Fitness Articles

Find Your Perfect Weight - Part 1

Setting a Healthy & Achievable Weight Loss Goal

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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.

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Member Comments

  • First off I have to say I really like Dean's articles AND I noticed the part about these only being approximations.Th
    ey also don't take into account people's genetics,muscular
    ity etc. And yeah it can hurt I can recall years ago having to go to a Workman Compensation Board clinic here after being hurt at work and noticing that the (rather ignorant) doctor listed me as being "obese" (yeah thanks you didn't look like you turned away from the Golden Arches EITHER fatso). This in spite of having a physically demanding job and working out at home yeah I could stand to lose a few so could a lot of us,As for the insurance height weight charts even as a skinny kid I seemed to be overweight. Go figure,
  • PEEJMA
    muscle vs. fat, obviously. Please pardon the typo.
  • PEEJMA
    This is just wrong. There needs to be a new way to calculate healthy weight that accounts for muscle vs. fast. I'm 5'2 and at 100 pounds, I get asked if I'm anorexic. At 110, I'm a size 0-2 and very skinny. Also, now that I'm over 40, I find such a low weight to be unsustainable. I work out six days a week (heavy weight training, HIIT, etc.), and -through right now I'm a few pounds higher than I'd like to be, I'm still a size 8. I'm a fit, athletic size 6 in the mid to high 120s, and that's what I'm shooting for.
  • ETHELMERZ
    Just work on eating healthier and quit obsessing on these numbers.......don
    't let these old rules prevent you from living in the now, because you may never reach certain what you think are "perfect" numbers! Wasting years of your life because you wait for that "perfect" weight first.
  • I used to be hung up on a number but now I go by how my clothing feels. I'm under 5' so my ideal weight hovers around 112lbs.
  • I forgot to say I am a man and am 6' 1" tall.
  • I've been on CRON diet for 10 weeks and have lost 47 pounds. My goal is to lose 100. That would put me at 200 and with a large frame that is a good weight. Yes I will look skinny and much different but for the better. I'm a type II diabetic and was taking metformin and Farxiga. I haven't taken any meds in 6 weeks and my morning blood suger is in the 80's!
  • I've read through some of the comments and I agree. There is no way that I could weigh 130 lbs again in my life unless I had cancer and died. I was that weight in high school, barely ate anything and was skinny. Why dont they start taking bone structure into account? Like a wrist measurement. I have difficulty finding bracelets and watches to fit by wide bone wrists. At my skinniest weight as an adult, I wore a size 10. Never could I get any smaller and not be anorexic. I am now a 14 and maybe want to go to a 12. When we are older we look better not skinny and wrinkled.
  • Definitely a question that takes a bit of thought. According to the BMI charts, I should be between 122 and 164.
    I'm 5'8" and pear-shaped.
    Some folks have asked me my goal weight and are shocked when I say 185 and even more shocked when I show them photos of me when I was at that weight before.
    I was pretty darned comfortable then, why not? I know I definitely don't look right below 160. I'll keep evaluating as I go along. My health is good and I'm active and fit even in the 200's.
  • MOONMOUSE3121
  • at 5'6" , 130 lbs is way too low for me. This is completely off base in my opinion. I have a medium to large frame, and achieving this weight would be impossible without sacrificing my health. And frankly, I am tired of hearing what a book, or study tells me I should weigh. I thought this article was to help people find "their" ideal weight.
  • I'm 5'3", and the only way I'd get to 115 would be by removing a few key internal organs. *lol* I'm a sturdy, muscly girl with PCOS and man hands, so finding my "ideal" weight is confusing. Right now I'm aiming for 150, which is still seen as too much by these standards... but I'm a rebel. Hang the standards. I never liked that wrist measurement test as I have slender wrists and ginormous man hands. Seriously, my hands are the same length as my six foot plus Marine boyfriend. My fingers are gonna overlap no matter what! Ha! Anyway, I've been down to 160 and it was nice, and I've been down to 150 with Mono and ended up looking facially gaunt... so I'm thinking 150 the right way will do me good. Once I'm there I'll see if I should go further or maintain.
  • BLONDY01
    Ok so I have been trying to decide on a realistic goal weight for a while, and this article didn't really help me that much. At 5'7", HANWI says I "should" weigh between 121-148, and my Wiifit says I should aim for 140 (BMI 22); I currently weight 235ish. I just don't think that is realistic for me. The frame thing doesn't make sense, I think I have a large frame but my fingers overlap slightly so that means I have a small frame? The lowest I've weighed since middle school was just over 150, after completing military basic training and I wasn't able to maintain that. I was happy in the 180-190 range after I had my son, so I'd like to get back to that but I'd still be considered borderline obese by BMI. My blood pressure/choleste
    rol/health is decent although I have PCOS. Also, my hip to waist ratio is already .80 where it should be for a lower health risk, I'm very much a pear shape.
  • I don't think these charts are entirely accurate like many posters have also said. Three years ago, I was in the best shape of my adult life at 180 pounds standing at 5"4 and lot of that was muscle. I gained that weight back and hit 248 pounds before I weighed myself and knew that I had to start doing something - or die. I'm down 17 pounds and according to this my BMI is still in the high 30s. I don't feel that way. I know I'll never be skinny, it's not in my genes. But I'll aim for a healthy 160 pd frame and stick with that.
  • Like another person who commented, I tried out the Ideal Weight Calculator on the web. I was curious to see what it said for me. For gender, age, and height I input female, age 40, height 5'4". The results were as follows:

    Based on the Robinson formula (1983), your ideal weight is 123.0 lbs
    Based on the Miller formula (1983), your ideal weight is 129.1 lbs
    Based on the Devine formula (1974), your ideal weight is 120.6 lbs
    Based on the Hamwi formula (1964), your ideal weight is 119.7 lbs
    Based on the healthy BMI recommendation, your recommended weight is 107.8 lbs - 145.6 lbs

    I have a large frame and tend to be muscular. At my healthiest weight (when I was in high school, walked to school, and had 2 phys ed classes) I weighed 140. At one point I got down to 135 and people started saying I looked too thin, unhealthy thin. One of my best friends asked if I was anorexic. So I gained 5 pounds. I felt good and I was healthy. I don't think I could function if I got below 130.

    One question that has never been answered for me (and maybe I just haven't asked the right person or looked in the right place) is how were these "ideal" weight ranges determined? What parameters were used to establish them?

    Since every person is different, no two body make-ups are exactly the same, how can one weight number be "ideal"? The BMI gives a range. However it says I am overweight above 145, when I know that I am comfortable and healthy anywhere between 140 and 160.

    So again I have to ask, how were these baselines decided? And why are they religiously adhered to, when there are so many other contributing factors regarding a healthy weight, like muscle mass, frame size, energy/endurance, and blood pressure, to name a few, that they do not address?

    I can understand the need for a goal to shoot for, but it seems there should be more to decide that than how tall you are (the Ideal Weight Calculator gave me the same results for age 18 as for age 40). And I still question how the baseline was established.

    It seems to me that these tools provide o...

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.

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