Weight is tricky.
For starters, it's about more than just numbers on the scale. It's also about how your clothes fit and how you feel about your body.
Then there's how your weight affects your overall health and the long-term ramifications of carrying excess weight.
"It's important to know whether your weight falls in a healthy range since having a high amount of body fat can increase a person's risk of developing many chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease," says Dr. Zuleikha Tyebjee, primary care physician at Houston Methodist.
But this begs the question: What should I weigh?
Well, that's tricky, too.
"In terms of a goal weight, it's very individualized and there's no single best number that applies to everyone," Dr. Tyebjee adds. "This is why it's important to work with your doctor to understand what's healthy for you specifically."
What's my ideal weight range?
The "best weight" differs for every person because many factors, including height, sex, age and fitness level, influence what a healthy weight looks like for you. This is why most weight management programs assess weight based on a person's body mass index (BMI) and waist size, not just what the scale shows.
"BMI is a measurement of your height-to-weight ratio, and it can help determine whether you're at a normal weight, overweight or obese for your height," explains Dr. Tyebjee. "A normal BMI is about 25 or lower. Having a BMI above that may be a sign that you're overweight."
A BMI height and weight chart can also help you determine the target weight range that may be best for you. For instance, a normal weight for someone who is 5'7" falls between 121 and 153 lbs.
"BMI is just one way of identifying a potential weight problem, though," says Dr. Tyebjee. "It's not a perfect measurement, and your BMI alone cannot determine whether you're at a healthy or unhealthy weight."
That's because your BMI doesn't just account for fat, it also includes your muscle and bone mass.
"This is why someone who is highly muscular or has a large body frame might have a skewed BMI," adds Tyebjee. "It could be higher than what's normal even though they're technically at a healthy weight."
Additionally, a high BMI doesn't provide any information about where exactly extra fat may be distributed in your body, an important distinction, Dr. Tyebjee says, because when it comes to weight, we're most worried about excess fat — and excess belly fat, specifically, at that.
"Having excess fat around the waistline suggests a higher level of visceral fat, which is fat that sits deep in the abdominal cavity and wraps around the vital internal organs there," warns Dr. Tyebjee. "Having an excess of any type of fat is bad. But having excess visceral fat is of particular concern because it's associated with increased levels of inflammation and multiple health risks."
This is why weight management programs consider your BMI in combination with your waist circumference.
Waist circumference is considered high if larger than:
- 35 inches for women
- 40 inches for men
"Ultimately, when it comes to what a healthy weight looks like for you, it's not just about what you weigh," says Dr. Tyebjee. "Your BMI and waist circumference can help put the numbers on the scale into context, and your doctor can help you use these numbers to better assess your health."
Why you should talk to your doctor if you're worried about your weight
Even if you've determined that your BMI and waistline measurements are high, you may be unsure what an ideal weight-loss plan looks like for you.
"When dealing with weight loss, it's the change in your BMI and waist circumference that matter most," says Dr. Tyebjee. "A decrease of a few BMI points and/or a few inches off your waistline can greatly decrease your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions."
But these measurements aren't perfect. Plus, what's "ideal" for you right now can vary based on where you are in your weight maintenance or weight loss journey.
"This is why talking to your doctor about how to lose weight is so important," says Dr Tyebjee. "Your doctor can help you understand what your specific goals should look like as you begin to improve your health by losing weight."
Your doctor can also help you realistically measure your progress.
For instance, if part of your weight loss plan is to build muscle so you can burn more calories while at rest, you may not see dramatic changes on the scale because as you're losing fat, you're adding muscle. Instead, you may notice the loss of fat in your shrinking waistline.
"The most important parts of a weight-loss program are effectivity and sustainability," says Dr. Tyebjee. "Not only can you doctor recommend strategies for losing weight and sticking with the healthy behaviors that help you maintain a normal weight, he or she can also help you understand what healthy success looks like so you can continue making progress toward losing fat and bettering your health."