Life's Simple 7 | Losing Weight

Updated:Feb 20,2018

lose weight infographicLosing weight is key to lowering heart disease, stroke risk.

Between 60 percent and 70 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. All that extra weight takes a toll on your body, increasing your risk for heart disease, stroke and other serious health problems.

That’s why losing weight is one of what the American Heart Association calls Life’s Simple 7® – key health factors and behaviors that keep your heart healthy, lower your risks of heart disease and stroke, and improve your quality of life.

"Though there is some debate regarding healthy weight measurements, it remains very clear that being overweight or obese is associated with a risk for heart disease and stroke,"  said Clyde W. Yancy, M.D., Magerstadt Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Associate Director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute for Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Losing weight requires a simple formula: reduce calories in and increase calories out.  So if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight.

“In practice, it can be very difficult,” said Dr. Yancy, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer.

Educate Yourself

The first step is to understand how many calories you need each day based on your physical activity level, your age and your gender. This will help you identify lifestyle changes you need to make.

  1. For one week in the next month, keep a food diary to improve awareness of what you are eating and whether you're eating out of habit instead of real hunger. Once you know the types and amounts of foods you are eating, you may be able to improve the quality and reduce the amount without having to count every calorie.
  2. For another week in the next month, keep an activity diary. You can use this downloadable activity tracker or use to track your activity and your other health information.
  3. Learn Your Body Mass Index (BMI) from your healthcare professional: This is a numerical value of weight in relation to height. BMIs are good indicators of healthy or unhealthy weights for adult men and women, regardless of body frame size. Calculating our BMI will help us identify how much weight we may need to lose to reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke and live a heart-healthy life.

    Remember to focus on your goal: learning more about your eating and activity habits so that you can identify patterns and find areas for improvement.  It’s important to understand why you eat besides hunger so that you can address the emotional triggers.

Set Realistic Goals, Make Changes

Once you have a clear picture of your habits, set a realistic goal.  Remember, the weight didn’t show up overnight, so plan on losing it over several months. Make healthy eating choices and exercise in a way you can sustain for the long run.

Dr. Yancy recommends focusing on what you can do, rather than the things that are off-limits.

“Eat a special treat that you enjoy once in a while, but eat less calories overall,” he said. 

That means becoming familiar with healthy portion sizes rather than simply filling (and refilling) your plate.

“Many of us feel we have to finish whatever we ordered or clean our plate, but most of us probably eat twice what we really need, “ Dr. Yancy said. 

Use smaller plates at home. Try sharing an entrée or plan to eat only half of what’s served, or try these other tips when dining out.

Replacing saturated fats and sugary, high-calorie foods with healthier options can make a big difference. Learn more about how to use nutritious ingredients and use healthy cooking techniques. Learning how to read and understand food labels also can help you make better food choices.

What time of day you eat is also important. A good breakfast gives you energy and your body has all day to burn the calories. Many breakfast foods can be repurposed as a nutritious snack later in the day. How about a slice of whole-grain toast topped with low-sugar jam?

“If you eat a big meal late at night, then go to bed, those extra calories turn to fat,” Dr. Yancy said.

Snacking is also important for maintaining energy levels and avoiding binge eating. Choose healthy snacks, such as fruits, veggies and unsalted nuts and seeds, to satisfy a craving and get through the day.

Keep Trying

Losing weight is a gradual process. If you fall off your plan one night, forgive yourself and get back on track the next day. Learn about your situational and emotional triggers that might be pushing you toward unhealthy choices.

Plan for incremental changes, rather than a crash diet that turns all your habits upside down, Dr. Yancy said.

"Pick reasonable goals; trying to lose major weight in just 60-90 days is not wise, not healthy and typically is not successful," he said.“
Remember to focus on your goal: feeling your best and living a healthy life.

Last reviewed 1/2014