Be on your way to your best weight ever. (Photo: Cavan Images/Offset)
There’s a lot of talk these days about not just finding a healthy weight, but finding your “happy weight.” If you’ve spent most of your life falling at various places along the weight spectrum, this concept might seem a bit too abstract to be helpful.
Is it possible to define, though? Maybe. What we do know about “happy weight,” says Christopher Ochner, PhD, obesity and nutrition expert at The Mount Sinai Hospital, is that it falls somewhere in the middle and generally supports optimum health. “Ideal weight is not too thin, and not obese. A lot of life, weight included, is about finding a happy medium,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Moderation is the elusive unicorn we know we should chase, but we have varying degrees of success.”
Since a complex mix of metabolism, genetics, physical activity level, diet, stature, sex, age, and bone density play into the number you see on the scale, no two people are going to have the exact same weight goals and weight maintenance plan, Ochner says. “It’s hugely complex,” he tells Yahoo Health. “What works for me may not work for you. There really is no cookie-cutter weight for every height.”
However, in honor of National Healthy Weight Week, we tried to nail down a few principles for reaching that elusive healthy, “happy weight.” Here’s what to do:
Ochner says that although BMI has become controversial as the best measure of health, as it does not take into account things like body fat ratio or fat distribution, it’s still the best place to start. “I still like BMI, as it’s a cheap, easy surrogate marker to in-office tests,” says Ochner. “Many say waist circumference is a better indicator of overall health, since abdominal obesity is more associated with health risks. While this is true, it’s hard to get accurate increases and decreases on waist circumference, it’s harder to track, and fails to gauge body composition.”
Since you can easily keep tabs on your BMI using height and weight with an online calculator, you should know where you fall — and aim for the “normal” range. “We know that having a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, you’ll see drastic improvements on biomarkers,” says Ochner. “Objectively, I call a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 ‘lean.’ Most people are healthy in the ‘lean’ category.”
But should everyone’s BMI be in the exact same range? You may have heard about recent studies that showed that being “overweight,” with a BMI between 25 and 30, may still have long-term protective benefits similar to those enjoyed by “lean” men and women. Ochner says, however, this research comes with caveats.
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“Most experts agree being ‘overweight’ is still not healthy, because those falling in the overweight range probably start to encounter issues that push them to see their doctor, which may have somewhat of a protective effect on them,” he explains. “Plus, we know the number one predictor of obesity is being overweight, and we know obesity is never healthy.”
With that in mind, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is a good place to begin to determine your ideal size.
Keep Tabs On Changes
While BMI is a quick way to check your health status, it’s not a bad idea to know about the other measurements of overall good health — specifically waist circumference, says Lauren Popeck, RD, a dietitian at Orlando Health. “Excessive abdominal fat is serious, because it places you at greater risk for developing obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension,” she tells Yahoo Health. “Waist size is measured around the bare abdomen just above the hip bone.” Men should aim for a circumference of less than 40 inches, and women should shoot for a measurement of fewer than 35 inches.
You don’t need to continually pull out monitoring tools either, says Popeck. To easily check this concept on the day-to-day, just be mindful of the way your clothes fit. “It’s a way to measure weight gain or loss without the scale or tape measure,” says Popeck. “You can also feel a change in body composition with how your clothes fit, which can be helpful when moving toward a healthy weight.”
Since we’re speaking of measurements, a word about that scale: Don’t step on it everyday. It’s counterproductive. “Weigh yourself once a week,” says Popeck, explaining that this time is simply a brief check-in to make sure you’re moving toward (or staying at) your goal weight. “The scale is a tool to help tell you what’s going on with your body, so you can effectively modify your regimen as needed and keep you going in the right direction.”
If you’re stressing out about your diet or your weight-loss regimen, then you’re probably not on your way to a healthy weight (let alone a “happy” one). “A healthy weight is one that can be achieved without feeling too restricted,” says Ochner. “If food is a constant form of stress, that’s not good — and it can happen to anyone, whether they’re obese, anorexic or simply a normal-weight person on a diet.”
If thoughts about diet, fitness, and weight bring about anxiety, stop trying to quantify everything. (“Strict” and “happy weight” don’t sound like they go hand-in-hand, do they?) Ochner says that the goal should be overall health, and maintaining a sound diet — whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy — is more important than counting every calorie going into your body, which is a strategy for misery.
Be conscientious about your food choices, but don’t beat yourself up about slips. Even small changes can reap big rewards. “Often, people feel they need to have a drastic weight loss or decrease in body fat in order to become healthy,” Popeck says. “However, eating a healthier diet and getting regular exercise while dropping as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can bring large improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.” So, be kind to yourself.
And be careful not to confuse your “happy weight” with times of happiness past. “When you’re looking for your ‘happy weight,’ remember that happiness is determined by many factors,” Ochner says. “Thinking you need to get back to that one weight, because you were happiest at that time in your life, isn’t necessarily going to work. You might have been happy because your career was going well, or because you were in a good place in your relationship.” Especially since your happy weight may change with age, it’s best to look forward to find it — instead of tapping your memory bank.
Be Mindful Of Your ‘Happy Weight’
More than anything, determining the weight at which you’re happiest is really about being mindful and making healthy decisions.
But to recap, here’s the general recipe for determining those happy weights:
- You fall in (or close to) the “lean”BMI category.
- You’re not constantly stressed about food choices, or maintaining a hyper-specific number on the scale.
- You’re eating balanced meals, healthfully and mindfully.
- You feel comfortable in your clothes, and your waist circumference is less than 35 inches if you’re a woman and less than 40 inches if you’re a man.
Put simply? Aim to wake up everyday in a normal weight range, where you will naturally feel great in your body. “A healthy weight is the weight that’s best for you, not necessarily the lowest weight you think you can be,” says Popeck. “It is a weight in a range related to good health.”
And it’s sustainable — ideally forever, to up your odds of stable, good health. “Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is really the best,” Popeck says.
When in doubt, the smart approach to your best weight ever is actually no secret, says Popeck. “It’s common sense,” she says. “A healthful lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity as well as an eating pattern chosen for variety, balance, and moderation makes all the difference.”
Don’t worry; be healthy. You’ll probably be happier, too.
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