What weight? Ideal bodyweight and health by Sarah Sweeney

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When people begin a weight loss journey, it makes sense that they place a heavy emphasis on the number they see on the scale. It’s easy to measure, it’s easy to track, and it makes it very salient whether you’re making progress toward the ideal body weight you’ve set for yourself.


So, what’s the deal with weight anyway? How did this simple number grow to carry so immense weight and power? (Pun intended.) Well, because a lot of us have grown to equate our body weight (or ideal body weight) with a particular feeling—if we weigh a certain amount, we’ll look a certain way. If we reach a certain number on the scale, then we will feel a particular way about ourselves. Since it’s these feelings we’re after, we chase numbers on the almighty scale like some deity promising us immortality.


But, there is a problem. When we reach our sacred number we either:


  1. Reach this goal and don’t feel the way we expect.
  2. Reach the feeling we want but haven’t met our goal weight yet.


In either case, there is confusion and frustration swirling inside us. In the first case, we think our original ideal body weight might not have been enough. We need to get leaner and leaner until we achieve the feeling we’re after. (Leading to obsessive and unhealthy practices.)


In the second case, we might feel like we’ve fallen short of our goal. We feel good about ourselves and where we’re at, but something about those elusive few extra pounds gnaws at our accomplishments.


The truth of the matter is that “ideal body weight” is more of a range than a hard target. And the ideal body weights on most charts can be wildly inaccurate. For example, according to those charts in most doctor’s offices, I should weigh about anywhere from 30 to 2 pounds less than I do now. 


According to my BMI I’m obese. During my first bodybuilding show I was right at the edge of this somewhat arbitrary threshold, and yet, my bodyfat percentage was under what is considered “athletic” for a female. As an IFBB Pro, I typically come in “overweight” by BMI standards, but have an “underweight” bodyfat percentage. 


There will be a weight at which you feel your best. As long as your bloodwork comes out in good ranges, then your actual body weight is less important. I get it, it can be hard to set aside this number we see at our feet every morning.


Whether we can convince ourselves of its reduced importance or not, this information will still hold some meaning of progress for us. Instead of trying to ignore this, let’s instead dilute its power with a variety of other, non-scale forms of success that can also be easily tracked.


  1. You’re satisfied after meals

One of the problems of eating highly-processed foods is that they don’t give you the same feeling of satiety as more nutrient-dense foods. As a result, you can eat a substantial amount of calories without ever really feeling full—leaving you going back for more. By incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your diet, you should be able to finish your meal and feel satisfied (full but not stuffed).


  1. You have more energy

After getting into a regular exercise routine you may notice you have more energy in the morning and throughout the day (compared to when you didn’t exercise). This is one of the benefits of a healthy diet and regular activity. You might even find that you don’t need as much coffee or any at all!


  1. You get better sleep 

You have an easier time falling asleep and wake up less throughout the night. Regular exercise and a healthy diet improve your overall sleep quality so that you feel more rested upon waking.


  1. Your clothes fit better

Maybe you have a pair of jeans that you weren’t previously able to get into, or perhaps your current clothes are fitting more loose than usual. How your clothes fit is one good indication of whether your fitness program is working or not.


Remember, muscle is smaller, per pound, than fat. Even if the scale may not change you could still be getting smaller.


  1. You’re generally in a better mood

Exercise has been shown to provide mood-enhancing benefits. In fact, exercise has become more popular as a prescribed treatment for depression, as it can alleviate many depressive symptoms. Aside from direct mood-enhancing mechanisms, the increased self-esteem and confidence gained from regular exercise can also put you in a better all-around mood.


  1. You’re stronger and don’t tire as easily

Perhaps you noticed you aren’t as out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs? Maybe you had to move something heavy and it didn’t seem as hard as it was before? Maybe you even accidentally broke something when trying to tighten it!?


If you notice you are stronger and less tired in your day-to-day life, then this is a good indication that your fitness is improving.


  1. It feels more like a lifestyle than a diet

Do you find that you naturally gravitate toward healthier food options? Perhaps you were forced to miss a workout, and something just didn’t quite feel right.


A good indication of progress is when fitness activities (food prep, exercise, logging, etc.) feel natural and not forced. These activities start to become part of your life, and as such it will be easier to maintain these healthy habits for the long haul.


Are you making progress in these other areas? If so, chances are your fitness program is doing exactly what it is meant to do—improve your health, your appearance, and your overall well-being.


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