One of the best ways to tell what sort of shape you're in is to find your body mass index, or BMI. It's calculated by taking your weight in kilograms and dividing it by your height in meters squared. While you generally know if you've been eating too many burgers and need to lose a few pounds, BMI is a great way to bring the point home, spark your motivation and give you a goal to aim for.
Calories are king (or queen) when it comes to lowering your BMI. To reduce your weight you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. A good place to start is by lowering your calories by 500 each day. It takes a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose a pound of fat, so a 500-calorie daily reduction should result in 1 pound of weight loss every week. Keep an eye on the scale -- weigh yourself once a week, first thing in the morning. If you've lost a pound or more, keep doing what you're doing, but if you've maintained or gained weight, it's time to cut those calories back a little more, so reduce by another 200 per day.
It's not all about the calories. As nice as it would be to eat cheesecake and fries all day, you probably won't get too far with that approach. Stick to natural, unprocessed foods, get protein with every meal, eat plenty of veggies and keep carbohydrates to your first couple of meals and after a workout, advises nutrition coach Jen Comas Keck of Red Point Fitness. Base your diet around lean meats and fish, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy products and beans.
Training comes second to diet in lowering your BMI, but it's still a critical component of your plan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise every week, plus two strength-training sessions. Really though, it's more about intensity rather than the time you spend. Ditch your slow walks, gentle jogs, 2-pound dumbbells and sessions on the bike where you read a magazine and hardly break a sweat. Focus instead on tough training -- full-body weights sessions, body-weight or kettlebell circuits and hill sprints. Train for 45 minutes four times a week and put your heart and soul into it.
Risks and Issues
There's no doubt about it, BMI is a relatively accurate way to gauge progress. If your BMI is 25 or above, you're overweight and if it's over 30, you're obese and at a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Take it with a grain of salt though -- BMI doesn't take into account body shape, muscle mass or bone density. So if you're a bodybuilder or athlete, your BMI might be high, even if you're in fantastic shape.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.