Home Health & Wellness Weight Loss Guide

Weight Loss Guide

What can I do to lose weight?

Diet and exercise are the first and best solutions for losing weight. Not only does being overweight increase heart disease risk in itself, it also increases your risk of developing many other heart disease risk factors (See also: Obesity & Overweight). Losing weight and exercising helps reduce your risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and the metabolic syndrome. It also lowers levels of inflammatory chemicals including CRP and improves the heart’s ability to function.1 Even losing as little as 5% of your body weight can make a big difference.2

Though studies have shown that losing weight is good for your body, there isn’t a lot of research showing that weight loss can directly reduce the risk of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease. This is mostly because researchers have trouble finding large numbers of people who have managed to keep the excess weight off for more than 5 years.

Weight Loss Options Based on BMI3


Your BMI





40.0 or more

Diet, exercise and behavior changes






Weight Loss Medication*


If you have obesity-related disease








If you have obesity-related health problems


*Drug therapy should be considered only for people who have tried and failed with diet and exercise.
†Weight loss surgery should be considered only for people who are unable to lose weight with any other method.

What kind of diet will help me lose weight?

There are many different kinds of diets available to you. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends weight loss at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week based on cutting 500 to 1,000 calories out of your daily diet.4,5 The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a low-calorie diet of 1,200 calories a day for most women. Women who weigh more than 165 pounds may have 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day. This diet should include6:

  • eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, fish, legumes, poultry, and lean meats
  • limiting intake of foods that are high in saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, and cholesterol

Very low calorie diets (less than 800 calories a day) are not recommended because they don’t provide enough vitamins and minerals, and they don’t help you lose weight in the long-term.

When researchers compared low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diets (e.g., Atkins diet) with conventional low-fat diets, they found that people lost about twice as much weight with a low-carbohydrate diet at 3 and 6 months. But 1 year later, dieters on both plans had lost about the same amount of weight.7 The long-term heart health effects of a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet are not known. The AHA advises against these diets because eating large amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol may increase your risk of heart disease.8

A recent study of 160 overweight or obese men and women (51% were women) found that the key to dieting success was not necessarily the diet you chose, but rather how long you could stick to it. People who chose more extreme changes to their eating habits (such as the Atkins diet) were less likely to stick with their plan than people who chose more moderate diets, including Weight Watchers or The Zone.9

See also: Heart Healthy Diet

Do I need to exercise to lose weight?

Combining exercise and diet is more effective than dieting alone. Not only will this combination allow you to lose more weight, it will help you to keep the weight off.10

In a national registry of about 3,000 people who lost more than 10% of their body weight and kept the weight off for at least 1 year, 81% of these successful dieters reported increasing their physical activity.11,12

Exercise helps reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce the impact of other risk factors for heart disease including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol.13,14 Also, physical activity can help you trim your waistline, even if you do not lose weight.15 This is important because fat around the belly increases the risk of heart disease and other health problems regardless of weight.16 If you can reduce the amount of belly fat you have, you will see healthful benefits even if you don’t lose weight overall.

To stay healthy, adults should aim for about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.12,17-19 To actually shed extra pounds, you should get about 60 to 90 minutes of at least moderately-intense physical activity (such as brisk walking) on most days of the week. On average, US adults gain 0.4 to 1.8 pounds a year and women tend to gain more weight over time than men.20,21 Exercise helps prevent or stall age-related weight gain, especially if you are already overweight.22, 23

I have tried to lose weight before but couldn’t. What can I do to be more successful?

Losing weight is difficult. Many people struggle to lose a few pounds and then put the weight back on again. Since there is no quick fix for losing weight, the best treatments involve making changes to your behavior and lifestyle. There are things you can do to make this life-changing process less daunting2,3:

  • Set realistic goals that can be measured. Don’t be unreasonable and expect to lose 30 pounds in the first month. Instead, strive to shave off just a few pounds or an inch from your belly at a time.
  • Make small, rather than large, changes. By taking baby steps to achieve your larger goals, you’re more likely to stick with your new habits. For example, you are more likely to stick with a plan to eat a few more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each week than to go completely vegetarian.
  • Monitor yourself by keeping an exercise log and food diary, and weighing yourself. Food logs are an excellent way to see exactly what you put into your body every day. They can also help you see where your diet might be out of balance. By keeping track of how much you exercise and how much you weigh, you’ll be able to see the progress you’re making towards becoming healthier.


Subscribe to our
monthly newsletter