Expert advice on how to determine your goal weight.
Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes—and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
QUESTION: I’m curious: How did you decide what your goal weight was? Did you choose a weight within your BMI (body mass index)? A weight you felt good at? Or looked good at?–Hanna
DEAR HANNA: Great question. I didn’t decide; my body did. When I started the journey that would lead to my losing 70 pounds and keeping it off for 20 years now, I focused on adopting healthy behaviors—not on the scale; not on a number. At first, I concentrated on exercise, on building a habit of working out, something that was foreign to me until that point. Exercise (Jazzercise at first, then running) was so powerful for me—it really helped change the way I saw myself. I started to believe that I could quit being a victim of my appetite, as I saw myself doing things I never thought I could do, like running a mile around a track, cavorting around in sync with my fellow Jazzercisers. I didn’t even weigh myself for the first year or so that I was losing—I measured my progress by the way my clothes fit and, yes, by the way I felt about myself.
It wasn’t until I went on Weight Watchers about a year into my journey that I even thought about numbers. I was assigned a goal range (the high end somewhere in the 150s, the low end in the high 110s). The weekly weigh-ins became a game for me, to see how much I’d lost that week. I both feared and looked forward to them. I ended up at around 117 pounds (a fairly reasonable weight for someone who’s 5’4”). I truly think this weight is where my body wants to be. Now, 20 years later, I’m no longer in diet mode: I can eat carbs and chocolate, drink wine, not count every calorie. I am happy with the way I eat and I don’t feel deprived in the least. My weight has remained pretty much the same all these years, except when I was pregnant and gained nearly 50 pounds. The fact that I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight a year after having my son—despite the fact that I had him when I was 40, an age where your metabolism naturally slows—says to me that this is my body’s comfort zone now. I am not a maniac about working out—I am consistent, but not obsessed. All in all, I feel good, I don’t sacrifice pleasure to stay at this weight and I don’t look so bad for my age, either. And that says to me I’m where I need to be, weight wise.
Too often, we pick a number out of the sky—maybe it’s where we think we will be more comfortable with our bodies (and in our clothes), or it’s the weight we used to be years ago. But the fact is that we have very little control over the scale. What we do have control over are the behaviors that WILL make us healthier, no matter what number we end up at: Regular, heart-pumping exercise and strength training; a diet rich in colorful veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean meats; fulfilling relationships and work; activities that bring us joy and reduce stress. Instead of focusing on a number, we need to shift our attention to these behaviors—quantify them, monitor them, measure our progress by them. Our bodies will do what they will do—they will find the place where healthy meets happy. What better goal is that?