We’ve heard for years about the epidemic of obesity. There are hundreds of diets, both fad and factual, designed to help us lose weight.
Still, no matter how much weight we lose, it seems we should shed a few more pounds. Still, studies show we should focus less on just losing weight and more on safely reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, regardless of our starting point. Hence, we aim, in this article, to give you a guide to safe and healthy weight loss. Let's dig in.
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What Is a Healthy Weight?
A healthy weight is defined as one that is associated with minimal risk of diseases or other health complications directly affected by weight. While many of these complications are considered an “overweight” health risk, weighing too little can cause similar complications.
Although no single number on the scale will work for everybody, doctors and nutritionists can estimate a good weight range to aim for based on factors such as sex, body shape, age, lifestyle, genetics, and existing medical conditions. There are a variety of online tools that can help you calculate your possible current and ideal BMI to give you a starting point, but these are not a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified medical professional.
It’s also important to note that weight is only one of a series of factors that contribute to your overall health. If you’re in a seemingly ideal weight range but have other preexisting conditions or engage in risky behaviors such as tobacco use (or the use of other drugs, including alcohol), poor dietary choices, or a sedentary lifestyle, you may still be at risk for some of the same health problems. These problems may include cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.
What You Need to Know About Weight Loss Medications
It is true that obesity continues to be a major issue in the United States, impacting over 4 out of 10 individuals, with nearly 1 out of 10 being very obese. As a result, many methods, including medications, have been developed to help deal with the condition. Let’s get a rundown of some of these.
Before we look at a few of them, it's crucial to emphasize that these medications can only be gotten with a doctor’s prescription and should be used in addition to a healthy diet and regular exercise rather than as a substitute. If diet and exercise have failed to help you lose weight and you have a BMI of 30 or higher or 27 plus additional medical issues like high blood pressure or diabetes, your healthcare provider may prescribe one of these weight-loss medications.
Weight-loss medications are pretty powerful and can help you shave off up to 12% of your total body weight. Some of them include:
- Liraglutide (Saxenda)
- Bupropion-naltrexone (Contrave)
- Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)
- Semaglutide (Wegovy)
- Setmelanotide (Imcivree)
- Orlistat (Xenical, Alli)
Most of these work to reduce appetite and hunger by affecting your brain's hunger centers, and they also slow down the rate at which your stomach empties, prolonging your feeling of fullness. Except for orlistat, which works by affecting the way your body absorbs fat.
Ozempic (semaglutide) and Mounjaro (tirzepatide) are two "new" weight-loss drugs that have recently generated some buzz, especially on social media. However, these medications are nothing new; they have long been administered to people with diabetes and, more recently, have been shown to be useful for managing obesity. This has led to the development of stronger formulations of semaglutide for patients with obesity and associated co-morbidities like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, with excellent results, particularly from the recently approved Wegovy.
However, although these drugs are effective at helping people lose weight, there is some worry about their side effects, which include constipation, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and even facial aging. These could cause more serious health problems like increased thyroid cancer risk and also malnutrition from either losing too many nutrients or not getting enough. Additionally, discontinuing these medications has its own effects on the body. Therefore, it's crucial to take these drugs only as prescribed and in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Risks of Being Underweight
People so commonly discuss the issues associated with too much weight that we often overcorrect and favor low weights that are equally unhealthy. Media frequently favors people who are rail-thin, even gaunt, as the ideal standard of beauty and health. However, those standards are unrealistic for most people, and they’re also rarely healthy. We've also seen that a major side of effect of many weight-loss medications is malnutrition. Being underweight and malnourished comes with its own set of health risks.
If you’re underweight, there’s a good chance your diet is missing some key nutrients. Whether you’re consciously restricting your food intake in an effort to maintain your thin physique or you’re simply not hungry or concerned about how balanced your diet is because you’re already thin, you may find yourself missing important vitamins and minerals. This can lead to health issues such as osteoporosis, anemia, and even lower immune function.
Low weight is also associated with developmental delays, both physical and mental. Although this is more pronounced in children, it can affect teens and adults as well, especially those who have been underweight since childhood or adolescence.
One “underweight” health risk is menstrual irregularities, including amenorrhea: a total absence of the regular monthly period. This may be exacerbated by a lack of regular ovulation.
Being underweight can also cause complications during pregnancy, so if you’re trying to conceive, make reaching a healthy weight a goal in the meantime.
Underweight men may also have fertility issues. Studies suggest that low BMI is associated with a low sperm count, although further study is recommended to determine the extent and consistency of the effect.
How To Alter Your Weight Safely
With so many fad diets and conflicting accounts, how do you know what the ideal diet is to reach your weight goals? The best way to optimize your diet is to speak to a registered dietician, but in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to get started.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
Regardless of your weight goals, one of the most important parts of maintaining your health is a balanced diet. Be careful not to cut out too much of one food group or over-consume another. Although many fad diets suggest cutting out things like fats or carbohydrates, those have an important place in your diet, as long as you consume them in moderation. Likewise, methods for fast weight gain often include mass quantities of junk food. Although this type of consumption might indeed pack on a few extra pounds quickly, those foods lack many of the nutrients that your body needs for optimal health.
As much as possible, avoid ultra-processed foods. Although they may taste good, they can be linked with health issues such as inflammation, certain cancers, and even mental health complaints such as depression. They also typically don’t contain the same levels of nutrients as their unprocessed counterparts.
Maximize Your Nutrients
Rather than reaching for chips and candy, one way to alter your weight safely is to choose foods that are packed with vitamins and nutrients. High-protein foods such as nuts or meats can help you build muscle, and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains provide long-lasting energy without some of the potential risks more commonly associated with simple carbohydrates.
You can also swap out drinks like soda or coffee for smoothies or natural fruit juices. Smoothies can add much-needed calories and nutrients easily, and they can be made from a variety of ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, dairy products like milk or yogurt, or even nut-based milk. Smoothies can be filling, however, so if you wish to gain weight but find that it reduces your appetite to include smoothies with a meal, wait until you’ve finished eating to drink them. Conversely, if weight loss is your goal, smoothies can help you fill up faster during meals.
Snacking more frequently can also help you pack on pounds. Again, regardless of whether you are trying to gain weight or lose it, though, you’ll want to choose things that are high in nutrients instead of grabbing typical processed snack foods. Things like cheeses, nuts, protein bars, or healthy fats like avocados can add both calories and nutrients to help you maintain a healthy size or to gain weight quickly but safely.
Choose the Right Exercise
It’s common knowledge that to lose weight, you need to exercise, but physical activity is important for those who are underweight as well. If you’re trying to gain a few pounds, your exercise regimen might look a little different than those trying to shed, but a workout regimen can still be very helpful in reaching your weight goals.
While those looking to slim down might engage in more fat-burning exercise, such as aerobics, a more appropriate routine to help you bulk up might include strength training activities such as weight lifting or other muscle-building work like yoga or resistance exercises. Not only will this help you to gain weight in the form of muscle, but it will also reduce your risk of health issues related to low muscle mass, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.
Exercise can also stimulate your appetite, helping you to eat more throughout the day and contributing to your gains.
Talk to Your Doctor First
Before making any kind of significant lifestyle change, be sure to talk to your doctor or a qualified nutritionist. They can help you determine whether weight loss or gain is appropriate for your health, as well as what a healthy goal weight might be. They can also help you come up with a diet plan that will bring you closer to that goal in a safe and manageable way.
Be sure to bring up any concerns you may have, such as potential health conditions, existing dietary restrictions, and even food preferences or aversions. This will help them provide a diet you can actually stick with.
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