Successful approaches to weight loss include setting goals and making lifestyle changes, such as eating fewer calories and being more physically active.

Weight loss medications and weight loss surgery are options in a minority of people who are obese. These are generally only recommended when other lifestyle changes have failed to work, and the medical risks of remaining overweight are high.

Set Realistic (“Do-able”) Goals

Setting the right weight loss goals is an important first step to losing and maintaining weight.

For Adults

  • Lose just 5-10% of your current weight over 6 months. This will lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions.
  • The best way to lose weight is slowly. A weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week is do-able, safe, and will help you keep off the weight. It also will give you the time to make new, healthy lifestyle changes.
  • If you’ve lost 10% of your body weight, have kept it off for 6 months, and are still overweight or obese, you may want to consider further weight loss.

For Children and Teens

  • If your child is overweight or at risk of overweight, the goal is to maintain his or her current weight and to focus on eating healthy and being physically active. This should be part of a family effort to make lifestyle changes.
  • If your child is overweight and has a health condition related to overweight or obesity, your doctor may refer you to nutritionist or other specialist.

Healthy lifestyle changes

To help you aim for and maintain a healthy weight, your doctor may recommend that you adopt lifelong healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Heart-healthy eating. Learn about which foods and nutrients are part of a healthy eating pattern. It’s important to eat the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, try to reduce your total daily calories gradually.
  • Physical activity. Many health benefits are associated with physical activity and getting the recommended amount of physical activity needed each week. Physical activity is an important factor in determining whether a person can maintain a healthy body weight, lose excess body weight, or maintain successful weight loss. Before starting any exercise program, ask your doctor about what level of physical activity is right for you.
  • Healthy Sleep. Studies have shown some relationship between lack of sleep and obesity.

Making lifelong healthy lifestyle changes, such as heart-healthy eating and physical activity, can help you modify your energy balance to help you aim for and maintain a healthy weight. For example:

  • To aim for a healthy weight, or lose weight, you want your energy OUT to be more than your energy IN.
  • To maintain weight loss you want your energy IN and energy OUT to be the same.

Behavioral Changes

Changing your behaviors or habits around food and physical activity is important for losing weight. The first step is to understand the things that lead you to overeat or have an inactive lifestyle. The next step is to change these habits.

The list below gives you some simple tips to help build healthier habits.

Change your surroundings. You may be more likely to overeat when watching TV, when treats are available in the office break room, or when you're with a certain friend. You also may not be motivated to take the exercise class you signed up for. But you can change these habits.

  • Instead of watching TV, dance to music in your living room or go for a walk.
  • Leave the office break room right after you get a cup of coffee.
  • Bring a change of clothes to work. Head straight to the exercise class on the way home from work.
  • Put a note on your calendar to remind yourself to take a walk or go to your activity class.

Keep a record. A record of your food intake and the amount of physical activity that you do each day will help to inspire you. You also can keep track of your weight. For example, when the record shows that you've been meeting your goal to be more active, you'll want to keep it up. A record is also an easy way to track how you're doing, especially if you're working with a registered dietitian or nutritionist.

Seek support. Ask for help or encouragement from your friends, family, and health care provider. You can get support in person, through e-mail, or by talking on the phone. You also can join a support group.

Reward success. Reward your success for meeting your weight loss goals or other achievements with something you would like to do, not with food. Choose rewards that you'll enjoy, such as a movie, music CD, an afternoon off from work, a massage, or personal time.

Weight Loss Maintenance

Maintaining your weight loss over time can be a challenge. For adults, weight loss is a success if you lose at least 10 percent of your initial weight and you don't regain more than 6 or 7 pounds in 2 years. You also must keep a lower waist circumference—at least 2 inches lower than your waist circumference before you lost weight.

After 6 months of keeping off the weight, you can think about losing more if:

  • You've already lost 5 to 10 percent of your body weight
  • You're still overweight or obese

The key to further weight loss or to maintain your weight loss is to continue with lifestyle changes. Adopt these changes as a new way of life. However, if you want to lose more weight, you may need to eat fewer calories and increase your activity level. For example, if you eat 1,600 calories a day but don't lose weight, you may want to cut back to 1,200 calories.

Reference: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute 

Last updated May 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

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