A healthy weight
You have probably heard the term "calorie" used a lot. A calorie is a measure of the energy that the food supplies to your body. But when talking about physical activity, a calorie is a measure of the energy that your body uses in performing the activity.
Calorie balance is like a scale. To remain in balance and stay at the same body weight, the calories you get from foods must be balanced by the calories your body uses up. If you eat more calories than you use, you gain weight. If you "burn up" more calories than you eat, you lose weight.
What's a healthy weight?
Some teens have a hard time knowing what a healthy weight is, especially with all the body changes that are taking place. Girls sometimes think they need to be thinner even if they are not overweight. You may see models in magazines or on TV who are really skinny, and you may think that you need to lose weight so that you can look like them. But many of these models are underweight to a point that's unhealthy.
So how do you find out if you're at a healthy weight? One tool that can help tell you if you are at a healthy weight for your age and height is the Body Mass Index (BMI). Try our Body Mass Index calculator.
Also, ask your doctor whether you are at a healthy weight. Together, you can decide whether you need to lose weight, gain weight, or stop worrying about your weight.
If you need to lose weight
If your doctor tells you that you are overweight or obese, you should plan to lose weight. Work with your doctor and perhaps a dietitian to come up with a plan to help you get to a weight that is healthy for you.
Are you exercising? Increasing the amount of exercise you do each day may be all it takes to lose a few pounds. Aim for 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day. It doesn't have to be 60 minutes in one stretch. You can do short bursts of activity throughout the day, as long as they add up to 60 minutes. For tips on being active, check out the Fitness section of girlshealth.gov.
Here are some other tips for losing weight in a healthy way:
- Use MyPyramid Plan to guide your eating. The MyPyramid eating plan will encourage you to eat plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. These foods are rich in fiber. Besides being good for your digestion, fiber helps you feel full without adding extra calories. Besides fiber, fruits and vegetables also contain lots of water. Like fiber, water fills you up without adding extra calories.
- Cut back on fats. That includes cutting back on meats high in fat, such as burgers, and greasy fried foods, such as french fries.
- Cut back on sweets. Besides cutting back on candy bars and candies, you should also cut back on sugary drinks. The average 12-ounce can of soda has more than 100 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar. Try drinking water when you're thirsty rather than soda.
- Stop eating when you're full. That's sometimes easier said than done. When you enjoy eating something, it can be hard to stop. But pay attention to your stomach. When you feel full, it's time to stop eating. If you're at a restaurant, you can take home leftovers or share your food.
- Eat at least 1,600 calories each day. It can be hard to get the nutrients you need if you eat less than 1,600 calories each day. So don't go below this level unless you are under a doctor's care. Taking a multivitamin cannot make up for the nutrients you're not getting on such a strict diet.
- Eat breakfast. Research shows that teens who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight. One reason may be that skipping breakfast can leave you hungry so that you're more likely to snack on unhealthy foods during the day. When you eat breakfast, make sure that you eat healthy foods, like oatmeal, nonfat milk, and toast made from whole-grain bread.
- Avoid fad diets. Fad diets that allow only a few types of food often claim that they can help you lose weight quickly. Although these diets sometimes cause you to lose weight for a short amount of time, much of the weight you lose is from water and lean muscle. It's not from body fat. People who use fad diets often end up gaining back any weight that they lost. Another problem with fad diets is that they may not give you all the nutrients you need for growth, such as calcium and iron.
- Avoid weight-loss pills. Most weight-loss pills that you can buy without a prescription from your doctor have not been shown to work or be safe. Some have even been shown to be dangerous. If you plan to take any weight-loss pills, talk to your doctor first.
- Don't force yourself to vomit. Some people may eat a lot of food in a short amount of time and then try to get rid of the extra calories by forcing themselves to vomit. This can damage your teeth and gums, create sores in your throat and mouth, and even cause you to have an abnormal heart rate. Forced-vomiting is a sign of an eating disorder called bulimia. If you think you have bulimia, talk to your doctor. Also, check out the Body image and eating disorders section of girlshealth.gov.
- Don't expect to lose weight quickly. Losing about one to two pounds a week is a healthy rate of weight loss. If you're losing weight at a faster rate by using weight-loss pills or a fad diet, you'll probably gain most or all of it back when you quit the pills or the diet.
Healthy eating doesn't mean that you can't eat fun foods. Just be smart about which foods you eat. Here are some healthy snack ideas:
- Baked potato chips or tortilla chips with salsa
- Pretzels (lightly salted or unsalted)
- Bagels with tomato sauce and low-fat cheese (low-fat version of a pizza)
- Flavored rice cakes (like caramel or apple cinnamon)
- Air popped popcorn
- Veggies with low-fat or fat-free dip
- Low-fat cottage cheese topped with fruit or spread on whole-wheat crackers
- Low-fat frozen yogurt
- Low-fat milk shakes with skim milk, orange or pineapple juice, and sliced bananas or strawberries
- Frozen fruit bars
- Vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, graham crackers, animal crackers, fig bars, raisins
- Angel food cake topped with strawberries or raspberries and low-fat whipped cream
If you need to gain weight
If your doctor tells you that you are underweight, it's time to gain some weight. Sometimes being underweight can be just as hard a problem to solve as being overweight. Here are some tips for gaining weight in a healthy way:
- Use MyPyramid Plan to guide your eating. No matter whether you are underweight, overweight, or the right weight, you should eat a variety of healthy foods. The MyPyramid eating plan can help you do that. If you are underweight, you just need to eat more calories each day. The MyPyramid Plan web site can tell you how many calories you need to eat each day in order to reach a healthy weight.
- Eat more "good" fats. The "good" fats are the unsaturated kind. You can find these in nuts, avocados, olives, and "fatty" fish.
- Eat more sugars. Select sweets that also provide nutrients, such as bran muffins, yogurt with fruit, fruit pies or juice, and granola bars.
For more information on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, check out…
- 5 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet
- The Deal With Diets
- The Don't-Try-It Diet
- When Being Overweight is a Health Problem
- How Can I Lose Weight Safely?
- How Much Food Should I Eat?
- Should I Gain Weight?
- Figuring Out Fat and Calories
- Smart Snacking
- Your Secrets to Healthy Snacking
= This article is from New Moon, a magazine written for girls by girls. Check out the complete list of the New Moon articles on GirlsHealth.gov.
Content last updated September 22, 2009