Have you ever woken up perfectly cheerful, only to have your mood spoiled by finding that, all of a sudden, your clothes are fitting a bit tighter?
You desperately wonder if something could be wrong with the washing machine, before facing up to the cruel truth – you should probably lose some weight.
But how much should you lose? How much should you weigh? How much fat does a healthy body contain?
One size doesn’t fit all (literally)
It’s not that simple to choose your goal weight. You might come up with a number that sounds good to you, but which isn’t realistic or healthy for your body type.
Yes, we lose weight to fit into our jeans again, but healthy weight loss should always be the goal. A healthy weight is just one factor that contributes to your overall health.
The right body weight is the weight at which you are healthiest mentally and physically. You should feel strong, energised and confident at this weight – most definitely not weak and hungry.
Being within a healthy weight range reduces your risk for many weight-related health problems such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and sleep apnoea.
Here’s where things get tricky: the weight at which you feel your absolute best might not be anywhere near the weight you think you should be. The media is largely to blame for this.
On a daily basis we are bombarded with bodies on social media, on television and in magazines.
These bodies are presented to us as ‘perfect’, and we start comparing ourselves to them, thinking that is how we are supposed to look. However, what we are seeing is not always real.
How the media influences body image
The celebrities on our screens are mostly a picture of perfection. We see them, and we want to look like that.
What we don’t see and often fail to grasp, is that the way these people look are completely unrealistic. They are doing a job – and that job is representing a fairytale of sorts.
Movies are not real, neither are the characters and the way they look. What we don’t see is all the work that goes into these people’s appearance. Ours and hours of makeup makes them appear flawless.
A multitude of little tricks changes their appearance. Film and photography can be edited. A lot of what is seen in fashion magazines are not real, people do not look like that.
With the birth of social media, this effect has spilled over to the rest of us as well.
Social media lets us drastically alter the way we look, and gradually our perception of how we are supposed to look becomes distorted.
Effects, filters, makeup, photoshop and plastic surgery all make us forget what a normal human looks like.
Filters can do almost anything – change your skin tone, make your nose smaller, even change your body shape. It allows you to ultimately create a false persona.
This causes teenagers to feel more confident on social media than in real life. Clearly, facing these challenges daily, choosing a healthy and realistic goal weight can become complicated.
|6 ways to overcome unrealistic body image standards|
It might not be easy, but work at learning to accept yourself. It’s completely normal that people come in all shapes and sizes.
Find the things that you like about yourself, and focus on them instead of criticising yourself.
Social media is very addictive, but force yourself to take breaks from it. Explore new hobbies and interests that will stimulate your brain – this will enrich your life in ways social media never can.
When you are on social media, seek out influencers who promote body positivity. Follow people who can help you see that the most beautiful bodies are healthy ones.
Read self-help books and online articles that talk about building self-esteem.
Stop judging other people based on their appearance. If everyone did this, there would be no need for anyone to feel inferior because of how they look.
Anyone can hide behind filters, but not everyone has your unique talents. There is more to you than just how you look, and it can be extremely satisfying to achieve based on your talents.
So how much should I weigh?
The weight at which you will be the healthiest is influenced by a variety of factors. Your height, gender, age, muscle-fat ratio, frame size and body fat distribution (body shape) should all be taken into account.
The amount of fat we are storing in our bodies should also be a consideration. Fat is classified as an organ, and is vital for good health. Too much or too little, however, is detrimental to your health.
BMI (Body mass index)
Calculating a person’s BMI is one of the most common ways to determine whether a person is at a healthy weight.
BMI is a useful tool and a reliable predictor of chronic disease and mortality risk. However, it should not be used alone to determine your health or body fat levels, as it has flaws.
BMI does not distinguish between body fat and muscle mass, and it doesn’t take fat distribution into account.
This could lead to someone with a high amount of muscle mass to be misclassified as overweight or obese even if they have a healthy amount of body fat.
Alternatively, a person who carries a lot of fat around their midsection is definitely at risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, but could have a ‘healthy’ BMI because of their height and total body weight.
The formula for calculating BMI is: weight (kg) / [height (m)]2. In plain English, that is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared.
If math isn’t your strong point, simply go here, enter your height and weight, and your BMI will be calculated for you.
This is the meaning of your result:
- Less than 16.5 – severely underweight
- 16.5-18.4 – underweight
- 18.5 – 24.9 – normal weight
- 25-29.9 – overweight
- 30-34.9 – obese class 1
- 35-39.9 – obese class 2
- 40 and higher – obese class 3
Other ways to calculate if your weight and fat percentage are healthy
You can calculate this by measuring your waist circumference with a measuring tape, and then dividing it by your hip circumference. The result tells you how much fat is stored in your waist, hips and bum.
The threshold for abdominal obesity is 0.80cm for women and 0.95cm for men.
You are substantially at risk of metabolic complications at higher than or equal to 0.85cm for women, and 0.90cm for men.
This method can give inaccurate results for people with muscular hips and people who are very short.
For this method, you take your waist measurement and divide it by your height. A result of around 0.5 qualifies as healthy.
Calculating your body fat percentage
Your body fat percentage is determined by dividing the weight of your fat by your total weight. This is an accurate way to find out if you are in a healthy range, but it is best done by a professional.
At home, you won’t be able to measure the weight of the fat in your body, therefore special tools are needed to do this calculation.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that for people aged 20 to 39, women should aim for 21% to 32% of body fat. Men should have 8% to 19%.
At 40 to 59, women should have 23% to 33% body fat, and men around 11% to 21%. If you’re aged 60 to 79, women should have 24% to 35% body fat and men should have 13% to 24%.
|Is being ‘big boned’ a real thing?|
|Technically yes, you can be big boned. People have different-sized frames, and some just are bigger than others. This does not, however, contribute to you being overweight. |
Most people carry weight in their soft tissue, which is muscle, fatty tissue and their organs. Therefore it doesn’t really make sense to blame extra weight on your bones.
About 15% of people have a larger than average frame, and another 15% have a smaller than average skeleton.
Want to find out if you are big- or small-boned? Grab a tape measure and check out the chart here.
The influence of height, age and gender on healthy weight
Being taller makes you bigger and heavier without it necessarily making you overweight. Two people of the same age and gender, who are both healthy will not weigh the same if they are not of equal length.
Growing older will change what is considered a healthy weight. As we age muscle tissue and muscle mass decreases, while body fat can go up.
Men and women and the way they store fat also differ vastly. Having higher levels of testosterone, men have more muscle mass and less fat mass. Men also carry weight differently than women.
Before menopause, women store fat in their lower bodies. Postmenopausal women tend to more more apple-shaped, as are men.
It does not matter how much your favourite celebrity weighs. It also does not matter how anyone else looks. Much of what we see online is, after all, a false representation of how normal people look.
All bodies are different, and being ‘in good shape’ looks different for each of us. And that is okay.