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?
This came exactly at the right time for me, when I am struggling to accept that my happy weight is higher than I would like it to be, but like you said, a number that I keep bouncing back to! Such a great post! Thank you! x
Thanks Tessa, glad it was useful for you!
Perfect timing! And gorgeously written :)..I’ve always been so worried about going over my set point – whatever my set point is for that matter, I don’t know yet – and I think I need to stop stressing before time and at least get to a healthy weight. I’m so glad you added in the part about “energy levels in recovery”. I’m doing quite well in gaining but I am freakin’ exhausted all the time!
I love ‘Your Eatopia’ but I’ve been forever skeptical about whether I should trust the information or not..there’s just so much confliction surrounding it.
Thanks MsJ! I was not aware of any issues with the info on Your Eatopia but have added something to my post as you and another person have mentioned this x
Thank you so much for this post! I am currently quite a bit heavier than I would like to be but am endeavouring to get down to a weight i am more happy with in a healthy way. I recently read an article on calculating your ‘perfect weight’ in a health mag and it worked out that if I went by their guidelines I would weigh the same as I did when I was a child! This seems a little ridiculous as I just know loosing 5 stone would not make me a healthy person! And health is key here!
Oh I hate those articles, they are so off the mark! Definitely focusing on health is the big one :-)
I tend to stay around the same weight most of the time. If I have a week of going out a lot for dinner and/or eating lots of cake or ice cream or whatever then I start to feel things aren’t as they were before. Usually my jeans feel a bit snugger. But if I go back to eating what I normally do then things go back to normal. I feel happy as I am at the moment and I think my body is happy too. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself to remain at a certain weight but I do eat healthily and exercise. I enjoy the food I eat and I enjoy my exercise.
I think it sounds like you have a great balance!
I tend to bounce between a certain bracket that I think is my set point. I tend to gain weight when training more (ie. right now marathon/ultra training) so I’m carrying a little more than I would like at the moment, but I’ve begun to trust that my body knows what it is doing, and in the long run everything balances out.
I definitely agree I think in the long run everything does balance out when you are eating well :-)
This is such a powerful post I’m sure so many of us can relate to! It’s only been in the last couple of years I feel I’ve found my happy weight – at least the one I stick to – and there are of course times this fluctuates, as do my opinions of it. But seeing how stress levels, sleeping habits, food and exercise affect it has made me realise that taking care of myself gets me to the happiest medium – and that’s what’s important. Our bodies are pretty amazing machines!
Thanks Cat, I agree on the taking care of yourself, I think that those factors can play a big part.
Really, I believe that a happy weight is just that: being at a weight at which you personally feel proud of and pleased with yourself. That will be different things for different people, but I think this part of your post really stuck out to me:
‘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’.
Well, that’s exactly how I feel about acceptance: I do view it as a negative word that has coercive properties, implying that we should/have to be happy with what we’ve got instead of trying to improve it. I would honestly rather hate my body and use that as motivation to keep on fighting it than accept the mediocre way it looks. Health can’t just be measured by biological functions – what about the stress and negative effect on your mental health when what you feel makes you deeply uncomfortable (I say feel rather than see because it’s not just about superficial things like body image and how ‘the media’ tells us to look. I never paid any attention to the media as a child – I was a total tomboy and never read a magazine in my life that wasn’t a comic, yet I still idolized very lean and athletic physiques)?
The ironic thing is that all signs point towards the idea that I should be thin, as well as my desire to be that way. All of the women on my Mum’s side of the family are petite and skinny – not just thin but very underweight by BMI standards. Fine, quite a few of them have/had eating disorders, but they were thin as children as well. I have a tiny frame. Literally,hands, feet, wrists and ankles are so small that I had to have physio all through my teens due to how weak my wrists and ankles were, and that was partially due to their size (plus hypermobility). On my Dad’s side, the women were kind of pear-shaped, but certainly not large or fat. They were average height and quite muscular if anything – probably mesomorphs by today’s standards…on both sides, all of the men are very tall and extremely skinny (my Dad’s weight issues only happened when he ended up with a stressful job and started bingeing every day, plus he quit smoking so that didn’t help matters).
I genuinely don’t think most of the information on youreatopia is necessarily credible…I think that site tells people what they want to believe to an extent, and gives reinforcement (almost an excuse) to alter eating habits you’re already not happy with. I agree with Ms J that I wouldn’t trust the info from there.
I’m never going to know what natural levels of fullness are. Similarly, if someone with restrictive tendencies only ate when they were hungry, they’d have the label of ‘anorexic’ slapped on them whether they were intentionally trying to lose weight or not. I genuinely don’t believe most of us do either – it’s so easy to go over calorie limits without even realising, and I don’t think it’s possible to simplify the concept of a ‘happy weight’ into an equation when there is so much confusion over what even constitutes a nutritious food these days.
My ‘happy weight’ has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with athleticism. I only differentiate the two because being able to run fast, being confident rather than ashamed etc. aren’t the same as the sterotypical ‘womanly’ idea of health, which I really don’t want anything to do with.
I guess it’s a case of agree to disagree – we all have different goals and priorities and I don’t think any one post can truly encapsulate the complexities at hand when discussing these issues.
Also (sorry, I could just write a book on this…not that any publisher would touch it :P), I just can’t accept that someone else gets to look thin, ripped, low body fat etc etc. while I’m not ‘allowed’ to just because I have to work harder than most to get anywhere near that way. It’s no-one’s right to disallow a particular physique or appearance because it’s not a particular society’s idea of how a woman ‘should’ look. No-one is naturally ripped, and very few are naturally skinny, but what is so wrong with aspiring to that appearance, to being the best possible version of yourself (if those physiques are your goal)? Imagine if we took that particular concept of ‘acceptance’ and applied it to other areas of life: you hate your job and it’s making you miserable, but you have to accept it because you come from a working class background and no-one in your family ever went to University…while middle class people around you have been given all of the opportunities. You could go back to school..but nah, you have to accept the lot you have been given in life. Doesn’t seem so fair in that context, does it?
I can’t accept that someone else gets to look gorgeous and I don’t. Well, I will never be gorgeous, but there are so many hideous things about myself that I can’t change (my height, my fivehead…) that I am damned if I’m going to have my weight be just another aspect of myself that I hate. No-one can tell me that it’s okay for so-and-so to be lean because it’s ‘natural,’ but oh dearie, that’s not for YOU…YOU have to accept looking fat and like sh*t all day long, because that’s the body God gave you. Nuts to other people having an easier time of it, getting all the respect and the fast race times because they don’t have a tonne of useless fat weighing them down. What about athletes? Female athletes certainly don’t have physiques that come naturally to women, but they are better, faster, stronger than any other women on the planet. Are they not healthy? They work hard for their bodies and there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of for wanting to do the same.
I promise I’ll shut up now, but I can’t get on board with a ‘happy’ weight being one that your body dictates for you, rather than the other way round.
Firstly I was genuinely not aware of any controversy surrounding Your Eatopia, do you have any sites you can point me to with info on that? Secondly you have highlighted something I didn’t consider which is athletes and their approach with of course would be completely in contrast to what I’ve written. I do completely respect your views, I just think that for me and a lot of others there’s a line where obsessing over being thin harms our quality of life, and that to be happy and healthy in a whole way, getting over that is good. Do you feel you would ever reach a point of feeling content with your body? Overall, completely respect where you are coming from, but do agree to disagree :-)
There are many articles debunking the ‘science’ behind Your Eatopia (plus a GOMI thread, but people just keep butting in with ‘success’ stories surrounding it, so it’s become a bit of a joke), but I think this is the most well-written and thoroughly researched one: http://anonymouslayabout.tumblr.com/post/69353146370/your-eatopias-giant-blog-post-about-set-point-debunked
Thanks for agreeing to disagree with me ;) I wasn’t attacking you personally – I just hold completely opposing views on the subject. I did get to a point where I was content with my body (to the point of being pretty narcissistic about it) when I was 18. I know I’ve mentioned it a lot before, but I was 84lbs and yes, I know that’s very low. Aesthetically, I absolutely loved how I looked and I was so confident in myself – my anxiety was reduced to non-existent levels and I actually felt human. I do know that was too low for me to physically function in terms of keeping up with any athletic endeavours though – I struggled through gym workouts, let alone running (I didn’t pick up running until many years later)…and that’s why I think my 2010 weight was spot on…I can hand-on-heart say that I had no health issues arising from it (if I use the same set of scales I did when I was 18, I was 7-10lbs heavier…when I blogged at the time I did mislead a little by using the weight given on my GP’s scales, which was almost a stone more than that and I assumed was correct. Who knows!), I ran the fastest I ever have and I was still small enough to feel comfortable, though not quite so freaking self-obsessed and prideful. So no, I wouldn’t ever be content with my body unless I got back down to my 2010 size and stayed there – looking back I can’t believe how much I took it for granted! I did berate myself a lot, but that’s only because I was so scared of losing control, going back to bingeing and ending up as the complete wreck I am now…I honestly never thought I’d get quite so big though :(
lovely post. I totally agree about finding your own “set point”. Something I struggle with is having always been on the overweight side of the coin for as long as I can remember, I would get the “fear of the unknown” when losing weight. I’m learning now to embrace and channel the nervous fear into excitement, but its taken time and hard work to get to that point! I still fill my “healthy bMI RANGE” is unfathomable! but i am enjoying losing weight and seeing where it takes me. i imagine that i will be within a 10lb ballmark of my “goal” weight which i Imagine will be a curvy size 12 I prefer to have a curvy strong body then a slender frail frame – I’m trying to focus less on numbers and more on what I see in the mirror/how I feel within my own body. lol watch this space!
Thanks Chrissy, I think your approach is excellent, numbers are only numbers after all, they can’t tell you how to feel when you look in the mirror :-)
Great post, I think so many of us are stuck on a set number rather than really thinking about what our happy weight is. Your comments on enjoying food and having a healthy relationship with food are spot on – its miserable maintaining a weight that’s too low for your body if you can’t enjoy the occasional treat. x
Absolutely, I lived for so long without treats, I’m glad I’m at a place where I can enjoy them!
I think you are right to compare with people in your family and not friends as body shapes are genetic.
I have a post half written about this at the moment- it is going to take me ages as it is such a complex issue, but I do feel at the moment that I am managing to maintain a sensible and healthy weight without obsessing over calories which can only be a good thing.
Really looking forward to reading that post Maria :-)
I think the biggest indicator of being at my set point is that I don’t have to spend too much time fussing about food or exercise because I just seem to stay within the same range no matter what. Could I be leaner? Sure… but it’s just not worth the extra effort. I like being able to have treats when I want them and being able to enjoy lazy days without feeling bad for it. I’ve always found that the more I tried to control my body, the more out of whack it became. But easing up on all that and really doing my best to listen to what my body was trying to tell me worked wonders in helping me find that sweet spot.
I think that effort part of it is interesting, I think each of us need to weight up if that effort is worth it, I think in the past for me at times it was, but now I’m healthy, it’s really not, I’d rather be enjoying life more!
Wonderful post Laura,
I think you are spot on with your point that our “happy weight” tends to be the one we have naturally found ourselves around. I know I fuss about losing those everlasting “last five pounds” but I agree with the concept of “acceptance”. Sure I have been 5 pounds lighter, looked a bit slimmer but was it worth it? Nope, not to me. I guess it comes down to how much obsessing one wants to dedicate their life to. I know personally the amount of calorie watching, extra exercising and lack of here and there indulgences that those last few pounds require are not worth it to me. I prefer to be a bit more relaxed around my healthy eating as I know I can go too far down the rabbit hole of restriction as well. Thanks for the reminder :) xx
Thanks Elise! I am with you on the ‘is it worth it’ thing, I just think there are other things in life more important as long as you are healthy anyway!
What a fantastic, informative and great read Laura. My happy weight has definitely increased over the past few years, though I should probably sit down and do an assessment using your points! I used to stress over weight and BMI a lot, I’ve since learned that it is more about how I feel inside – rather than look outside – that matters.
Thanks Claire, I agree on BMI, so much more to being healthy and happy than that!
Wow, love your article! So much information, a plethora of ideas, tips, and guidance on losing weight and not feeling guilty because you blow it once in a while! I like what you said about “Acceptance is not a negative word”, I love it. The media so pushes the super model appearance! I have come to realize that your ideal weight is first what you are comfortable with and then what is realistic. Also BMI has become the “holy grail” of so many weight loss programs. It’s a useful guidance I suppose but it’s not the all in all in regards to where you are. Thanks for a really great post!
For me, I reach my happy weight when I feel good about myself, for being who I am without any apologies or regrets over what I didn’t do. It’s all about having peace of mind. I personally find that body awareness meditation helps a lot. Walking meditation done in style of Thich Nhat Hanh has helped tremendously. Breathing meditation too. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone and do a 15 minute session everyday…. it helps greatly when nagging thoughts like “i’m not good enough” come up because I can recognize and gently shoo them away. :)