BMI stands for body mass index, but you’ll almost always find it referred to simply as BMI. It’s an estimate of how much body fat a person has, and it’s calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in square meters. (1)
Don’t be intimidated by the number crunching — there are loads of online calculators that will generate your BMI when you put in your stats. (2) The resulting number can help you determine whether you’re at a healthy weight. Here’s what your number means:
- Less than 18.5 = underweight
- 18.5 to 24.9 = normal weight
- 25 to 29.9 = overweight
- 30 or higher = obese
BMI has long been a popular tool for measuring body fat because it’s easy to use and doesn’t require any fancy equipment to calculate. There’s a downside to that simplicity, though: It sometimes delivers an oversimplified picture of your health (more on that later).
According to this measure, more than one-third of American adults is considered obese, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to Reach a Healthy Weight if You’re Overweight or Obese
Jumping from a high BMI to a lower, healthier number can seem daunting. But losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight has been shown to counter the negative side effects and improve your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar — even if you still fall into the obese category post weight loss, according to the CDC. (10)
It’s tough to say exactly how to reach a healthy weight, because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, Jaelin says. The best way to get personalized recommendations, she says, is by consulting a dietitian or a doctor.
You can start to lower your BMI by adopting these five healthy habits.
1. Eat Regularly
Get in the habit of eating every two to three hours. At each meal, include a palm-size amount of protein, whether it’s chicken, fish, beef, or tofu. Eat that with a fist-size portion of a carbohydrate, such as fruit, quinoa, brown rice, or whole wheat bread, Jaelin suggests. For a well-balanced meal, you’ll also want at least four servings of fruits and vegetables a day, with fats coming from healthy sources like olive oil and vegetable oil. Following this approach can promote a healthy weight.
2. Stick With Water
When you’re trying to lose weight — and for health reasons — it’s best to avoid beverages with added sugars at your meals, advises the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (11)
Adding Weight in a Healthy Way
If you’re underweight and looking to raise your BMI, consider some creative and healthy ways to increase your daily calorie intake. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a number of tips to sneak in extra calories without overhauling your diet: For example, spread peanut butter on toast, sprinkle cheese on top of chili, or use milk in your oatmeal instead of water. (11)
The right kind of fitness can also help increase your BMI. Speak with a personal trainer to figure out the best exercise regimen for you.
Whether you’re looking to lose or gain, reaching a healthy weight (and healthy BMI) not only slashes your risk for many diseases, but it has been shown to boost your confidence, energy level, and your overall mood. That’s an all-around win. (10)
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