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Having a healthy weight is important for your overall health. Learn more about how you can reach and maintain a healthy waist measurement.

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What is a healthy weight?

Many factors can impact your weight. For example, your gender, age, height, muscle mass, ethnic background and general health.

Body mass index (BMI) is one way to measure a healthy weight, but it doesn’t consider muscle and fat mass or where fat is stored in your body.

Your waist circumference measurement, along with other health measures (e.g. cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose checks), is a better way to assess your health. A higher waist measurement can increase your risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Women have a higher risk if their waist measurement is more than 80 cm and a much higher risk if their waist measurement is over 88 cm.

Visit the Heart Foundation website to learn more about waist measurement.

Weight and health conditions

While it’s important to be comfortable with your body, research shows that having a higher fat percentage around your waist is associated with many health conditions. For example:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • some cancers
  • kidney disease
  • gallbladder disease
  • joint problems
  • sleep problems
  • pregnancy complications.

Having a higher waist circumference can also make it harder to manage health conditions you already have.

Maintaining a healthy waist circumference

On average, Australian women gain about 5 to 7 kg (mainly fat around the waist) per decade as they age.

To help keep your waist within a healthy range, aim to have an average daily energy intake that’s equal to your daily energy needs.

The best way to have a healthy waist circumference is to eat healthy foods from a range of food groups and regularly move your body. It might help to:

  • think about what prompts you to eat (e.g. hunger or emotion)
  • reflect on your relationship with food and see if you need to work with a dietitian or psychologist or both.

Eat well

Read our tips for healthy eating. Small changes to your lifestyle and eating habits will also help. For example:

  • plan snacks and meals in advance
  • increase the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat throughout the day
  • eat slowly and mindfully
  • listen to your hunger signals – eat when hungry and stop when you’re satisfied
  • limit takeaway food
  • save treats for special occasions
  • serve yourself smaller portion sizes
  • avoid having unhealthy snacks at home or in your office
  • have healthier food choices in your fridge and pantry.

Move your body

It’s recommended that adults aged 18 to 64 years are active on most (preferably all) days of the week. This activity should include:

  • 2.5 to 5 hours of lighter exercise each week (e.g. walking, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming) or
  • 1.25 to 2.5 hours of more intense exercise each week (e.g. jogging, circuit training, fast cycling and playing team sports).

Or you can do a combination of the above.

Muscle-strengthening activities are also recommended at least two days a week. These can include body-weight exercises (e.g. push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, weightlifting) or household activities that involve lifting, carrying or digging.

You don’t have to do these activities in one session. Shorter bursts of activity during the day add up. On days when you feel a bit tired, try a gentle walk.

It’s also important to minimise the amount of time you spend sitting. Try going for a walk before lunch and set an alarm on your phone to remind you to stand up and stretch at regular times throughout the day.

If it’s been a while since you’ve done any exercise, start slow and build from there.

If you need help managing your weight, talk to your doctor.

Avoid fad diets

With so many diets and weight loss programs around, it can be hard to know what works best. Most diets don’t provide your daily nutrition needs, and many people don’t continue after a few days or weeks. Many of these ‘fad’ diets are not based on evidence. Signs of a fad diet include:

  • having a set of restricted food rules
  • banning or promoting certain foods or food groups
  • severely restricting energy intake
  • being unrealistic to follow in the long term
  • recommending supplements and special 'health foods'
  • promising quick or miraculous results.

Fad diets can be harmful. They can slow your metabolism, cause headaches and fatigue, lead to less muscle and lower bone density. They can also cause constipation or diarrhoea and may contribute to eating disorders. Most of the time, people put the weight back on after doing a fad diet.

What’s a healthy relationship with food?

A healthy relationship with food isn’t about what you eat or how much you eat. It’s about enjoying food without guilt or shame.

Read about how to have a healthier relationship with food.

Weight stigma and discrimination

Research shows that discrimination towards people based on their body weight and size is associated with poorer health. For example, it’s linked to disordered eating, reduced physical activity, avoidance of health care, weight gain and the development of chronic health conditions.

The ‘Health at Every Size’ (HAES®) framework focuses on looking after yourself and developing behaviours such as healthy eating and enjoyable physical activity so you can be healthier. Research shows this approach is more beneficial for improving weight and health than dieting.

Being underweight

While most Australians are a heavier weight, some people are underweight. If you are concerned about your weight, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.

Weight gain and menopause

Many women think weight gain is part of menopause, but it’s more likely due to ageing and associated lifestyle changes.

Listen to our podcast about nutrition for menopause and beyond.

Learn more about menopause, weight gain and how to look after yourself.

This con­tent has been reviewed by a group of med­ical sub­ject mat­ter experts, in accor­dance with Jean Hailes pol­i­cy.

1
Department of Health and Aged Care, Body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement,
2
The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health: The obesity epidemic in Australia, 2018
3
Tomiyama AJ. Weight stigma is stressful. A review of evidence for the Cyclic Obesity/Weight-Based Stigma model. Appetite. 2014;82:8-15. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.06.108
4
Penney TL, Kirk SF. The Health at Every Size paradigm and obesity: missing empirical evidence may help push the reframing obesity debate forward. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(5):e38-e42. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302552
Last updated: 
12 February 2024
 | 
Last reviewed: 
23 January 2024

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