When I was growing up, there was many a Monday morning when I’d see a new sheet of paper on the bathroom wall above the scale, with a chart neatly drawn on it. The days were marked on the one axis. Weight on the other. There were 2 dots on the chart: one for current weight, and one for ‘ideal’ weight, to be reached by a certain date. A line was drawn between them – indicating the intended direction of travel. This was my sister’s chart, and in later years, there was a second line drawn on those charts in a different colour, for me.
I’m remembering this because of a conversation I had with a client a few weeks ago, about what ideal weight actually means (if anything). I remember the torture I put myself through, trying to reach that number that somehow I’d held as my passport to acceptability.
Our conversation turned to other definitions of weight that are bandied about the dieting-aka-health industry, like natural weight and healthy weight. So I thought I’d attempt to give my understanding of what they mean and whether they’re at all useful.
What’s ‘ideal’ weight?
The idea that any doctor, scientist, mathematician or computer programme could tell anyone what his/her unique, particular and specific body should weigh sounds like it comes from the dark ages. It presupposes that humans don’t differ much. It’s really an anthropic mechanistic view – which means that everything about the human body can be explained in mechanical terms, like you could explain the workings of a clock or a combustion engine. This way of looking at the human body really does date back hundreds of years – ok, not to the dark ages exactly, but shortly after that – to the Renaissance era and Descartes.
If there really were such a thing as an ideal weight, why would there be so many measures to arrive at the (different) magic numbers? I did a little desk research, and learned of at least SEVEN ways of calculating ‘ideal’ weight (mass actually, but let’s stick with how we use language for the moment, rather than get technical).
What about different body types?
What about different ways bodies metabolise, grow, store and eliminate?
What about the psycho-social-emotional impacts on the body’s composition?
Bodies are individual. Unique. They are impacted in myriad ways by myriad things: both material and immaterial.
So the the notion of an ideal weight is nonsensical. To my mind, anyway.
What about ‘healthy weight’?
I do wonder whether ‘ideal weight’ has morphed into a more politically correct term: ‘healthy weight.’ I notice in my Facebook Group, there is often a desire expressed to be a ‘healthy weight’. But what does that mean?
Health and weight are not joined at the hip. Ill health is not guaranteed with extra weight, and slenderness does not guarantee good health.
Given that a focus on weight and trying to control it is a big trigger for overeating, binge eating and a dysfunctional relationship with food, how about letting go of the notion of a healthy weight being a certain number. Instead, if you truly are concerned about your health, and you’re not using the desire to get to a ‘healthy weight’ as a smokescreen to wear a size xyz, then focus on improving health markers, like your blood pressure; your ratio of triglycerides to HDL; your heart rate and the level of protein in your pee!
Whenever these numbers are deemed healthy, then whatever you weigh at that time (if you could be bothered by then to find out) is your healthy weight.
Again, since you are a unique individual, this number is hard to come by from plugging a few pieces of data into an online tool. It’s the number you arrive at when you’re as healthy as you can be, without huge stress (chronic stress is a huge contributor to ill-health by the way).
And… natural weight?
I don’t know if there’s any point in even attempting to define what your natural weight is/could be. It just sounds like another way to try to manipulate and control yourself into a number that someone else told you should be your number!
I was going to define ‘natural weight’ like this:
- mostly you eat when you’re hungry
- mostly, you stop when you’re reasonably full and satisfied
- you do exercise you enjoy, regularly
- you permit yourself to eat what you want
- you eat natural foods, most of the time
But then I thought… Hm… if we’re really ‘going back to nature’ couldn’t natural weight be interpreted to mean your weight when you don’t eat anything processed?
Maybe your natural weight is your weight when you do the above PLUS, you wake up naturally, with no alarms, and go to sleep naturally, when the sun sets?
How long is a piece of string? How complicated does this have to be?
Does it really matter???
And now… drum roll… happy weight!
I’m at my happy weight.
I have no idea what number it is.
And I don’t care.
It’s the weight I more or less maintain (I suppose, but since I don’t actually weigh myself I don’t know… but going by my clothes…) by eating what I want, when I want it.
I mostly eat natural foods.
I also eat other stuff.
It’s rare for me to go without chocolate for a day.
Every now and again I eat beyond comfortably full.
I move my body. Most days I get my heart rate up. Some days it’s more than others.
I’m in good physical and mental health.
My happy weight is the weight I’m at when I’m not worrying about my weight but getting on with my life, participating, contributing… being an imperfect human, doing the best I can.
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