Before I start, I want to make something clear: Your ideal body weight does not translate into being skinny or getting back to the size you were in high school. Instead, it's about being healthy and minimizing any risks for health problems—especially if you are genetically predisposed, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, and so forth.
Next, it's important to know that you can be healthy at any age and any size, but ultimately, figuring out your ideal body weight involves doing some body measurements, assessing how you feel in your body both mentally and physically, and taking into account any health risks you may have. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that to assess your weight with regard to health risk, so it's important to get an estimate of your body fat, the circumference of your waist, and what your risk factors may be for disease. Here's how to do it:
1. Calculate your body mass index (BMI).
The BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight and is a value that gives a relative risk for health problems when it deviates from the normal range. These health problems include obesity-related issues like high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol, to name a few. The BMI categories include:
Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight = 25 to 29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
If you want to calculate your BMI, you can use this tool offered by the NIH. One problem with this measurement is that it cannot differentiate between fat weight and lean muscle tissue. For instance, I've been doing CrossFit for four years now and my muscle mass has increased greatly, which causes my weight to be higher, raising my BMI—even though I have very little body fat.
Another problem with the BMI is it doesn’t account for where you store your fat, in the waist or the hips. Holding more weight in your waist has higher health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, and other metabolic conditions. For this reason, the BMI calculation is not an absolute determinant of your ideal body weight, and other measures are necessary to get a better picture, like calculating your waist-to-hip ratio.
2. Figure out your waist-to-hip ratio (WTHR).
As I just mentioned, having more fat in your belly—versus holding your fat on your hips—puts you at risk for health problems. Waist-to-hip ratio is a good way to determine how much weight you're storing in your abdomen and it's pretty simple to measure: Simply get a tape measure and wrap it around your waist just above your hip bones after you have let out your breath and then measure the circumference of your hips. You can use those numbers to determine how you compare to the ratio standards for men and women.
3. Assess your health risks.
If you have no family history of disease and you are not at risk yourself—meaning you don't smoke, your stress levels are under control, and you eat a healthy diet—you may be at your happy weight despite your BMI or WTHR. However, if you have a two or more of the following risk factors, weight loss and being at an ideal BMI and WTHR are more important for you:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol)
- Low HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol)
- High triglycerides
- High blood glucose (sugar)
- Family history of premature heart disease
- Physical inactivity
- Cigarette smoking
4. Tap into your "feel-good" indicators.
At the end of the day, you have to feel good in your body. You want to feel confident with yourself and have all the energy you need to enjoy your life fully. It’s important, therefore, to tune in to how you feel rather than what the scale says. If you feel bloated and your clothes are tight, you will feel bad about yourself and this is not ideal. If you feel fatigued and lack energy or the ability to feel happy, then you're not leading a healthy life and you're not at your happiest weight.
Your outward body reflects what's going on inside, and how you act or behave with regard to self-care is everything. When you take care of your body in the following ways, your hormones will be balanced—meaning your cortisol won't cause you to gain weight—and the hormones that regulate your appetite—like leptin and ghrelin—will be stable.
- You get enough sleep so that you feel rested and energized in the morning—without caffeine.
- You are physically active at least four times a week.
- You have few food cravings so that you eat when you're hungry and are appropriately satiated.
- You can stay mentally alert and physically energized throughout the day.
- You feel good in your clothes.
If you're craving more info on finding your happy weight, check out "12 Habits Of People Who Reach & Maintain Their Ideal Weight" and "6 Things You Can't Learn From Your Bathroom Scale."
Dr. Eva Selhub is an expert in the fields of stress, resilience and mind-body medicine. She studied medicine at Boston University and is board certified in Internal Medicine. She has been a lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School, a clinical associate at Massachusetts General Hospital, and was medical director and senior physician at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She now runs a private practice as a comprehensive medical specialist and transformation consultant and is the author of Your Health Destiny: How to Unlock Your Natural Ability to Overcome Illness, Feel Better, and Live Longer.