How to determine your healthy weight?

I previously posted about how diet culture justifies weightism by saying that it’s about health, and proposed that there is nothing we can know about anyone’s health just by looking at their size. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is at their healthy weight. Some people are carrying more weight than is optimal for them, and there are also some people who weigh less than would be best for their body.

So, how do you know if you are at a healthy weight for you?

Diet culture would have you believe that if you don’t have a thigh gap you’re not at a healthy weight, or if your BMI is above 24.9 you’re not at a healthy weight, or if your doctor tells you that you’re “overweight”, you’re not at a healthy weight. I’ll remind you, “overweight” does not mean unhealthy. No one can tell you what weight is healthy for you, but I’d like to share the words of Dr. Deb Burgard, one of the founders of the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement to help you know how you can tell for yourself.

The HAES model does not suggest that anyone of any weight must by definition be healthy.  It does not suggest that anyone must by definition be at their own healthy weight.  HAES defines health by the process of daily life rather than the outcome of weight.  If people have to do things in their day-to-day life in order to achieve a particular weight that a study says would be healthier, and the things they have to do  ….. are not compatible with loving self-care, then by definition, that is not a “healthy” weight for that individual.  It would be like starving a St.  Bernard because a study of dogs shows that greyhounds live longer.  We are genetically like different breeds of dogs, but we can’t tell what breed we are by looking. You have to tell your “breed” by the weight you turn out to be when you are living a good life.  HAES points out that when people are doing this they come in a huge variety of natural weights – and that deeming any particular BMI as pathological is a political rather than a scientific act. 

Deb Burgard PhD

So, the bottom line is that your healthy weight is the weight you are when you’re living well and taking good care of yourself. And that may change over the course of your life.

Also, if you are healthy, as indicated by numbers that actually mean something, like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and if you feel well and your body does what you want it to do, you’re at a healthy weight for you. That’s gotta be true, but the reverse is not necessarily true. If you’re experiencing health problems or if your body is giving you trouble, it doesn’t mean you’re not at a healthy weight. In the same article I quoted earlier, Dr. Burgard notes that 91% of what accounts for health has nothing to do with BMI. 

What if I weigh more than I think I should and I’m not taking care of myself?

If you are not living healthfully and you’re not at a comfortable weight for you, you’d benefit from making changes in your health behavior and self-care rather than focusing your efforts on the number on the scale. Those changes, paradoxically, may manifest in your size or weight changing in a more sustainable way than would likely happen if you tried to lose weight.

If you’re not taking good care of your body and you’re not at a comfortable weight, take a look at what’s keeping you from caring for yourself in a more loving and nurturing manner. Sometimes it’s emotional issues, sometimes it’s the realities of a stressful life or environment, or sometimes it’s lack of good information. Sometimes, I believe, it’s because of the damage caused by exposure to diet culture. Working to address what’s between you and loving self-care is a much better strategy than going on another restrictive diet that may give you short term weight loss, but no long-term health or well-being benefits, and will very likely actually detract from your health and well-being.

In future posts, I’ll discuss how to make health behavior and self-care changes without focusing on the scale. I’ll help you discover your own personal approach to healthy living that’s defined and measured by wellness and well-being, not weight.

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