At my last doctor’s appointment before my daughter was born in 1996, my doctor commented that he was happy that my husband was not present because he hated to say a patient’s weight out loud in front of her husband when it got too close to 200 pounds. He wasn’t giving me heck for gaining too much, it was just that he didn’t think it sounded very good to say 200, and I was getting dangerously close. At that point, 24 hours from delivery, my weight or attractiveness to my husband were actually the least of my concerns, but I think many of us do have arbitrary numbers we’d either like to reach or never exceed.
How do we figure out what an ideal weight is? My mother used to tell me that one should multiply the number of inches above 5 ft. in height by 5 and add it to 100 pounds to know your ideal weight. I’m 5 ft 8 in, so that would be 140 pounds in my case. I joined the YMCA one time and had a fitness evaluation done, including measuring my flab with calipers. I was advised that my ideal weight was 142 pounds. If I look at BMI charts, a normal weight for my height would range from 122 – 164 pounds. Weight Watchers wants me between 132 and 164 pounds. Dr. McDougall figures I should be 127 pounds fully dressed. I’m disappointing my mom, my YMCA trainer, and Dr. McDougall by weighing in at 155 pounds.
Perhaps weight isn’t actually the appropriate measurement. Maybe I should be looking at body fat percentage. A few months ago I met with a personal trainer and he measured my body fat at 28%. At home, my scale says I am closer to 32%. An online calculator using body measurements says 27%. So I am either acceptable or ideal, depending on which chart I look at, which measurement I believe and whether or not age is taken into consideration.
Then there’s the more subjective method of looking in the mirror and evaluating what I see. I see a strong looking 51 year old woman who’s pretty comfortable in her clothes. I’m mostly ok with that, even if I do have love handles. So, acceptable or ideal, depending on my mood.
Could I reduce my body fat, sculpt my muscles, fit into smaller clothes, or compete in a body building contest? I actually think I could do all of that if I focussed my attention on optimizing my diet and exercise and devoted enough time and effort.
The thing is, I’m not prepared to do what it takes to dramatically change my body. I eat a pretty compliant whole foods, plant-based diet already, I exercise most days of the week including strength training, and I don’t want to do any more.
I’ve said previously that one of the keys to weight loss is to start as you mean to go on. Meaning that if what you do to lose weight isn’t what you are prepared to do for the rest of your life, you won’t be able to maintain the lower weight. When I switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet, I lowered my caloric intake quite naturally by eliminating many of the highly calorie dense foods like meat, dairy, and refined oils and sugars. Because I was able to do this without reducing the volume of food, indeed quite the opposite, I reduced my daily caloric intake without feeling hungry. Could I go even lower? I most certainly could, if I limited my intake of nuts, dried fruit, bread, and avocados. I could request a special oil-free meal when I eat out, or pack a baked potato in my purse to bring along. But I won’t.
Even if I was able to maintain that sort of discipline in the short term, I would be setting myself up to fail in the long term if I tried to lose weight by restricting my food intake beyond what currently feels easy.
Here’s my ideal weight: it’s the weight I am when I am eating and exercising in a way that I enjoy and is manageable for me. It doesn’t matter if Dr. McDougall thinks I should be skinnier, or I don’t fit in size 2 clothing, or Chef AJ wants me to eat a pound of greens for breakfast.
When you’ve made big changes to your body, as I have, it’s tempting to wonder if you’re there yet. I’ve had a vague notion that I should be 10 pounds lighter, but it’s always been an arbitrary line. In fact, I’m at my ideal weight now.