What is a healthy lifestyle?
A healthy lifestyle means:
- Eating healthy foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you eat meat and dairy foods, choose lean meats and low-fat dairy foods most of the time. Healthy eating also means not eating too much sugar, fat, or fast foods. You can still have dessert and treats now and then. The goal is moderation. See Healthy Eating.
- Making some kind of physical activity part of your daily routine. "Physical activity" doesn't have to mean regular visits to the gym or running marathons. There are lots of other ways to fit activity into your life. See Healthy Activity.
- Not smoking. Weight gain is a big concern for many people who want to quit smoking. But many people don't gain weight. And it's more of a health risk to keep smoking than it is to gain a few extra pounds when you quit. For information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
- Drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol. That's up to 2 drinks a day for men, 1 drink a day for women.
- Managing stress. Many people find that eating is their way of managing stress. If you have a lot of stress in your life, it can be hard to focus on making healthy changes to your lifestyle. For more information about how to deal with stress, see the topic Stress Management.
Becoming more active and improving your eating habits are the two main ways to reach a healthy weight.
One Woman's Story:
"I see it as a whole life change. I actually get mad at people when they say, 'You've been on a diet.' I'm not on a diet. I've never been on a diet. I just changed the way I eat. I changed the way I live."-Jaci
First, change your thinking
If you need to make some lifestyle changes to get to a healthy weight, you'll have more success if you first change the way you think about certain things:
- Don't compare yourself to others. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Our culture focuses much too much on thinness, and thinness is just not realistic or natural for most of us. Yet we feel bad when we can't achieve such an unrealistic body size. Body size isn't as important as being healthy.
- Pay attention to how hungry or how full you feel. When you eat, pay attention to why you're eating and how much you're eating.
- Forget about dieting. Dieting almost never works over the long term.
- Decide that you're going to improve your health instead of deciding to go on a diet. For example, you may want to:
For more on how positive thinking can help you, see:
- Stop Negative Thoughts: Choosing a Healthier Way of Thinking.
- Weight Management: Stop Negative Thoughts.
- Stop Negative Thoughts: Getting Started.
One Woman's Story:
"I finally realized it wasn't a time-limited thing. It wasn't like, 'Well, I'm going to be really good and stay on this food plan now until I get the weight off.' It was more a realization that, 'You know, at 62, if I want to weigh 130 to 135 pounds, then I have to do these things.' I can't stop doing them just because I lose the weight. So it became much more of a lifestyle change than a temporary diet. The idea that somehow I could go back to my old ways was just not there anymore."-Maggie
How do you change your lifestyle?
Making any kind of change in the way you live your daily life is like being on a path. The path leads to success. Here are the first steps on that path:
1. Have your own reasons for making a change
2. Set goals you can reach
3. Measure how your health has improved
Research shows that you can improve your health by losing as little as 5% to 10% of your weight.1 Here's what that means:
- 5% of 150 lb (68 kg) is 7.5 lb (3 kg), and 10% is 15 lb (7 kg).
- 5% of 200 lb (91 kg) is 10 lb (4.5 kg), and 10% is 20 lb (9 kg).
- 5% of 250 lb (113 kg) is 12.5 lb (6 kg), and 10% is 25 lb (11 kg).
Keep track of your weight.
- Weigh yourself no more than once a week, unless your doctor tells to you to do so more often because of a health problem.
- Try to weigh yourself on the same scale, at the same time of day, in about the same amount of clothing.
- Remember that many things can affect your weight. It's normal for your weight to go up and down by a few pounds from one day to the next. Try to look at the general trend of your weight, rather than the day-to-day changes.
- Aim to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week. Weight loss of more than that often means that you are not getting enough nutrients to be healthy. And some of the weight you lose may be from lean body tissue (muscle and organ tissue) or water loss, not fat.
Have your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar checked again after you have lost 5% to 10% of your weight or in 3 to 6 months. You can also check your blood pressure and blood sugar at home.
- Blood sugar levels can tell you whether your lifestyle changes or weight loss are helping to control your diabetes.
- Cholesterol and triglyceride levels can tell you whether your lifestyle changes or weight loss are lowering your risk for heart attack and stroke..
- Blood pressure can tell you whether your lifestyle changes or weight loss are lowering your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Another way to measure improvements is to look for changes in your fitness level. For example, are you able to walk longer and on more days than when you started? Can you climb a flight of stairs without getting as tired or out of breath? Do you have better strength and muscle tone? Do you have more energy?
4. Prepare for slip-ups
Here's one person's list of barriers to taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day, along with some possible solutions.
I might be too busy.
I might get bored.
It might rain.