The question ‘how much should I weigh?’ sounds simple but is a complicated answer.
You may have heard that the best way to assess how much you should weigh is by looking at BMI (body mass index), which correlates your height and weight into health ranges. While this is a starting place it is certainly not the end-all-be- all.
Here are two examples of clients in my practice that used BMI to assess how much they should weigh and the challenges that arose because of this.
Melanie, a 55-year-old menopausal woman had lost and gained the same fifty or more pounds over the years. She had high blood pressure and suffered from depression. At five-foot-four and 230 pounds the BMI labeled her obese. This five-letter word was deflating. After years of trying to achieve a healthy BMI range of 108-145 pounds with no success, Melanie decided to let it go. Looking back at the history of her weight and her eating and exercise patterns it became clear that even when she was eating and exercising almost ‘perfectly’ she was never able to budge 170 pounds. Over time Melanie found peace with her weight and successfully now maintains a weight of 175-185 pounds. Despite BMI still classifying her as obese she has improved her quality of life and health. She has more fun, better flexibility with her food, lowered knee pain and has dropped her blood pressure.
At the age of 16, Beth remembers feeling bigger than most girls in her class. At five-foot-six and 170 pounds she started dieting and exercising excessively. She lost weight and was maintaining a weight of 120 pounds by being severely bulimic. At the age of 19, a well-intended health professional that didn’t know the punishing regime Beth had been following for years suggested that since she fell within the healthy BMI range for her height at 115-155 pounds, this weight was good for her. Her psychologist and I had to work very hard to convince Beth that a weight of 120 pounds, although considered ‘healthy’ by the BMI, was not healthy for her. As Beth recovered from her eating disorder and began to nourish her body with sufficient food and moderate activity, the scale normalized to the higher end of the BMI range. Her blood pressure and heart rate improved and her menstrual cycle reappeared. While happy that her physical health was restored, Beth still struggles with knowing that while some women at her height can be healthy at 115 pounds, in order to be healthy she needs to weigh almost 40 pounds more. For her, trying to weigh anything less involved a life of suffering and deprivation.
3 Steps to Achieving your ‘Best Weight’:
1. It is NOT about the number on the scale
Focus on restoration of health and maximizing quality of life. Minimize a fixation of numbers on the scale as much as possible. Focus on increasing your energy levels, improving mood as well as increasing vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients. Also focus on reducing joint pain, less need for medication, better digestion, as well as healthier blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and blood sugars.
2. It is NOT about ‘calories in’ versus ‘calories out’
The diet industry would have you believe that you can weigh whatever you want if you simply eat less and exercise more. Your weight is a reflection of a complex list of factors above and beyond your food and activity factors. Also important are genetics, family history, gender, age, body composition, sleep habits, stress levels and more. Remember that some factors we can change while others are factors we have little control over.
3. It is NOT about giving up fun and flexibility
Weight management experts Dr. Arya Sharma and Dr. Yoni Freedhoff suggest focusing on your best weight, which is defined as whatever weight you can achieve while living the healthiest lifestyle possible and still having fun and flexibility. At some point you will not be able to eat less, exercise more and still enjoy a great life. At that point you are trying to achieve a weight that is under where you should be. The words fun and flexibility are essential. Living fully is indeed about a mix of healthful and soulful choices.