Eating & Physical Activity to Lose or Maintain Weight
How can a healthy eating plan and physical activity help me lose or maintain weight?
The key to losing weight is choosing a healthy eating plan that you can maintain over time. Being physically active will help you use more calories and maintain your weight loss.
Follow a healthy eating plan
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that adults who want to lose weight and keep it off should reduce the number of calories they take in from foods and beverages. The guidelines recommend a healthy eating plan that includes
- vegetables of all types
- fruits, especially whole fruits rather than fruit juices
- whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and whole-wheat bread
- dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, or similar products such as soy beverages with added calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D
- protein from foods such as lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products
- certain oils, such as olive oil and oils found in seafood, nuts, and avocados
The guidelines also note that adults should limit
- added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day
- saturated fat to less than 10% of calories per day
- sodium, or salt, to less than 2,300 milligrams per day
Get regular physical activity
Physical activity can help you lose excess weight and stay at a healthy weight. Being active is also linked to many other health benefits. Regular aerobic activity can help prevent and reduce health problems, such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose, also called blood sugar. Aerobic activity can also improve mental health.32
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition (PDF, 14.8 MB) recommend that healthy adults take part in
- moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or dancing, for at least 150 minutes a week. A moderate-intensity aerobic activity makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe harder but does not overwork you.
- muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.
Adults with chronic health conditions or people with disabilities who cannot meet these guidelines should take part in regular physical activities that they can do safely. If you have a health condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, talk with your health care professional before you start regular physical activity. Your health care professional can help you find activities you can do safely and will benefit you the most.
How can I adopt healthier habits?
Adopting a healthy eating plan and getting more physical activity every day may be difficult. But with effort, regular support, and patience, you can make changes that will help you lose weight and improve your health over the long term.
Be prepared for setbacks—they are normal
After a setback, such as overeating at a family or workplace gathering, try to regroup and focus on getting back to your healthy eating plan as soon as you can. Try to eat only when you’re sitting in your dining room or at your kitchen table. Try to keep snack foods and higher calorie options out of your home or stored in a cabinet or pantry—not out on the counter. At work, avoid areas where treats may be available. Follow your progress using online trackers or smartphone apps that can help you keep track of the foods you eat, your physical activity, and your weight. These tools may help you stick with your plan and stay motivated.
Having specific goals can help you stay on track. Rather than “be more active,” set a goal to walk 15 to 30 minutes before work or at lunch on Mondays and Fridays. If you miss a walk on Monday, pick it up again Tuesday. Using tools such as the Body Weight Planner may help you set realistic goals to consume fewer calories and be more physically active.
Ask for help or encouragement from your family, friends, or health care professionals. You can get support in person, through email or text, or by phone. You can also join a support group. Specially trained health professionals can help you change your lifestyle.
How can I maintain weight loss?
Keeping the weight off can be hard. Your metabolism slows down during weight loss, and your body needs fewer calories at your new, lower weight. Changes in your hormones and other factors may also make it hard to keep the weight off.
Stick to your healthy eating plan
Continue to make healthy food choices and follow your healthy eating plan as a lifelong habit. Find healthy food options that you prefer and enjoy, as this will make you more likely to stick with your eating plan.
Continue regular physical activity
Regular physical activity may help you keep the weight you’ve lost from coming back.32 To prevent weight regain, aim for at least 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity.33 Make regular physical activity a lifelong habit.
Keep track of your weight
Weigh yourself regularly and try to keep a record of changes to your weight. Recording your progress may help you stay focused and catch setbacks in meeting your goals. Remember—a setback does not mean you have failed. Everyone experiences setbacks. The key is to get back on track as soon as you can.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
(NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.