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Find Your Perfect Weight - Part 2

Your Body Type: What You Can & Can't Change
  -- By Dean Anderson, Fitness and Behavior Expert
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: In Part 1 of this series, we looked at several of the methods experts use to determine when your weight puts you at risk of having health problems, and how you can use those methods to set a realistic goal weight for yourself.<pagebreak>

But let’s face it. Good health isn’t the only reason most of us want to lose weight. We also want to look great. We all live in a social world that tells us “thin is in” and fat is...well, whatever it is, it’s definitely not in. It can be awfully hard to feel good in your own skin if there’s quite a bit more of it than you see on those in the “in crowd.”

There’s nothing at all wrong with caring about your appearance or wanting to look as good as you can. This natural desire can play an important role in your motivation to lose weight, and your ability to keep going when the going gets tough.

But it’s also important to keep this desire grounded in your personal reality—not in the images you see in the media, or in someone else’s reality. We each have unique genes that determine our basic shape and size, how low we can go on body fat, how much muscle development and definition we can achieve, and how easy or hard it will be for us to reach and maintain the weight we would like to be.

The more you know about your own biological reality, the easier it is to set realistic goals and expectations when it comes to your body. It will help you avoid making yourself miserable by trying to achieve something that just can’t be done (or isn’t worth the constant struggle). So, let’s take a look at what diet and exercise can change and what it can’t, based on your individual biology.
Body Types Makes a Difference
Genetics play a large role in determining your basic body type and how easy it is for you to gain or lose weight. Here’s an example. In one recent study, researchers overfed a group of people 1,000 extra calories every day for eight weeks and found that there was a huge difference in the amount of weight gained (ranging from 3 to 16 pounds)! The researchers concluded that the people who gained less weight were able to “waste” the extra calories by fidgeting more and giving off more body heat. The people who gained more weight lacked this capability and simply stored the extra calories. These differences are related to basic differences in body type.

Although there are truly almost as many different body types as there are people, scientists have grouped them into three general categories in order to study the relationship between body type, body composition, metabolism and weight. Which one sounds like you? If you don’t think you fit completely into any of these categories, don’t worry. Very few people are pure types—most of us have characteristics of all three types to one degree or another, with one type being more dominant. The important thing to know is that there are many body types, and all of these types are normal—and all of them are basically unchangeable.<pagebreak>

Losing weight is not going to change your basic body type or shape—all it can do is reduce the amount of excess fat, and make you smaller overall. It can’t make stocky legs long and lean, and it can’t change where you naturally tend to store your body fat. If your genes program you to store a certain amount of fat between your skin and the muscles underneath, you just aren’t going to see those six-pack abs you’ve got hiding under there, no matter how much weight you lose or how many crunches you do. If you’re a pear or apple shape now, you still will be after you lose weight—you’ll just be smaller and healthier.

These differences in body type can also make formulas for figuring out your ideal weight pretty unreliable. If you compare a classic ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph of the same age, gender, and height, you’ll get three very different healthy and normal weights. Since most of us aren’t pure types, and fall somewhere in between the extremes on all the various dimensions involved, there is no simple way to “adjust” for these differences when trying to estimate an ideal body weight. Often, you’ll have to wait until your body lets you know you’re at the best weight for you by resisting further weight loss despite your best efforts.

But your body type doesn’t doom you to chronic weight problems or obesity, either. Even if you’re a classic endomorph with a metabolism that seems to snatch calories right out of thin air and deposit them directly on your hips or waist, you can lose fat and achieve a healthy weight. And you can look good too—even if you don’t have the body type that makes it onto the covers of fashion magazines.<pagebreak>

What You Can Change
While you'll always have characteristics of a certain body type, you CAN work on changing your body composition (the amount of fat versus the amount of muscle you have).

Virtually everybody can lose weight and become more fit. To lose one pound of fat, you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit—no matter what your body type—by eating less and/or exercising more. What differs from person to person is the number of calories your body uses each day. When you keep your focus on what you can change, you avoid the frustration that comes with unrealistic weight or appearance goals, helping to pave the way for you to achieve your best weight and appearance. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll look at some of the mental exercises you can use to keep yourself on this track.