Living Lean: How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Excerpted from

American Heart Association: To Your Health! A Guide to Heart-Smart Living

It's almost a national plague, since the late 1970s, the percentage of American women classified as obese has climbed by 21 percent; for men, it's almost 15 percent. Despite a society that worships rail-thin supermodels, many of us struggle along, praying we can still fit into last year's wardrobe and don't have to resort to our "fat clothes."

After you take the Stages of Change Test on page 6, you will know whether you're ready to lose weight. If you're not ready, forget this chapter for now. Instead, focus on where you are in the change process. As you move from stage to stage, you'll eventually be ready to lose your excess weight. On the other hand, if the test shows you're ready, it's time to take a serious look at moving from overweight to a healthy weight.

If you're fighting the battle of the bulge, you have plenty of company. Take a look at the chart that follows. Find your sex and age, and then look at the percentage of your peers who are overweight or obese. Although it's clear that lots of people are trying-and failing-to lose weight, a determined minority are discovering the secrets to losing weight and keeping it off. They've changed their lives, their health, and their self-image for the better.

At the American Heart Association, we know these weight-loss secrets. We know that quick weight loss doesn't last and can be unsafe. A loss of one to two pounds a week is safe-and in the long run leads to success. We know what works and what doesn't. In this chapter, we're going to pass these secrets on to you.

How to Keep Your Head While Losing Weight

First of all, relax. You can and will lose weight and change your life, but not by next Saturday's high school reunion. We're talking about a way of life here. That means a new way of eating, thinking, and living.

William James said, "To change one's life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions." We think he has the right idea. This is not a "diet"-it's a life exchange. You're permanently turning in your "fat" life for one that's healthier. We'll show you how.

How Does Your Weight Stack Up?

Although getting a true picture of body composition is complex, these simple measurements will help you determine whether yours is in the healthy range. You'll need a tape measure and a scale. Wear as little as possible and remove your shoes.

1. Measure your waist where it's smallest, usually just above the navel. Breathe out and measure without pulling the tape tight. Record your measurement.

2. Weigh yourself. Record your weight.

3. Stand against a wall and measure your height. Record your height.

Waist Measurement

Waist circumference is an indirect way to measure your body composition and risk from overweight. If you're a woman and your waistline measures 35 inches or more, you have a much higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. If you're a man, higher risk starts at 40 inches.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

1. Find your height (in inches) along the left side of the BMI chart on pages 40 and 41. Draw a horizontal line across the graph at this height.

2. Find the nearest number to your weight in this row, and draw a vertical line up the graph to the BMI.

3. Read your BMI at the top.

4. Record your BMI.

A BMI of 19 to 24.9 is healthiest-that is, you're at low risk of developing health problems because of your weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9-considered overweight-carries a moderate risk; 30 and above - considered obese-indicates a high risk. In fact, people with a BMI of 28 or greater are three to four times more likely to have a stroke, heart disease, or diabetes than people with the healthiest BMI.

If your BMI is in the overweight or obese range, look to the left on your height row to see how much weight you need to lose to move down to the healthiest BMI-24. If you're in the obese range now, look at the BMI of 29 and follow' the column down to your height row. This will give you an intermediate weight goal, moving from obese to merely overweight. This may make losing weight more doable for you.

For some people, the BMI may not fit the risk categories. For example, muscle weighs more than flit, so bodybuilders may have a higher BMI for their size than the average person. Where health risk is concerned, you have to look at more than weight alone. You must look at how your weight is distributed on your body.

Keep a record of your waist measurement, weight, and height. Use these measurements as a baseline to track your improvement. Then weigh yourself and measure your waist again once a month. If you are overweight or obese, your body composition will naturally change for the better when you lose weight. That's especially true if you combine regular physical activity with healthful eating that keeps your weight in the normal range.

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