I’m not a fan of striving for the perfect number on the scale to weigh. For one thing, most people’s weight naturally fluctuates on both a short and long term basis for very healthy reasons, such as proximity to meals eaten, hormonal variations, or types of recent activity. Struggling to stay set on a certain number on the scale is unrealistic. For another thing, too many people choose a magic number that they may have weighed (or thought they should have weighed) in high school, when there was probably still growth going on. There is a certain leanness in the growing stages of life that is not normal in most mature bodies. There are good reasons not to regularly weigh yourself.
On top of this, there are certain weight numbers that are popular in our minds as epitomizing beauty. These often have to do with preconceptions about what people think they are seeing in others, how people are described in stories, and the visual illusions of photography. There are also charts about what is considered normal, that seem to have been made by insurance companies. I know that most people guess my weight to be about 20 pounds lighter than I actually am. Most people I know complain about me being slim, yet I always show up on one of those charts as “heavy” for my slightly taller than average height.
Even at my most svelte, I will never come close to being the 100 -120 pounds that is commonly spoken of when weight numbers are thrown around in descriptions of heroic beauty and feminine qualities. My healthiest weight range is the one mentioned when authors, whether interviewing models or writing fictional stories, speak of as matronly and thick. Yet, when I have had body fat measured, I score in the very middle of the healthy active range for women. So, I have learned not to trust published optimum weight numbers. I think you should be suspicious, too.
Still, even without fixating on an exact number on the bathroom scale, there are times when many of us want to lose weight. Sometimes we just know it would be better if we trimmed down a bit. We want to feel better, be able to move better, and be more satisfied with what we see in the mirror. There are ways to do this with a balanced perspective, but the next question always is: What is the best way to lose weight? Here are my four answers to that –
1. The way that works for you is the best way to lose weight. The bottom line is that losing weight is an energy equation. You have to consume less energy than you burn so that your body is triggered to tap into its reserves. For you to really lose weight, that is, move to a new range of normal, you need to be able to maintain an approach that lets you do this. You have to be able to follow through with a certain plan that works for YOU. For example, you could do one or any combination of the following:
- Keep a journal of what you eat. There is nothing quite like seeing it all listed on paper.
- Count calories
- Have a coach/program to check in with for motivation and direction
- Have regular weigh-ins by yourself
- Make a chart of progress, whether it be what the scale says or clothing sizes.
- Control portion sizes
- Decline second helpings
- Use a smaller plate
- Eliminate or drastically reduce intake of problem foods, especially that are unnecessary for nutrition
- Do all your cooking from scratch
- Increase your activity habits
- Recognize triggers and/or weaknesses that predispose you to eating, such as being bored or tired
- Develop new habits to replace excessive snacking
- Develop new interests to replace enjoyment that you found in eating certain things at certain times
- Set boundaries for what you will eat at what times of day.
- Only eat when you are actually hungry.
2. The way that leaves you feeling good is the best way to lose weight. Sure, cutting back on your intake has its challenges mentally and physically, but overall your body should feel good after the initial stress of adjusting. You shouldn’t constantly feel lethargic or depressed. Not every body is the same and not every day is the same. What you need to be eating depends on things like age, gender, activity type and levels, illness, injury, and stress levels. All of these things affect what the body is trying to do and repair. Give it what it needs. Learn what nutritional foods leave you feeling strong.
Also, don’t deprive yourself of taste. Good tasting food is a big part of feeling satisfied about a meal or snack. For instance, unless you have special, well verified dietary needs, allow yourself enough fat and salt. These are very important to good both taste and bodily function.
3. The way that you can afford is the best way to lose weight. There is nothing wrong with paying for services, books, or special food products (assuming they are nutritionally sound) that you find helpful, but losing weight doesn’t need to cost you anything. Even if you are buying higher quality food items for your home pantry and refrigerator, real food doesn’t need to cost more than processed food or eating out. If you are the exception to that, such as you have been surviving on top ramen, think of the purchase of healthy foods as an investment in good health that will probably result in lower health care costs in the future.
4. The way that will enhance long term success is the best way to lose weight. It is frustrating, demotivating, and unhealthy to regularly have large weight gains (aside from pregnancy, of course). You will want to chose a way to lose weight that helps you stay within your healthy range. There are things both during the weight loss effort and afterward that can impact this.
- Avoid starvation mode, as it will signal your body chemistry to hoard resources, which inhibits weight loss, distorts the energy burning process, and signals your body to try hard to gain weight at the first possible moment.
- If your chosen weight lose method is drastic, have a plan to transition to your new normal in a way that maintains it.
- Get better at problem solving weight fluctuations before a significant weight gain trend can take place.
- Learn new habits in eating and activity that you can maintain long term.
- Have plans of action for life’s setbacks. You will almost surely have to face things like illness, travel, stress, holidays, scheduling issues, weather complications, so have a mindset and energy plan ahead of time to avoid unnecessary weight gain.
- Have acceptable snacks on hand to minimize eating undesirable foods.
- Give yourself permission to turn down food in social situations.
- Make an agreement with yourself to take full responsibility for your eating habits.
- Learn to appreciate your body type, so that you allow yourself to be happy with results.
- Use negative situations or (hopefully minor) setbacks as positive motivators.
- Emphasize positive aspects of reaching your goals to put any lingering discouragement into perspective.
The best healthy or beautiful weight is not the same for everyone. It is in the eye of the beholder and varies across time and culture. The most important thing is to be honest about what it takes to be comfortable being you. Sometimes that means losing some weight, something I have done at least 7 times, having born 7 children. It takes some determination, but choosing the best way that works for you can make is less stressful and more rewarding.