If your doctor has told you to lose 20, 50 or even 100 pounds to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, here’s some good news: losing even a little weight can quickly bring big health benefits. In a recent study, researchers found losing just 5% of your body weight can improve insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels. Experts used the word “profound” to describe the effects of moderate weight loss on metabolic health. What constitutes “moderate” weight loss? The study compared two groups of overweight men and women. One group was assigned to weight maintenance. The other group engaged in a diet plan to induce them to lose 5% of their body weight. Those in the second group saw improvement across five key health indicators. So how much weight do you need to lose to achieve a 5% reduction? Here’s a math cheat sheet: For a 200-pound person, 10 pounds For a 250-pound person, 12.5 pounds For a 300-pound person, 15 pounds How does obesity affect metabolism? Being overweight causes a cascade of negative changes to your metabolism. Your body stores fat in the tissue layers of your abdomen, of course, but excess fat also can clog up the liver and slow it down. The liver subsequently becomes less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose (sugar) levels throughout your body. As the liver struggles to function, more responsibility for glucose control shifts to the beta cells of the pancreas, which produce insulin. Eventually the beta cells stop functioning well, and they become unable to respond to rapid changes in your body’s glucose needs. This can lead to persistently elevated blood sugar levels, also known as type 2 diabetes. Making matters worse, obesity also generally causes cholesterol levels to rise in your blood, putting you at greater risk for a cardiovascular event like stroke or heart disease. Added body weight forces the heart to work harder to pump blood and can lead to high blood pressure and other heart-related problems. How did 5% weight loss improve metabolism? Study participants who lost 5% of their body weight saw significant changes in several key biomarkers for metabolic health, including: Reduced volume of fatty tissue within the abdomen and liver Increased insulin sensitivity in the liver Improved beta cell functioning Researchers also noted improvements in other biomarkers, including increased insulin sensitivity in the muscles responsible for movement (the skeletal muscles) and reduced triglyceride levels in the liver. Basically, when you lose even a few pounds you immediately reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. What does this mean for the average person? The prospect of trying to lose a large amount of weight can be daunting. Often, in fact, it feels like it might be impossible. How do you begin to tackle the job of losing 30 or 100 pounds? This research shows you can start by losing just 10 to 15 pounds, which sounds much more doable. You don’t need to think about losing a lot of weight right away. Combining just a little physical activity with diet modifications can accelerate that progress. If you’ve been told to lose weight in order to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or heart disease, talk to your doctor about how to set up an eating plan that will help you start shedding a few pounds—and how losing even a little weight can help your health gain a lot.