass index (BMI) reading. It uses a simple calculation.
BMI = bodyweight in kilograms / (height in metres x height in metres)
BMI = 85kg / (1.8m x 1.8m) = 26.2
You can find a handy online BMI calculator to do the calculation for you.
For most adults, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is healthy.
However, BMI is only an estimate of whether you have a healthy weight. It cannot differentiate between body fat and muscle mass, or account for very short or very muscular bodies, so it’s inaccurate for some people (eg, some Asian and Pasifika people), children or in pregnancy. If you are unsure or have concerns about your BMI, talk to your doctor.
A good way to check for excess body fat is waist measurement – how much weight are you carrying around your middle?
Abdominal fat is known to be more harmful to your health than fat stored elsewhere, especially for raising your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Disease risk is increased when your waist circumference is over 80cm for women or 94cm for men.
Causes of unhealthy weight
To survive as a species, humans have become efficient at storing energy from food as fat, a mechanism built into our genes to prepare for times of food shortage.
Food is not scarce in most countries today. In fact, it is too available and is very energy dense (full of calories) – but our bodies have not been able to adapt to this change. We just keep on storing fat.
On top of this are the many fizzy drinks and other foods with really high sugar levels – one regular size can of drink might contain 9 teaspoons of sugar. Most if not all of it gets turned into fat.
Unhealthy weight leads to serious health conditions
Being too heavy increases your risk of many serious health conditions, including:
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol levels
- coronary heart disease and stroke
- metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity
- several types of cancer
- reduced fertility
- sleep apnoea – interrupted breathing during sleep, causing daytime sleepiness
- liver disease and kidney disease
- pregnancy complications.
Being significantly above your healthy weight reduces life expectancy by an average of 3 to 10 years, depending on how far above it you are. But even if you are well above ideal weight you can lower some important disease risks by reducing your weight by just 10% or even 5%.
Achieving a healthy weight
There is no ‘magic bullet’ to weight loss. You’ll need to take the long-term view, taking care that the changes you make are ones you can stick with. Some experts recommend losing 0.5kg a week is a realistic target.
As well as a sound plan, it’s important you start when you have personal motivation for change. You might have a particular goal or need support from family/whānau and others around you, and to ask yourself how your good health or poor health affects them as well.
Your doctor will tell you whether your plan looks realistic and provide advice and encouragement.
There are two real keys to weight loss: improved diet and more exercise.
There are some ‘easy wins’ you can take advantage of when starting to lose weight on a healthier diet, including:
- cutting out takeaway meals
- replacing biscuits or cakes with fruit/vegetable snacks
- cutting out or down alcohol (it is high in calories)
- avoiding sugary soft drinks
- sticking to a balanced, healthy diet – it gives better results than fad or ‘crash’ diets, which are hard to stick with
- planning meals and snacks for your day so the vending machine does not hijack your healthy intentions.
Over the weeks, try not to focus only on the scales. Think about how your healthier food choices mean your clothes feel looser, your energy levels are improving and maybe your mood is improving.
Diet is the main part but exercise also helps you lose weight. First, check with your doctor it is safe for you to exercise. Then start slowly, from 15 minutes of moderate exercise building up to more sustained activity that really gets you breathing hard. Soon you’ll be putting in the effort most days.
The main thing is to find something you enjoy and can do. Swimming is good if you have some joint pain as the water takes your weight.
Tips for success
Get good advice so you start off with a recommended weight loss plan.
Break your old habits one by one and form new healthier ones.
Be mindful – eat slowly and pay attention to your eating, without distractions such as phones or TV.
If you’ve a bad day or week where all of your healthy eating plans fell over, don’t give up. It does not mean you’ve failed.
Talk to your doctor about any related medical problems and whether there is any dietary or counselling advice that would help you.