Weight management refers to the process of making long-term lifestyle changes to maintain a healthy body weight based on your age, height and sex. Common weight management methods can include eating a healthy, balanced diet, and increasing levels of physical activity. We explain more about weight management and how working with a nutritionist can help.
What is weight management?
For many people, there can be confusion about what it means to manage their weight, what a healthy weight is, and what steps they should take to ensure that they are putting their health and well-being first. Confusion can be caused by any number of different factors, with conflicting information about many key issues adding to people’s uncertainty.
The term weight management generally is used to refer to the process of adopting long-term changes to your lifestyle, in order to maintain a healthy body weight. These lifestyle changes can be numerous, but often include eating a healthier, more balanced diet, increasing your physical activity levels (in frequency and/or intensity), as well as challenging your mindset around using food as a reward, treat, or way to manage stress levels.
What is a healthy weight and how much should I weigh?
Part of weight management is figuring out what a healthy weight is for you. This can give you an idea of what kinds of changes you may need to make, and whether you may need to lose or gain weight to fall within what is considered a healthy range for your height, age, and sex.
There are several ways to determine whether or not you are a healthy weight, one of which is calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI). This can helps to establish whether you are a healthy weight for your height, age and sex. Though this method may not be helpful for everyone, for example, if you have a higher than average muscle mass, it is considered fairly accurate in identifying a healthy weight range for many people.
NHS guidelines currently define a healthy body weight range as anything between a BMI of 18.5 and 25. The NHS has a free-to-use BMI calculator to help you get started. BMI guidelines state that anything below 18.5 is classed as underweight, 25 to 30 is overweight, between 30 and 35 is obese and anything above 40 is morbidly obese.
Other ways to track your physical health without relying solely on BMI can include:
- Measuring your waist-to-height ratio (WHtR). Your WHrR is considered by some experts to be more accurate than BMI calculations, as it takes central fat (fat that collects around your organs in your midsection, which is closely linked to serious conditions like heart disease) into account. A 2021 study analysing 31 other studies found that WHtR was more accurate than BMI at predicting certain diseases. Your waist-to-height ratio can be calculated by dividing your waist circumference by your height. Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that your waist should be less than half of your height.
- Tracking your resting heart rate (RHR). The number of times your heart beats each minute (BPM) is considered to be a great indicator of how healthy and efficient your cardiovascular system is. The stronger your cardiovascular system, the lower your risk of heart disease and similar conditions. Generally, the lower your RHR, the healthier you are, with averages typically being between 60 and 100 beats per minute - or as low as 40 beats per minute for extremely fit people.
Is BMI an accurate way of seeing how healthy you are?
While BMI has been used for decades as a way to measure our health, some experts feel that it is an oversimplification that can cause confusion among people about what being healthy really means.
Some experts believe that BMI is outdated, inaccurate and misleading when it comes to determining if you are underweight, in a ‘normal range, overweight or obese. This is because your BMI does not take into account things like muscle mass, bone density, and overall body composition.
While healthcare professionals find it to be useful in helping to quickly identify potential health risks (for example, you may be at higher risk of developing diabetes, cancer, or sleep apnea if you have a high BMI), it is worth noting that BMI alone does not provide a detailed, clear picture of your health.
What are the risks: Being overweight, obese or underweight
What are the risks of being overweight or obese?
Obesity has been one of the fastest-growing health concerns worldwide for decades. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. The NHS currently estimates that one in four adults and one in five children in the UK are obese or ‘very overweight’.
Obesity comes with a number of potential risks, including a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer (particularly breast and bowel cancer), or having a stroke. Obesity can also decrease your overall quality of life, leading to lower self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
While obesity is generally caused by having too many calories compared to what we are burning off through physical activity, it is also thought that how we are living is contributing to our ongoing struggles with weight. Many cheaper foods are highly processed with excessive amounts of sugar and high calories, and more and more of us spend time at desk jobs, sitting at home or in cars which can also be bad for our health. Research has suggested that sitting for long periods of time could be linked to numerous health concerns including obesity, higher blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and high blood sugar.
What are the risks of being underweight?
Being underweight also poses serious health risks, sometimes leading to irregular periods, fertility issues, malnutrition, decreased muscle strength, increased risk of hypothermia, lowered immunity, osteoporosis, anaemia, depleted energy levels and an inability to keep warm. Much like being overweight and obese being underweight can also affect psychological well-being. Those who are underweight may feel unhappy with their body image.
Are weight loss and weight management the same thing?
Weight management and weight loss aren’t necessarily the same thing. Losing weight can be one step towards weight management but, for some people, they may need to first gain weight. Weight management can involve keeping off weight long-term if you are overweight, or keeping your weight up long-term if you are underweight.
The overall goal is to maintain a healthy weight through changing and challenging your mindset and how you approach food and nutrition, rather than relying on a diet mindset which can lead to ‘yo-yo dieting’, continued weight loss and gain, frustration, and falling back on unhealthy or unhelpful eating habits.
How can working with a nutritionist help?
There are many different weight management strategies you can implement to help you achieve long-term success. Working with a nutritionist or nutritional professional can be helpful both long and short-term. A professional can help you in a number of different ways, including:
Commit to change. One of the most important first steps can be to commit to change. By acknowledging you are committing to making ongoing lifestyle changes, you can help shift your mindset away from focusing purely on the scales, and focus more on how you want to achieve and maintain a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Working with a professional can be a great step towards solidifying that commitment and moving forward.
Take stock of existing habits. We don’t always recognise our unhelpful habits. Whether that’s not getting enough physical activity into our routines, having poor sleep hygiene, or relying on food to help boost our mood and energy levels, working with a professional can help us to take note of our unhelpful behaviours while highlighting new ways we can notice them in our day-to-day lives.
Set achievable goals and milestones. Sometimes, big goals can be motivating. But at other times, aiming for too many changes too fast can be demotivating and overwhelming. Working with a professional can help you to set smaller, specific, varied and achievable goals. This way, you can see progress and feel a sense of achievement much sooner, which can help to motivate you and keep you on track.
Tailoring their approach to best suit your needs. Each of us has our own unique body type, metabolism, and needs. Working with a nutritionist means that they can take your specific circumstances, needs and requirements into account. These can include key areas such as:
- Do you need to gain, lose, or maintain weight?
- Do you have any specific dietary requirements? (Allergies, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian).
- What is your current level of exercise? Does the frequency, intensity, or variety need to be increased or decreased? Does your calorie intake need to be changed to support this?
- Your metabolism, build, and lifestyle.
A qualified nutritionist will tailor a healthy eating plan to your specific requirements and circumstances to ensure that you achieve a healthier body. Nutrition programmes will also more often than not include exercise regimes and activities.
Many individuals who improve their nutrition also report psychological benefits such as a boost in self-confidence as well as additional and often unexpected improvements in other areas such as concentration.
The key to maintaining a healthy weight is making it an integral part of your daily routine as opposed to something you have to go out of your way to do. Fitness and exercise are essential, and a nutritionist will be able to advise on what kind of exercise is needed, how much, and how often. It is important to think long-term, be flexible, and allow occasional indulgences.
A nutritionist can suggest ways to get more from your food, so that you feel fuller and more satisfied after eating, and are not tempted to snack later. This can include taking time over meals and eating regularly. Keeping a food diary may also be a beneficial way of monitoring diet, keeping track of the week’s meals, planning ahead and monitoring activity and exercise. It can also help to record thoughts and feelings which may alert a nutritionist to any links between eating and thought patterns.
Many people who on paper are a ‘healthy’ weight, are often still unhappy with their shape/figure. A nutritionist can help build up muscles, tone up certain areas, and improve overall fitness.
Maintaining a healthy weight should not be arduous or a chore. With the right help, support and advice, it can become second nature, easily slotting into your everyday life.