When you carry around too much body fat, it can accumulate and cause inflammation everywhere, says Dr. Myo Nwe, M.D., a weight loss physician based in South Carolina and author of Fat-Me-Not: Weight Loss Diet of The Future. And over time, internal inflammation can cause a bunch of serious side effects, including chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and various types of cancer. But weight loss can often reduce the symptoms and even undo some of the damage.
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That said, everyone needs some body fat (about 25 to 31 percent body fat is average for women) to protect your organs. Even if you have a little more or a little less body fat, it’s possible to be clinically healthy (e.g., free of disease and risk factors) at almost any weight.
While there’s no perfect way to assess your weight without a doctor, you can calculate your body mass index (BMI) on your own to get a basic sense of where you stand. (A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.) But head’s up: Insurance companies derived this formula to be a simple and accessible estimate of body fat and disease risk based on height and weight. It doesn’t actually assess your body composition, or account for family history, blood work, and lifestyle.
In other words, you could have an overweight BMI and be healthy, or a regular BMI and be unhealthy. Still, BMI is a good place to begin if you want to assess whether your weight is problematic, says Dr. Nadia Pietrzykowska, an obesity medicine specialist and member of the Obesity Action Coalition’s education committee.
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If your BMI is already over 24.9 and you have some of the symptoms below, consider chatting with your doctor about whether weight loss could improve your well-being.
1. It’s just uncomfortable to exercise.
Like it or not, physical activity is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. But if your weight holds you back, weight loss could make moving way more fun, which will ultimately help you stick to any fitness goal.
2. Your snoring could wake the dead, and you constantly wake up groggy.
If you snore like crazy and rarely get a good night’s sleep, you may suffer from sleep apnea, a condition in which irregular breathing disrupts your sleep. Excess weight can bring it on: When your body stores fat around the neck, it can narrow the airway to cause shallow breathing or pauses in breathing.
3. You have tender spots everywhere.
Inflammation can make the fatty tissue beneath your skin feel tender to the touch, kind of like spotty bruising. If your BMI is especially high, and you feel pain in random places, weight loss could help, Dr. Nwe says.
4. You’re tired. (All. The. Time.)
Internal inflammation caused by excess fat can lead to a perpetual state of fatigue, Dr. Nwe says. If you have an elevated BMI, and routine tasks like grocery shopping exhaust you, your extra pounds could be the culprit.
5. You’re pretty much always hungry — even though you eat plenty.
Of course, this could be a sign that you’re eating the wrong foods, like candy, which lack the fiber, protein, and healthy fat that keep you full. But it could also be a sneaky symptom of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes — especially if you’ve had an elevated BMI for years, plus blurry vision, tingling, or numbness in your hands and feet, extreme thirst, or unusually frequent pit stops, according to the American Diabetes Association. Over time, excess weight can trigger these conditions, while weight loss can reverse them. (Obviously see your doctor for a formal diagnosis though.)
6. Your doctor says you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Dr. Nwe says weight loss can bring these numbers down without medication, which is safer, cheaper, and more sustainable than popping pills forever.
7. Your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches.
Not to put a hard-and-fast number on health, but science suggests that excessive belly fat can increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Nwe says that people distribute weight in different places and that waist circumference alone isn’t the most accurate way to assess health. But if your BMI is elevated and your waist circumference tops 35 inches (grab a measuring tape and exhale as you hold it just over your hip bones to check), chat with your doc to see if you should consider sizing down for health’s sake.
8. You lost a grandparent or parent to cancer.
Excess fat can produce excess estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer, and other kinds of hormones that may promote tumor growth, according to the National Cancer Institute. A family history of cancer can increase your risk from the get-go. While there’s not much clinical evidence to prove that weight loss can protect you entirely, many observational studies have linked lower weight gain during adulthood to an overall lower cancer risk.
9. Your knees, hips, and back hurt.
Excess weight can put extra pressure on the joints, which wears down the tissue around them and makes moving uncomfortable, according to information from the National Institutes of Health.
10. You’ve gained a few pounds every year since before you can remember.
When you’re growing, it’s normal to gain weight over time. But if your weight continues to soar after your height peaks, your doc may recommend behavioral changes to steady the scale and avoid all the sucky symptoms above.
And if you think you need to lose weight for your health?
Definitely get a second opinion — your doctor can help you make realistic tweaks to your diet and lifestyle to promote steady, healthy weight loss over time and maintain the results for good.
NEXT: 10 Signs You’re Healthy That Have Nothing to Do With Your Weight »
This story originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com
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