I while ago I wrote about finding my own happy weight, but since then I’ve had lots of questions from blog readers and clients all about how they can find their own happy weight, also sometimes called ‘set point’. I think there is a lot of anxiety whether you are approaching this from an overweight perspective or an under weight perspective, I know I was always second guessing myself and wondering how much weight was healthy to gain back after my restrictive period.
This is just my two cents if you will, but here is my take on finding your happy weight.
First of all, I have this guiding principle:
Eat healthy whole foods in a balance that is right for your body + some treats + eating to natural levels of fullness = YOUR HEALTHY WEIGHT.
It’s pretty much that simple. Where it can get a little more complex is that ‘balance that is right for your body’ bit. If your body isn’t well suited to a lot of carbs and you are eating 5 portions of fruit a day, although they are a whole food, that might impact on your weight. Ditto if you eat too low carb. This is where I believe we need to be our own body detectives – and why I love the Super Conscious Living Programme so much because it helps us do just that.
Another important part of that equation is ‘eating to natural fullness levels’. You can eat all the healthy foods you want, but if you are eating more than your body requires as indicated by your fullness / hunger levels that will also impact on your weight.
Exercise also plays a role in the equation. For most people additional exercise will increase appetite and the equation will still work, but for some people excessive exercise can suppress appetite and rev up metabolism.
So yes, a simple equation, but with some complex considerations. Surrounding that, I feel there are other factors to think about:
- What size have you been the rest of your life? I was always a little bigger than average, even as a child. This makes me inclined to feel my happy weight is therefore on the bigger side of normal now too.
- What size / body shape are the women in your immediate family? Genes can come down in different ways, but if all the women in your family are quite slender (and you have always been slender) then that could indicate your happy weight is on the more slender side.
- At what weight does your body function at it’s best physically? I’m mainly talking hormones here, these can be a huge factor in identifying your bodies healthiest happiest weight. If you have regular periods (not on the pill), no major symptoms of PMS, then bingo, you are probably within a healthy weight range for you. If your cycle is irregular or if you aren’t having periods, that’s a huge big flashing red light something isn’t right. Yes this can link to stress, but often that stress factor links back into stress placed on the body from being under / over your happy weight. Energy levels can also be a good indicator – although if you are recovering from an ED you may actually feel more tired as you approach your healthy weight due to the metabolic repair that is going on.
- Your relationship with food – be honest with yourself, if you feel your relationship with food could be improved it might be that your body is not currently your happy weight. Remember that to a certain extent, our bodies are a reflection of our relationship with food and exercise.
- Where do you ‘stick’? I find that a lot of us seem to ‘stick’ at a certain weight. I know that I keep returning to a certain weight bracket and that to me is a big sign that I have reached my happy weight. If you have been losing weight, you might find that you hit that infamous plateaux. If that is within 10lbs of your goal weight, consider some of the points above and think about whether or not you have in fact reached your bodies natural set point.
I haven’t mentioned BMI because yet I don’t believe it’s the best system for judging your health on. It is useful in a wider sense, but if you find yourself just over a healthy BMI when you’ve always been bigger then you might be perfectly healthy just where you are. That can work at the other end, but I would be far more cautious at the underweight end than the overweight end as lots of research has shown that being underweight for your body is just as damaging to your health as being very overweight or obese.
I can’t find the exact post but there was something brilliant on Your Eatopia, a great site for any one that has suffered / is suffering from an ED (edited to add: a couple of people in the comments have questioned the validity of the information on that site, personally the articles I have read have looked sound, but as with everything make up your own mind!) , about how the body gets stressed when you diet down to a weight that is under your set point, even if you are within a healthy BMI (I can personally vouch for this one). I know that I have talked about gaining weight beyond what I feel is healthy for me, but since I wrote that post, my body has almost bounced back to that happy weight bracket I mentioned anyway!
Different times in your life will also have an impact on your healthy weight. As we get older, many of us will naturally get bigger as our metabolism slows down. If you are trying for a baby there’s some findings that show that being on your own high end of healthy (not overweight, but on the higher end of your healthy bracket) could be best for fertility.
Acceptance is not a negative word
With all of this, part of it comes down to acceptance. I kind of hate that word because it comes across as being rather negative, as if you are ‘making do’. I don’t see it in that way, if anything it is about embracing your true healthy body away from the media bullshit. A slender body, and sometimes now a curvy or muscular body, is held up as the ideal of beauty and if you naturally have that kind of body then good for you. If you don’t, accepting your natural healthy weight can be a bitter pill to swallow and this is where you are faced with a choice. You can work hard to push your body past what is truly healthy for it, or you can learn to love what you have (which by the way is fucking awesome!) If you decide that your naturally healthy body isn’t good enough for you right now, that is your choice, but at least be aware of the impact of dieting or exercising it down to a small size will have on your over all health.
Do you feel that you are currently at your own happy weight / set point? If you feel you are, what things indicate to you that you are hitting that sweet spot?