And no, you can’t find it on a chart…
The best weight for you is one that allows you to maintain your physical, mental, and emotional health. The number on the scale has let countless people down over and over again. We often put too much power into the scale and our body shapes to define our health, how we feel and who we are. There are equations to estimate your ideal body weight, but even the most popular equations used have no evidence in its accuracy. Also, why are some made up equations telling us what our body is supposed to weigh? Screw that.
So why is weight not the best measure? There are a bunch of reasons, but one that is hot in research is the set-point theory. This theory proposes that our bodies have a set weight range that is pre-determined for your body to function optimally. According to this theory, genetics play a role in what your best set-point is. This may be why you’ve always been between 140-150 pounds and no matter what extremes you go to, you’ve never sustainably been 135 pounds. You’re body really likes that weight since this is where it functions best. Throughout life, your body weight fluctuations are normal.
What about weight loss/gain and my set-point? Gaining weight can take you above your set-point. Despite your body liking that set-point range, our body favors weight gain when we consume excessive calories. Unfortunately, our bodies are more protective of weight loss versus weight gain, which is why we more easily gain weight than lose weight. When we go into a caloric deficit, our bodies fight back by slowing down our metabolism as a protective mechanism. This feature enabled humans to reserve their energy stores until they could get the next meal, which could be days. Nowadays this biological feature makes weight loss a challenge and seemingly impossible. This feeling of failure is mostly fueled by B.S. advertisements from the diet industry, that promise ridiculous, unsustainable results.
What should I do if I think I’m above my set-point and I want to lose weight? We have no way of knowing what everyone’s set-point is. Wanting to lose weight is valid whether for health or just wanting to feel or look better, as long as your mental health is not spared. You may be able to lose and maintain that weight loss if it is within your set point. You may even reach that weight goal but have to work really hard, unmanageably hard, to maintain that weight. It may come at the cost of your mental sanity and can trigger disordered behaviors (i.e. food restriction, food obsession, compulsive exercise).
Traditional weight loss focuses on caloric intake and energy expenditure (aka eating fewer calories than we burn aka caloric deficit). While scientifically to lose weight, you do need to be in that calorie deficit, how you approach it can be the difference between disappointment and a sustainable lifestyle. Diet culture focuses on calorie counting, food avoidance, weigh-ins, tape measures, deprivation, ignoring body cues, supplements, excessive exercise, gimmicks and results that may or may not be sustainable. When we deprive ourselves of calories, we become preoccupied with food. Quite frankly it sucks. This restrictive approach has shown to have some damaging side effects, both physiological and psychological. Click here to read more.
So WHAT do I do? Since no one can actually really tell you exactly how much you are supposed to weigh, non-weight based health goals can be a better option. Most of us are just looking to feel better about ourselves and engaging in self-care behaviors can do that for us. Our bodies change throughout life, and so will your weight. Try these 5 positive challenges to focus on other than body weight:
- Building a mind and body connection. You’ve heard of it, but what does it really mean? It means being aware of your bodily sensations and giving your body what it needs when it needs it. This can be anything from understanding hunger cues to taking rest when you need it. You can start by learning to connect to your breath with this breathing exercise.
- Challenging your plate. Lacking colorful fruits and vegetables? We know healthy diets consist of high amounts and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Challenge yourself to add in at least 2 colors per meal (Think: eat the rainbow).
- Building strength. Do you know anyone who started lifting heavier and did not feel completely awesome about it? Nope. Make a strength goal (like going heavier on your squats) and smash it. Enlist a trainer if you need help setting up strength goals.
- Being kind to yourself. Too often we are harsh on ourselves especially when it comes to our bodies. Focus on going about your changes with a positive approach by repeating positive affirmations and catching yourself when you start to talk negative. This can include “my diet is so bad”, “I feel fat”, “I have to starve myself to lose weight”.
- Cooking and baking more at home. Eating out is easier, there’s no prep or clean up. But cooking your own food helps you connect more to the meal and allows you to control what goes in us. Food is emotional and being hands-on helps us connect more to those emotions.
Send me how you are setting non-weight based goals, I’d love to hear.