Everyone has a number. It may be the weight you were in high school, on your wedding day, or the last time you did a juice cleanse. It may be the weight that promises to reduce other numbers, like blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose. It may be the weight associated with being a size 0, having a thigh gap, or looking amazing in a bikini. Pursuing a healthy weight is often related to physical appearance and health.
While the aesthetics of a desirable body weight are subjective, most health care providers and governmental health agencies define a healthy weight range for all using the Body Mass Index*, or BMI, which is simply a ratio of weight to height. Another option to assess body weight is the Ideal Body Weight equation, which is based chiefly on height but also takes into account gender and frame size. However, neither equation is perfect as they both fail to address age, body composition, ethnicity, and most importantly, weight history.
Weight history is the weight you have been most of your adult life that you have maintained without difficulty, not the lowest weight you achieved for the short term. Aging has a profound effect on your metabolism, so striving to be your high school weight may not be realistic. If you’ve had children since your wedding, your body may never look the way it did that day. And if you had to limit yourself to a liquid diet to reach your goal weight, the result is not sustainable. Consider your weight history to prevent overestimating how much weight you can lose and the frustration this leads to. When you attempt to lose weight, you are likely to experience some plateaus along the way. While some consider a plateau to be a temporary weight loss stall, this may be your body’s way of telling your brain it’s comfortable where it is, at least for now. This is reflected by the Set Point Theory, which suggests that your weight is regulated to stay within a range of 10%-20%. It is recommended to lose 10% of your current body weight and maintain your new weight for a few months before attempting to lose more. Not only is this believed to reset your set point, but losing just 10% of your body weight can lead to many health benefits, including lowered blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar, and reduced risk for heart disease.
Once you achieve 10% weight loss, you may decide that you want to lose even more. After all, you may already feel better, look better, sleep better, have more energy, and have less joint pain. Keep in mind that a 10% loss is easier to reach and maintain than a more aggressive goal. Before you decide to lower your goal weight, you may want to reflect on the motivations that drove you here. If you were motivated by reaching a weight prescribed by your health care provider or a pair of pants you bought two sizes too small, what happened when you reached that weight or fit into those pants? What happened if you didn’t? Are your behaviors focused on extreme dieting and excessive exercise? Have these behaviors affected your emotional stability, social life, relationships, and daily responsibilities? If you continue to obsess over losing weight and allow numbers to dictate your happiness, are you really pursuing a healthy weight?
Your healthy weight cannot truly be defined. While BMI and Ideal Body Weight can be helpful in assessing health risk, they are broad recommendations. The problem with the idea of a “healthy weight” is that healthy is not a weight, and it’s not the same for everyone. Instead of confining your goal to whatever has been labeled as your healthy weight, consider focusing on a happy weight. A weight that allows you to be motivated by the progress you have achieved instead of the perfection you once desired. A weight that can be achieved through simple behaviors that can be practiced for the rest of your life, such as eating regular meals, practicing proper portion control, incorporating more activity into your lifestyle, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. A weight that feels comfortable and can be maintained for the long-term. The best part about your happy weight is that it is not a number; it’s a state of mind. A scale won’t tell you when you’ve reached it, but once you are there, you‘re likely to stay.
*It is accepted that a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 is healthy; however new research shows that the healthiest BMI is at the upper end between 22.5 and 24.9, while Asians are recommended to keep BMI below 23. This shows that BMI has many limitations and the current recommendations are evolving and becoming more individualized.