When patients come to me for their initial visit, they have to fill out a form that gives me some background on their eating habits and goals. One of the questions on this sheet is about their goal weight, and most people have a number in mind that they write down without hesitation. I find that this number comes from a lot of different places for different people, and when people ask me “well, what should by goal be?” there are a lot of different ways to answer that question. Let’s look at some options:
Many people choose their goal weight based on a weight that will put them within a healthy BMI range. As I discussed here, BMI ranges are better indicators of population health rather than individual health. In fact, I hesitate to use this target for extremely overweight patients because it often means losing an enormous amount of weight that can be discouraging to look at on paper. Weight loss (like basically any other physical feat) is as mental as it is physical, and if a person starts out believing they won’t succeed, they won’t.
The 10% Rule
It’s been shown time and time again that weight loss of just 10% can improve disease risk, no matter the starting weight. Sometimes, a goal to hit this 10% mark is just the thing you need to get started. For a lot of people, this can mean their goal weight still lands them in the “obese” category of BMI, but with markedly improved health it’s definitely a win. After all, we’re looking for health, which is much more comprehensive than BMI.
A lot of my patients come in with a weight goal based on their high school weight, or their college weight, or what they weighed before kids. This can be a really good thing. Think back to a time when you were healthy and felt good about your body – how much did you weigh then? Is that a reasonable goal for you now? If the weight you’re thinking of was only attainable because you had 3 hours to go to the gym every day in between classes and now you have 3 kids and a full time job, it may need some adjusting. If it is reasonable, then having a goal based on a time you felt your best can be more meaningful than a goal based on some calculations.
We’ve all heard it before: “Muscle weighs more than fat” (thank you Heavyweights) and that is the dang truth. Your weight is a number that accounts for bone, muscle, fat, organs, and all the water in your body, without saying a bit about what that weight is made up of – and what it’s made up of makes a difference for your health! It’s possible for a person to be overweight but healthy because they have a lot of muscle and a little fat, and conversely it’s possible for a person to be a healthy weight and have more body fat than is healthy. The more fat you store, the greater risk of developing issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes even if you’re a healthy weight. Also, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn and the less strict you need to be with your intake. I’m all about eating healthfully (obviously) but dangit I like to eat and if I had to stick to a very low calorie diet things would get dangerous – so shooting for more muscle is a great thing!
How do you know what your body composition is? There are a lot of ways to figure this out, including skinfold measurements, bioelectrical impedence machines/scales, and other very expensive methods like underwater weighing or the BOD POD! My recommendation – see if your gym offers a body comp assessment for free or low cost (they probably do). Making a goal to get your body fat percentage in a good range and build muscle regardless of how this affects your weight is a great plan. If you have a lot of extra fat to lose, you’ll lose weight on this journey. If you’re a little stringbean with a little too much fat, you may gain weight as your muscle mass increases. Don’t worry about it. (see below)
The “Go until you get there” method
In the end, we’re really shooting for health. You may just know that you want to lose weight without a clear goal in mind, and that’s totally fine. Start out on the journey, see how your other numbers improve, and keep going until you find yourself feeling strong and have healthy numbers. Maybe you get to a weight 10 pounds higher than what you had tentatively thought at the outset, and it feels awesome. Maybe you reach a goal you had considered as an ending point and feel that you’ve actually got a little more work to do. Perhaps your cholesterol and blood glucose come into range with just a little bit of weight loss and a change in your eating patterns. These are all valuable things to consider.
So, what should your goal weight be? Well, it should be something that motivates you and something that will help you to attain health. Within those parameters, you’re the boss!