THE BLOG
05/26/2014 12:34 EDT | Updated 07/26/2014 05:59 EDT

It's Time to Kill the "Ideal Body Weight"

My opinion even about weighing clients on a regular basis may not be popular with some people, but truth be told, I don't like doing it. Indiscriminately doling out ideal body weights based on random charts and logarithms can be a loaded situation because it sets the client and me up for failure.

I get asked about ideal body weight a lot, and the conversation usually goes something like this:

Client: What do you think I should weigh? What's my ideal weight?

Me: I don't know. I really don't.

Client(looking surprised): Aren't you supposed to know? Isn't there a chart?

Me: The charts were invented in 1943 and last revised in 1983 and they've never been intended for weight loss.

Client: But my doctor told me that my ideal weight is 120 pounds and I'm 60 now and I haven't weighed 120 since I was 23.

Me: Get a new doctor.

I jest (at least about the new doctor comment), but the concept of ideal body weight is thankfully getting some press lately because finally, people are realizing that it's an entirely faulty measure (along with BMI, but that's another story).

The "desirable weight" charts that were first developed by Met Life Insurance to determine mortality risk are old now -- and though people are bigger now for various reasons than they were in 1943 and 1983, the charts have always been faulty for determining 'ideal body weight' in the context of weight loss, because they were not made for that purpose.

However, some people still use them and other means to determine ideal body weight, and this sort of sucks. The whole concept of ideal body weight has been taken out of context for a long time and it's time to just get rid of the notion that your weight "should be" within some predetermined range just because somebody or some outdated insurance charts say so.

Indiscriminately doling out ideal body weights based on random charts and logarithms can be a loaded situation because it sets the client and me up for failure. What if the client never reaches that number? What if their metabolic rate or lifestyle or culture or bone structure or musculature (should I go on?) makes this number unattainable? Then everyone is unhappy and the client may fixate on this arbitrary number that's probably not even realistic. I also bristle when clients come to me with a weight goal number that they think they should weigh.

Weight goals may sound good, but I think that in the end, they're sometimes in the same soul-crushing category as ideal body weight. Nice to think about, possibly never happening, unless the person is realistic, and even then, it often is a real struggle for them. Not because they're not doing the work, but because their body isn't made to be x lbs, and that's that. In my practice, I avoid weight goals because professionally, ethically, I want to bring peace, not consternation, to my clients. I'm still tough but fair with people, but no one is coming to me to chase their tail and cause themselves more anxiety.

My opinion even about weighing clients on a regular basis may not be popular with some people, but truth be told, I don't like doing it. I usually don't weigh anyone under 18, and I tell my adult clients that my office is not Weight Watchers. I don't force clients to weigh in as if achieving that golden number is going to be the zenith of your weight career and it's too bad for you if you failed to make your number this week.

Instead of focusing on a number, I would much rather concentrate on educating people on how to make the best food choices and how good nutrition can promote wellness, physically and emotionally. If people eat well and are active, they will probably achieve the weight that nature intended them to be. Fighting that weight is what a lot of people do, and most of the time, that fight is futile and exasperating. It's unfortunate that multiple forces such as the media, our culture, our parents, whatever -- give us the idea that there is only one 'ideal' weight, and that is slender. I'm not arguing that overweight is always healthy, but people are all shapes and sizes, so why can't we honour that a bit better? Call me crazy, but I think even the word 'ideal' has negative connotations when used in a weight context. Ideal for whom? Ideal to whom? Ideal for what?

If you still want to know what your optimal -- a word I like better because it seems a bit more positive than 'ideal' -- weight is, then try to remember a weight that you were at during your adult life (not when you were 13, OK?) and that you could maintain for over a year without killing yourself by diet and/or exercise. Got it? That's probably around your 'optimal' weight. Optimal because you don't have to completely disrupt your life to achieve it, and because you can maintain it and still be a happy, functioning member of society with a social life and friends who don't hate you for never splitting an ice cream sundae with them.

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