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Struggling to Figure Out a Healthy Weight Range

By January 30, 2013

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I have struggled with eating disorders for more than 13 years of my life and I just recently went to counseling to help me work through some of my issues. I decided to try to get some help because I have two baby girls now and I am terrified of passing my unhealthy habits on to them. And, it has been more of a struggle lately since I am dealing with the post pregnancy body stuff. Anyway, a while back my counselor asked me a question that floored me . . . “Do you know what healthy is for you?” I don’t think I had ever thought about it before. I didn’t have a clue and honestly I still don’t. I went on a bit of a mission to find out and just came back frustrated. I kept running into the BMI thing everywhere and I just can’t see how it can possibly be accurate. I am 5 foot 6 inches and I have a very small bone structure. Anyway, I normally weigh between *** and *** when I am doing “okay” (a bit less when I’m really struggling) and according to the BMI this is not underweight, but a few points into “normal.” I can accept that. I wanted to know though, what would be unhealthy for me so I started playing with numbers. According to the calculator on the CDC website, if I weigh *** right now I can lose ** pounds and still be considered “healthy/normal.” This would put me at *** lbs and I know it would not be a healthy weight for me. On the other end, I can gain ** pounds and not be considered “overweight.” (Coincidentally, this puts me in the “normal range” for every bit of my pregnancy except maybe the ninth month.) I know that If I put that much weight on without being pregnant I would look and probably genuinely be overweight. So that’s why I got frustrated. There has got to be something more specific than a ** pounds weight range to determine if I am healthy or not. Is there a better way to find out what “healthy” is? Something that takes into account your bone structure and other important factors? I just want to know if I can go to a doctor or use some other sort of calculator that will give me a healthy range that is specific to me. Thank you again. – Pamela

Dear Pamela:

First, congratulations to you for starting counseling. You are in the early stages, so be patient with the process and keep on working.

I appreciate your inquisitiveness. Your questions are excellent. BMI charts can be confusing, misleading and—for some people—triggering. Consider the following:

  • BMI doesn’t measure fitness or recognize variations in body type and frame. It also doesn’t assess body composition; muscle is denser and heavier than fat tissue. A very active, fuller-figured athlete may worry that she is too heavy when in fact she is quite healthy. On the other hand, an inactive thin person who eats poorly might think that she is fine when in reality she is not healthy.
  • BMI can trigger preoccupation with weight and dieting. People who are prone to restrictive eating can feel compelled to be at the lowest end of the “normal range,” even if they are currently at a healthy weight.
  • The charts can be used by other people as a license to overeat—if it appears they can gain some weight and still be within the upper end of the “normal” range.

Sound familiar? These are the scenarios you already figured out. What does that tell you? Instead of helping your recovery process, calculating BMI could potentially fuel more disordered eating. Here at Finding Balance, we avoid BMI calculations for this very reason and believe they should be done on an individual basis by health care professionals. BMI is only one assessment tool, not a measure of total health—physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual.

Which brings me to my next point. The original question posed by your counselor was: “Do you know what healthy is for you?” She didn’t specifically focus on weight, yet you zoomed in on it in your quest for an answer. Instead of searching for a target weight, strive for lifestyle choices, values and a mindset that promotes good overall health. When you implement these kinds of changes, your weight will naturally settle at the place that is healthiest for your body type, metabolism and frame—this weight will be the outcome, not the starting goal. In a sense, you may have already discovered what’s best for you personally, which might be your body’s weight range when you are doing “okay” and not “struggling.”

I invite you to read the article “Eleven Keys to a Healthy Lifestyle” for more information. There are also several other articles that might help you define “healthy” in a way that frees you from food and weight preoccupation.

I wish you the best on your journey.

Blessings,

Ann Capper, RD, CDN