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Diseases & Conditions

Questions About Weight Control

Print these questions and answers to discuss with your health care provider.

1. Can being overweight lead to medical problems?

Yes. Being overweight is linked to a number of health problems, including:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Gallbladder disease and gallstones
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea (when a person stops breathing for a short time during sleep) and asthma

2. How do I know if I am obese?

Obesity is defined as an excess proportion of total body fat. The most common measure of obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height. A person is considered obese when his or her BMI is greater than 30.

3. Is any fat healthy?

A certain amount of fat in the diet is good and necessary to be healthy. When you do eat fat, make sure it is not high in the bad (saturated) fat, but has more of the unsaturated fat, such as fat that comes from nuts, grains, and vegetable sources. Studies confirm that Americans have too high a fat intake. This increases health risks, so decreasing total fat intake would be healthy for most people.

4. What steps should I take to lose weight?

  • Decide you want to permanently lose weight.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Have a realistic goal in mind.
  • Formulate a structured treatment plan with your doctor and/or dietitian and receive proper follow-up.
  • Schedule exercise.

5. What type of exercise is best?

It does not matter what type of physical activity you perform -- sports, planned exercise, household chores, yard work, or work-related tasks -- all are beneficial.

Over the past few years, exercise advertisements have targeted simplified exercise routines for weight reduction and maintenance. Some exercise advertisements sell the belief that one machine will work your entire body and give you the results you need. However, many of these machines may only be good for one type of conditioning, such as cardiovascular; these machines also have limitations to the type of exercise you can do and they are not good for everyone. To determine the best type of exercise program for you, talk to your doctor and a certified athletic trainer.

6. How much exercise should I do?

Studies show that even the most inactive people can gain significant health benefits if they accumulate just 30 minutes or more of physical activity per day.

For the greatest overall health benefits, experts suggest 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise 3 or more times per week plus some form of anaerobic exercise, such as muscle-strengthening activity and stretching twice a week.

If you have been inactive for a while, you may want to start with less strenuous activities, such as walking or swimming at a comfortable pace. Beginning at a slow pace will allow you to become physically fit without straining your body. Once you are in better shape, you can gradually do more strenuous activity.

7. What is weight cycling and is it harmful?

Weight cycling is the repeated loss and regain of body weight. When weight cycling is the result of dieting, it is called "yo-yo" dieting. A weight cycle can range from small weight losses and gains (5-10 lbs. per cycle) to large changes in weight (50 lbs. or more per cycle).

Some experts believe that weight cycling may be harmful to your health and that staying at one weight is better than weight cycling, even for those people who are obese. However, there is no convincing evidence to support these claims. Most obesity researchers believe that obese individuals make multiple attempts at weight loss before they are ultimately successful.

8. How do I spot a fad diet?

While there is no set approach to identifying a fad diet, many have the following characteristics:

  • Recommendations that promise a quick fix
  • Dire warnings of dangers from a single product or regimen
  • Claims that sound too good to be true
  • Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study
  • Recommendations based on a single study
  • Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations
  • Lists of "good" and "bad" foods
  • Recommendations made to help sell a product
  • Recommendations based on studies published without review by other researchers
  • Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups
  • Eliminated one or more of the five food groups

9. What prescription medicines are used to treat obesity?

Weight loss medications are not a cure-all. The use of weight loss medications should be combined with physical activity and improved diet to lose and maintain weight successfully over the long term.

Weight loss medications can be considered for:

  • People with a BMI greater than 30 with no obesity-related conditions
  • People with a BMI of greater than 27 with two or more obesity-related conditions

Currently, most available weight-loss medications approved by the FDA are for short-term use, meaning a few weeks or months.

Most available weight-loss medications are "appetite-suppressant" medications. Appetite suppressants promote weight loss by tricking the body into believing that it is not hungry or that it is full. They decrease appetite by increasing serotonin or catecholamine -- two brain chemicals that affect mood and appetite.

Appetite suppressants can be obtained by a doctor's prescription or purchased over-the-counter

Another type of prescription weight loss drug is a fat absorption inhibitor. Xenical is the only example of this type of treatment approved for use in the U.S. Xenical works by blocking about 30% of dietary fat from being absorbed, and is the most recently approved weight loss drug.

Meridia and Xenical are the only weight-loss medications approved for longer-term use in significantly obese people, although the safety and effectiveness have not been established for use beyond 1 year for Meridia and up to 2 years for Xenical.

10. How can I prevent gaining lost weight?

Keep the following tips in mind.

  • Set realistic weight loss goals, such as a 1- to 2-pound weight loss per week. Those who lose weight slowly, by eating less and exercising more, tend to keep their lost weight off. Even a half pound weight loss per week would result in a 25-pound loss over one year.
  • Eat fewer calories by cutting down on portions and/or decreasing the total amount of fat you eat to 30% or less of your total daily calories.
  • Do not skip meals.
  • Keep low-calorie, low-fat snacks on hand, such as pretzels, raw vegetables with low-calorie dips, or fruit. Keep in mind that it is the total amount of calories consumed that impacts the rate of weight loss. Fat-free foods may not be eaten as desired, as they are not calorie-free.
  • Choose foods high in fiber, such as whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables. These foods will give you more chewing satisfaction, while the higher fiber content may make you feel more full on fewer calories.
  • To ensure that you are eating healthy, keep an accurate food journal. Write down everything you eat or drink. Be honest and accurate, otherwise the journal is not as helpful. The food journal will help you learn about your eating habits and help you assess the food choices you are making.
  • Eat a variety of foods. Include all food groups to get all the nutrients you need.

Choosing a safe and successful weight-loss program and Weight cycling. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed 4/12/2011.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/3/2011...#11209