Find Your Perfect Weight - Part 1

You know that you want to lose weight. But how do you pick a goal weight that’s right for you? Do you find a celebrity, or even a friend, whose body you like and try to reach the same weight as him? Do you aim for a previous weight of your own, like what you weighed when you wore that junior prom dress 25 years ago?

Unfortunately, neither of these are good ways to set a weight loss goal. Finding your best weight isn't as simple as plugging your height, age, and gender into a formula and getting a number spit back at you. Your body is unique to you, and so is your ideal weight. Because it involves factors that are both objective (like your health risks) and subjective (like your personal satisfaction with your appearance), your ideal body weight is much more than a number on the scale: it’s more like a state of being.

You’re at your ideal body weight when:
  • Your weight isn’t causing (or putting you at risk for) any health problems
  • Your weight doesn't limit you from living the life you want
  • You can accept your body as it is, without feeling uncomfortably self-conscious
  • You can enjoy being in your own skin, without worrying too much about how you compare to others (or cultural ideals)
There are charts and formulas that can help you determine what the number on the scale tells you about your risk for health problems, and give you a general weight range to shoot for to decrease your risk. There are other standards and measures that can help you fine tune this big picture and focus in on optimal fitness and body composition. This article, part 1 in a 3-part series, will look strictly at these kinds of numbers—a great place to start when determining your weight loss goals.

How Body Weight Affects Health

In the best of all possible worlds, this business of picking a good weight loss goal wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, bathroom scales wouldn’t even exist. If you think about it, what does the number on your scale really have to do with any of the reasons you want to lose weight? Whether you want to look a certain way, be more attractive or popular, manage or avoid health problems, get back into all those smaller clothes you’ve got in your closet, improve your athletic performance, recapture the glories of your youth, or simply feel a little more comfortable in your own body, the number on the scale is not what determines your success or failure. There are much better ways than scale-watching to assess your progress along the way.

The only real reason to even think in terms of a “normal” or “ideal” body weight is because there is a statistical correlation between your weight and your risk of having certain health problems that can lead to premature death or disability. Although your weight may or may not be the cause of these health problems, it’s clear that people who weigh more—or less—than “normal” are more likely to have these problems.

Experts who study these things have come up with several different methods of estimating your health risks based on your weight and size, as well as a set of calculations that are routinely used to determine whether your weight/size is in the normal range or not. Here are three of the most commonly used calculations:

Body Mass Index (BMI) is simply the number you get when you divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height squared (in centimeters). According to years of health research, the further your BMI deviates from the normal range (whether above or below), the higher your risk for obesity-related health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, and bone/joint disorders). Calculate your BMI here. Similarly, you can calculate your goal weight and see if it fits in with these ranges. If not, then your expectations might be unrealistic.

Height/Weight Charts, such as the HANWI formula (below), have been around since the 1950's. BMI has pretty much replaced the older height/weight charts as the most common way to assess health risks related to weight. But variations of these charts are still used today as quick and simple ways to estimate the normal weight range for your height. Here's a simple formula you can use:
  1. Women: Allow 100 pounds for the first 60 inches of height, plus 5 pounds for each additional inch (i.e. 130 pounds for someone that is 66 inches tall). Men: Allow 106 pounds for the first 60 inches of height, plus 6 pounds for each additional inch (i.e. 154 for someone that is 68 inches tall).
  2. The number you get above is the midpoint of the normal range; subtract or add 10% to get the low and high ends (117-143 pounds for the female above, 139-169 pounds for the man).
  3. People of average frame size should weigh close to the midpoint number, while those with large or small frames should be closer to the high or low end of the range. To determine whether you are large, small, or average frame, make a circle around the wrist of your dominant hand at the widest point (over the bones that protrude) with the thumb and middle finger of your opposite hand. If your thumb and finger don’t touch, you are large framed; if they just barely touch, you are medium, and if they overlap you are small framed.
  4. Does your goal weight fit well within these ranges? If not, you might want to adjust it.
One potential problem with both the BMI and height/weight tables is that neither formula distinguishes between fat weight and lean tissue (muscle) weight. BMI, for example, may incorrectly put people with unusually large amounts of muscle weight in the overweight category (even when their level of body fat might be normal), and people with poor muscle tone into the normal category (even when their level of body fat might be excessive). Another drawback to these formulas is that they don’t take into account where you store your fat. That's where this next formula comes in.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio is an important measure to use along with BMI and height/weight charts when considering your weight. Research shows that where you store body fat may be even more important than how much you have. Fat stored in the abdominal area, especially under the muscle and inside the abdominal cavity, is a lot more dangerous than fat stored in the hips and thighs, for example. One good way to make sure you aren’t overlooking a problem is to calculate your waist-to-hip ratio. Your ideal measurements should also fit into the ranges of a healthy waist-to-hip ratio. Similarly, even if you're at a "healthy" weight now according to your BMI or Height/Weight table, you might want to consider losing some extra weight if your current waist-to-hip ratio is unhealthy.

All the methods above will give you a good starting point for setting a goal weight that is reasonable (and healthy) for your height, gender, and age. However, not everyone will fit well within these ranges, and there’s no guarantee that a normal weight will mean good health everyone (or that being above normal automatically means you’ll have health problems, for that matter). Your state of health depends on other factors as well, including the quality of your diet and your exercise routine. But if the goal weight or measurements you’re hoping to achieve are very far outside the ranges you get from these methods, that’s a good indication that you may need to think twice about how realistic your goal is. To make changes to your goal weight, based on what you've learned here, click here to go to your Start Page.   Once there, you can "Change" your weight loss goal by using the link in your myTools column under the heading "My SparkDiet."

The next article in this series will examine other factors—besides numbers—that determine what kind of changes you can (and can’t) achieve with diet and exercise, including the roles of your body type and genes.
Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints

Member Comments

CACUJIN
I love Dean Anderson's articles. They make sense and have no member opinions or statements from people that have no idea of what they are saying.

My weight goal is on point. I only need to remember to eat properly when I am active. It is too easy to put of eating until the end of the day. Report
Great information Report
I'm doubting the math here. At my best I weighed 140, I looked really good & my mom kept saying i was too skinny. This has me down to 120ish. I would look like a skeleton. Report
Coach Dean where are you? I miss you! Really this is a good article. I agree I don't necessarily want to weigh 135 lbs but now I know how to figure it out. Report
Interesting. Report
thank you. Report
This article would have me at 130 lbs. No way! I would look like a corpse if I went down that low. I am shooting for 155 and will be thrilled when I get there. Report
My goal right in my head has always been 150 but my dr. says I'll never get below 180. I am small boned so I can't figure out why she would say that. According to this article my goal should be 130ish. Can anyone tell me why she might think that? Report
My goal right in my head has always been 150 but my dr. says I'll never get below 180. I am small boned so I can't figure out why dude would say that. According to this article my goal should be 130ish. Can anyone tell me why she might think that? Report
great points. Report
I think there is some credence to the set point theory Report
There is no way I could be at 115 unless I contained no fat nor internal organs. *lol* and I hate the wrist measurment for frame size. I'm only 5'3" but I have longer hands than my 6' husband! His are bulkier with a wider palm, but still... Report
145 is my goal .. 148 is the weight they suggest .. I will take either one! Report
thanks Report
I am trying to get to 141. The top of my BMI for an average weight. The height weight charts seem extreme. 115 pounds? Would I ever get to eat? Haha. I like food! Report


 

About The Author

Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.