Why does weight matter?

People come in all shapes and sizes and what might be a healthy weight for one person isn’t necessarily healthy for another. It’s not healthy to be too thin or to carry too much body fat – you need to find the weight that’s best for you by checking with your doctor, and then trying to achieve and maintain it.

The problem with carrying too much body fat (medically referred to as being overweight) is that it can increase your risk of a number of health problems. These include:
• coronary heart disease
• diabetes
• high blood pressure
• high cholesterol
• gall bladder disease
• joint problems, e.g. gout, arthritis and joint pain
• sleep problems, e.g. sleep apnoea
• certain types of cancer.

Your risk of developing these health conditions depends not just on your weight, but also on other risk factors that you may have.

Why do we put on weight?

Body weight is affected by a number of factors, but the two key factors are:
1. the amount of energy (kilojoules) that we put into our bodies from food and drinks.
2. the amount of energy (kilojoules) that we use up through physical activity and other daily activities. Put simply, it’s all about what goes in and what gets used up.

People often get confused by energy and kilojoules – energy and kilojoules are the same thing. Kilojoules are just a measure of energy, in the same way as centimetres or inches are a measure of length. Energy is like fuel in a car – it’s what keeps us moving and able to go about our daily activities.

You will gain weight if:
1. you eat and drink more than your body needs – you take in too much energy (kilojoules).
2. you aren’t active enough – you don’t use up enough energy (kilojoules).
3. if you do both – you eat and drink too much and are not active enough.

Did you know? Your risk of developing health problems increases with the more excess weight you carry. If you are already overweight, it is important to try to stop gaining more weight. This will help to reduce your level of risk. If you can manage to lose some of the extra kilos, that will be even better for your health. However, even if you don’t manage to lose any weight, what’s important is being physically active, eating healthily and looking after yourself so that you can achieve the best health.

Is my weight a health risk?

Some people think they are overweight when they aren’t; others think their weight is fine when it isn’t. While you can generally tell if you’ve put on weight by your clothes being tighter or having to loosen your belt a notch or two, this won’t tell you if you are overweight.

The best way to find out if your weight is a health risk is to check with your doctor. There are a few very simple and pain-free measurements that your doctor can do to check your weight. Your doctor can then consider your weight and your overall health and advise if you need to do something about your weight.

Excess weight around your middle is a greater health risk Your health can be affected by how much you weigh as well as by your body shape. Men often carry their excess weight around their middle, while women often carry their excess weight on their hips and thighs.

Carrying excess weight around your middle (being ‘apple shaped’) is more of a health risk than if excess weight is on your hips and thighs (being ‘pear shaped’). The so-called ‘pear shape’ is actually a healthier body shape than being ‘apple shaped’. If you are carrying your excess weight around your middle, the Heart Foundation encourages you to visit your doctor to discuss your weight.

If I need to lose weight, what do I do?

If your weight is a health risk or it’s affecting your enjoyment of life, you need to do something about it. To lose weight, you need to use up more energy (kilojoules) than you are taking in. This means that you need to look at how you can reduce your energy (kilojoule) intake and increase your energy (kilojoule) output.

That all comes down to the food and drinks you consume – what types and how much – and the type and amount of physical activity you do. Despite what various books and diets may say, losing weight in a healthy way is not quick and it’s not simple. Fad or crash diets are often unhealthy and are not helpful with losing weight and keeping it off in the longer term. People have generally put their weight on over a period of time, maybe even years, so it’s not going to come off overnight.

What can change overnight though is your commitment to make some changes to your eating patterns, to increase your physical activity levels, and to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting. Once you’ve decided to make a change, you need to work out your plan. This plan will help you to work out where you can make changes, what changes you will make and to be realistic about what you can achieve.