The diet industry would have you believe you will lose weight if you just eat less or shift your diet. The fitness industry continues to perpetuate the myth that you only need to exercise. In reality, changing your diet or exercising more may or may not result in weight loss. Although your weight reflects your nutrition and exercise habits, it is not as simple as ‘calories in versus calories out.’
Your weight reflects many complex factors (see 'What influences weight?' sidebar below) that are above and beyond your food and activity habits. Understand that while we can change some factors, we must learn to live with other stubborn, unchangeable ones. Work at the factors you can control, like nutrition, exercise, stress and sleep. Then, remind yourself that like everybody else, you have a unique weight that your body will steer toward.
Perhaps you have been told to use the BMI (body mass index) to assess your weight. This chart correlates height and weight into a health range. While the BMI does give a broad starting place, you are an individual. A chart cannot determine your health or how much you should weigh. Charts like these oversimplify the range of factors contributing to your weight. They cannot reflect what we have learned about the science of weight management.
More and more health educators and researchers, including the Canadian Obesity Network, are moving towards individualizing target weight goals.
Identifying a personal ‘best weight’ gives you a realistic target. You are likely never going to win an Olympic gold medal or a Nobel Prize. However, that does not mean you should stop shooting for your personal best.
Your best weight is the weight you can achieve while living fully. Living fully is about living healthfully and soulfully.
Your best weight is a personal best. It is not based on a graph, chart, app or number provided by a so-called ‘expert.’ You are your own best expert.
As you look at nutrition, activity level and other lifestyle considerations, keep a few points in mind. You are most likely to be at your best weight when you:
First, focus on restoring your health and quality of life. Your personal best weight is not about a number on the scale. Instead, work on increasing your energy levels, improving your mood and getting the vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients you need. You may identify other targets that would help you feel your best. For instance, you might focus on reducing joint pain or the need for medication, improving digestion, or achieving healthier blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
Most people who struggle with their weight have a target number in mind. They try to adapt their lifestyles to hit that number. Embracing a best weight mindset means doing just the opposite. Let go of the number. Instead, focus on achieving the healthiest possible lifestyle, while staying fun and flexible. If you can do so while continuing to enjoy life, whatever weight range you achieve will be your best weight.
Think about how long you can follow a suggested diet plan, weight loss program, or exercise routine. If it’s not a plan you can live with forever, then weight loss is doomed to fail. The idea that you can restrict now and return to real life later just does not work in maintaining weight change. Attempting to do so is the most common reason for having your weight yo-yo up and down.
In the long term, crash diets and punishing exercise plans involving hours in the gym do not work. You may lose weight at first, but often the weight returns very quickly. You may even find yourself heavier than you were before. The most difficult part of a yo-yo cycle is the psychological damage it causes. Feelings of failure, body hatred, and a worsening relationship with food go hand in hand with these strategies. Instead, think about what you can enjoy versus tolerate.
In fact, remove the word diet from your vocabulary. Go for an eating plan with as much variety and as few food restrictions as possible. After all, there is a basic psychological principle that we all want what we cannot have. Keep your options open, and of course, employ an eating style that considers your overall health.
When it comes to physical activity, remember – exercise to become stronger and out of love for your body, not because you hate it. Perhaps you like walking the dog, or would be happy joining a class or team. Combine physical activity with socializing and family life as much as possible. It can be more fun if you do it with a partner, pet or as part of a community.
Although many lifestyle factors play a role, one of the most overlooked is the power of stress management and getting enough sleep. No surprise – the more stressed we get, the more our nutrition habits suffer. Being stressed makes it hard to find the time and energy to plan meals, shop and cook. Stress and sleep deprivation also trigger physiological changes in our hormones that drastically influence cravings and food preferences. The same hormonal changes hinder weight loss.
During a short-term bout of stress, the brain unleashes a cascade of hormones that shut down appetite and the desire to eat. Chronic persistent stress does just the opposite. Persistent stress triggers the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol, which increases appetite and influences overall motivation to eat. According to research, ongoing emotional or physical stress causes cravings for foods high in sugar and fat. High cortisol and insulin levels, as well as higher levels of the hunger hormone known as ghrelin, seem linked to cravings.
Although getting enough sleep and reducing negative stress can be challenging, make them a priority in your overall weight management program.
You know your body best. A truly healthy weight is not something that can be found on a chart. Your body will naturally stay in a healthy weight range when you nourish it with healthy food, exercise regularly, and manage sleep and stress.
Never allow the weight you see on the scale to determine whether you will have a good day, or a bad one filled with feelings of failure and guilt. Your happiness, self-worth, and beliefs about your health should not be assessed in that way.
Resist the magnetic pull of the scale and start to measure your success on your own terms. Move towards a best weight philosophy that offers a kind, compassionate and realistic view of your efforts going forward.