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Once you have the OK from your doctors to lose weight, talk to them to figure out a good weight for your age, height, body type, and activity level.

Most experts use one of three measurements to assess whether a person's weight is within a healthy range: a DEXA scan, body mass index, and waist circumference.

A DEXA (dual energy X-ray absortiometry) scan, which is commonly used to test for osteoporosis, is the best way to assess your body fat and lean muscle mass. Many breast imaging centers provide this service at a reasonable cost. Your doctor can order this test to assess your bone health — and your body composition can be checked at the same time.

Body mass index (BMI) is a reliable indicator of total body fat for both men and women. But it does have some limits:

  • It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build.
  • It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle mass.

The National Institutes of Health has an online BMI calculator and tables that you can use to estimate your total body fat. Here's what your BMI score means:

Category BMI
Underweight Below 18.5
Normal 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight 25.0 to 29.9
Obese 30 and above

If you're over or under the "normal" range for BMI and want to lose or gain weight, you can use an online tool from the United States Department of Agriculture's Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine to calculate your daily caloric needs based on your sex, age, height, and activity level.

Waist circumference is measured by placing a measuring tape snugly around your waist. This measurement is a good indicator of your abdominal fat. Women should aim for a waist smaller than 35 inches. Men should have a waist smaller than 40 inches.

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