U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Watch Your Weight

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

To stay at a healthy weight, balance the calories you eat with the calories you burn (use up). Calories are a measure of the energy in the foods you eat. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat.

A healthy diet and physical activity can help you control your weight. You burn more calories when you are physically active.

How do I know if I’m at a healthy weight?
Finding out your Body Mass Index (BMI) is the best way to learn if you are at a healthy weight. Use this Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator to find out your BMI and what it means for you.

  • If you are overweight or obese, you can lose weight by getting more physical activity and eating fewer calories.
  • If you are already at a healthy weight, keep getting regular physical activity and eating the right number of calories.

How do I know if I’m eating the right number of calories?
Use this Daily Food Plan tool to find out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. 

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The Basics: Health Benefits

What can losing weight do for me?
If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can lower your risk for serious health conditions like:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Early death

When you move more and eat healthy foods, you can:

  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Lower your blood sugar
  • Raise your “good” cholesterol
  • Lower your “bad” cholesterol
  • Have more energy during the day

You may start to see these health benefits by losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, this would mean losing 10 to 20 pounds.

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Take Action!

Take Action: Set Goals

Start by making a promise to eat well, move more, and get support from family and friends. 

Set realistic goals.
If you need to lose weight, do it slowly over time. Start out by setting small goals, like:

  • I want to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week.
  • I will add 10 minutes of physical activity to my daily routine.
  • I will avoid second helpings of meals this week.

Keep a food and activity diary.
When you know your habits, it's easier to make changes. Write down:

  • When you eat
  • What you eat
  • How much you eat
  • Your physical activity

Print this food and activity diary or make your own. 

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Take Action: Get Active

Get more physical activity.
Remember that to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. Get active to balance the calories you take in with the calories you use.

  • Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of activity a week.
  • Try to be active for 30 minutes 5 times a week.

Even some physical activity is better than none. If you don’t have time for 30 minutes of activity, get moving for shorter 10-minute periods throughout the day.

Check out these resources for more information:

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Take Action: Eat Healthy

Eat healthy.
Eating healthy can help you manage your weight – and it's good for your overall health. 

Here are a few healthy eating tips:

  • Choose fat-free or low-fat versions of your favorite foods.
  • Drink water or fat-free milk instead of soda or other sugary drinks.
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit.
  • When you eat out, ask for sauces or dressings “on the side” so you can control how much you use.

Check out these links to learn more:

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Take Action: Portion Sizes

Eat smaller portions.
Eating healthy food is important, but you also need to pay attention to how much food you eat. Take the Portion Distortion Quiz to test your knowledge.

Here are some ideas for watching your portions:

  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast.
  • Eat small, healthy snacks during the day. This will keep you from overeating at mealtimes.
  • Read the label to find out how many servings are in a package. There may be more than one!
  • Put a serving of food in a bowl instead of eating out of the package or container.
  • Serve food on plates and leave the main dish on the stove. You will be less tempted to go back for seconds.
  • If you are eating out, only eat half of your meal. Take the other half home.
  • Eat slowly – this will give you time to feel full.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV. It’s harder to keep track of how much you are eating.

Get tips to help you enjoy your food while eating less.

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Take Action: Get Help

Ask your doctor for help.
You may also want to talk to a doctor or nurse about different ways to lose weight. Your doctor can tell you about your options, like joining a weight-loss program. Check out these questions to ask your doctor about losing weight.

What about cost?
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, insurance plans must cover screening and counseling for obesity. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out more.

To learn about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

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