What Is a Healthy Weight?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 05, 2023
4 min read

Many Americans struggle to control their weight. The country’s obesity problem is well known: 1 in 3 of us has obesity, and the rates of this condition are rising. This chronic disease of body fat build-up puts your health at risk for other medical conditions.

You may wonder what a healthy weight is, and how to get there (and stay there) the right way.

It’s pretty easy to figure out if you are in the estimated healthy weight range. You can use two simple tools.

The first is called body mass index (BMI).

You can easily find your BMI using the BMI calculator on the CDC Website.

Obesity in adults is defined as having a BMI of 30.0 or above. The other ranges are:

  • Overweight = 25.0 to 29.9
  • Normal weight = 18.5 to 24.9
  • Underweight = under 18.5

BMI is a common tool to give you some idea of where you are. But it doesn’t measure body fat. It’s not meant to give a diagnosis or tell you for sure that you have a weight problem.

It can be off when someone is very muscular or has lost muscle mass. For example, muscular people might have a high BMI without being obese. And BMI can underestimate fat in older people and others who have lost muscle. It also doesn't determine where excess body fat is distributed.

If you think you have obesity or have questions about healthy weight, talk to your doctor.

There’s a second way to get an idea of how an unhealthy weight might place your health at risk -- just measure your waist.

The waist is key because tummy fat can be more serious and it's linked to metabolic and cardiovascular risks.

This puts you at greater risk of things like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Your waist doesn’t show for sure that you’re overweight. Both BMI and waist measurements are screening tools. But in general, here are the guidelines for men and women:

  • A man’s waist should be no more than 40 inches
  • If you’re a woman who isn’t pregnant, it should be no more than 35 inches.

Here’s how to measure your waist:

  • Stand up and wrap a measuring tape around your waist (just above the hip bones).
  • The tape should be snug but not pressed into your skin.
  • Breathe out before you measure.

Behavioral changes that assist in building healthy habits for the long term are critical.  Also, it's important to identify and control triggers in your day-to-day life that result in poor food choices, overeating, and avoiding exercise.

Several things help determine a person’s weight, including genes and hormones. But being obese usually comes from eating more calories than you use. Your body holds on to extra calories and turns them into fat.

So there are two things you must change to lose weight and get to a healthy weight in a healthy and lasting way:

  1. Eat right. Americans love fast food, sodas, and processed foods. They add up.
  2. Move more. Our lifestyles can be short on exercise, playing, or just moving enough to burn the fuel we take in.

Your doctor might also want to talk about:

  • Medicines
  • Weight-loss or bariatric surgery

If a diet sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The same goes for promises that you’ll lose weight fast without changing your diet or exercise habits.

A loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week is about right. So think “slow and steady” to keep the weight off for good.

For your diet:

Talk to your doctor about how many calories you should consume to lose weight. For women it’s generally up to 1,500 calories a day; for men it’s up to 1,800.

You’ll need to cut your calories by 500 to 1,000 calories a day to lose that 1-2 pounds per week.

For movement:

  • Aim for at least 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise (like brisk walking) every week. You’ll likely need even more than that to lose weight.
  • Do some muscle strengthening at least twice a week.
  • Add ordinary movement to that, as well, to burn calories throughout the day. (Park far from entrances. Take walks around the neighborhood. Get up from your desk and move regularly).

Just the word “diet” sounds like a drag, doesn’t it?

So don’t think about dieting. Think about making better lifestyle choices.

Healthy eating and exercise can connect you with family, friends, and others with similar goals. You can join a support group or fitness center, take a class, or play with your kids.

Healthy living is a way of life, and the benefits are worth it.