— The 5 Minute Read —

Type "setting a weight loss goal" into any online search engine and you'll likely be left with more questions than answers. Sure, the many weight-loss apps and calculators available will make setting this goal seem easy. They'll typically use a body mass index (BMI) calculator to confirm a "healthy" weight and provide a goal weight based on this range.

Your screen will fill with trim-looking influencers touting diets that will help you drop ten kilos in a month, or ads for diets, pills and exercise regimens promising to help you effortlessly and rapidly lose weight. Most sales pitches will suggest you need to lose substantial amounts of weight to be healthy – making weight loss seem an impossible task. But the research shows you don't need to lose a lot of weight to achieve health benefits.

We're a society fixated on numbers. So it's no surprise we use measurements and equations to score our weight. The most popular is BMI, a measure of our body weight-to-height ratio. BMI classifies bodies as underweight, normal (healthy) weight, overweight or obese and can be a useful tool for weight and health screening. But it shouldn't be used as the single measure of what it means to be a healthy weight when we set our weight-loss goals. This is because it fails to consider two critical factors related to body weight and health – body fat percentage and distribution, does not account for significant differences in body composition based on gender, ethnicity and age.

Losing weight, even just 5-10% of one's body weight, can bring about significant health benefits.

Firstly, it can reduce cholesterol levels, particularly the harmful LDL cholesterol, and lower triglyceride levels, thus improving heart health and reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Secondly, weight loss can lower blood pressure, reducing strain on the heart and arteries, further decreasing the risk of cardiovascular issues.

Thirdly, shedding excess weight reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar levels.

Lastly, losing weight can alleviate joint pain and reduce the risk of osteoarthritis by lessening the strain on joints, particularly the knees. These health improvements demonstrate the importance of maintaining a healthy weight for overall well-being.

If you've experienced the frustration of losing weight only to see it return shortly after, you're not alone. A review of 29 long-term weight-loss studies revealed that participants typically regained over half of the lost weight within two years, and more than 80% within five years.

When we shed pounds, our bodies react by activating survival mechanisms, making it challenging to sustain weight loss. These responses are evolutionary, designed to protect us from perceived starvation.

Fortunately, the solution mirrors this evolutionary process. Achieving lasting weight loss involves breaking it into manageable stages, alternating between periods of weight loss and maintenance. This gradual approach allows for sustainable habits to form, leading to long-term success.

Setting a goal to reach a healthy weight might seem overwhelming, but it doesn't necessarily mean conforming to a specific BMI range. Even losing just 5–10% of body weight yields immediate health benefits, making the journey more attainable and rewarding.

Original article published on The Conversation.