How To Find Your Ideal Body Weight

Most people put on some pounds as they get older. Heredity, hormones, metabolism, declining muscle mass, and a more sedentary lifestyle are a few of the factors that lead us to gain weight over the years and then struggle to take it off. But how much weight gain is too much?

The first step to finding your ideal body weight is simply to manage your expectations. Don’t get discouraged that you can't fit into your old high school jeans, for example. It’s just not realistic to judge your body by the standards you set for it as a teenager!

Next, try to understand why you gained weight in the first place. Poor eating habits and insufficient exercise are common culprits. But other factors come into play:

  • Heredity. Genetics may help explain your weight gain. If your parents and siblings tend to gain abdominal weight, for example, then you may struggle with stubborn abdominal fat, too.
  • Pregnancy. Many women find it difficult to return to their pre-baby weight and may become discouraged by their newfound belly fat, which can be difficult to exercise and diet away.
  • Hormones. Women tend to add body fat in the years leading up to menopause, gaining about 1 pound a year. And they may continue to gain weight during menopause, possibly because of declining estrogen levels. Menopause-related weight gain isn't inevitable, but it does require extra effort to avoid. After menopause, most women can maintain their weight on 1,500 to 1,600 calories a day, according to the Mayo Clinic. For men, a gradual decline in testosterone levels contributes to more body fat and less lean muscle mass. And for both sexes, aging brings a decreased metabolic rate; you simply don't burn calories as efficiently as you once did, so it takes more physical activity to get similar results.

But although you may never slide into those old, faded Levi’s again, you can aspire to a size that’s healthy for you right now. And by healthy, we mean a weight that's not only attainable, but also maintainable through healthy eating habits and plenty of physical activity.

A healthy weight will be different for everybody, of course. And some of us may have already achieved that goal without realizing it.

"If you're happy with the way your clothes fit, and you're healthy and able to do the things you like to do—whether it's exercising or chasing kids—then you've probably found the weight that's right for you," says Robin Bowman, RD, bariatric program dietitian for Summa Health System's Advanced Bariatric Care and Weight Loss Management program, in Akron, Ohio.

One obstacle to finding and staying at your ideal weight is a trap known as "false-hope syndrome," when you set yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations, says Bowman. You may set unattainable goals by wanting to lose too much weight too quickly. Sometimes, failing to achieve those goals may send dieters into a cycle of weight gain and loss.

A better approach to finding that “magic number”? Think about your lowest and highest adult weights. Unless you've always struggled with being overweight, your healthy weight is likely to be the one in the middle of these, and the one you can maintain over a long period of time.

For those who have struggled with a weight problem, you probably need the help of your doctor or registered dietitian to help you determine where your weight should be.

Reaching a weight that's healthy for you may mean increasing your physical activity, adding resistance training to build lean muscle mass, and consuming fewer calories or less fat. If you've never been active or if it has been a long time, check with your doctor to be sure what's right for you.

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  • If You've Never Met A Cookie You Didn't Like

    Instead of grabbing the nearest giant office cookie at roughly 300 calories, bake a batch of your own, like these <a href="" target="_hplink">Healthified Fudgy Almond Cookies</a> for a more reasonable 70 calories per serving.

  • When You Can't Escape The B-Day Cake

    BYO treat, be it a low-cal snack mix, sliced fruits, flavored ice pops or a nonfat frozen yogurt cup. Better yet, volunteer to bring the celebratory dessert for the whole party, and opt to make these easy and festive <a href="" target="_hplink">Yogurt Cupcake Bites</a> topped with strawberries (pictured) for 50 calories per serving.

  • When You're Screaming For Ice Cream

    Save calories and fat by drinking a fruit and yogurt smoothie instead. This <a href="" target="_hplink">Healthified Tropical Papaya Smoothie</a> is creamy goodness and contains 0g of fat!

  • To Stave Off The Dreaded Bread

    Instead of the scone with your name on it at the nearest coffee shop, make these DIY <a href="" target="_hplink">Oatmeal-Blueberry Muffins</a> (pictured). Freeze them and bring one to work each day. You'll save around 200 calories, easily, and reap all the yummy benefits of oatmeal.

  • If You're Easily Persuaded By Pie

    It's okay on occasion, but if you're cutting back, go for the berries instead. Fresh, naked berries with nothing but their own sweet and tart flavor can save you hundreds of calories. Top them with a scoop of light whipped cream, and you've got a sweet, satisfying and guilt-free dessert.

  • When You Know You Should Put The Squeeze On Cheesecake

    This one is tough to fight, but consider this: Eat just a couple bites instead of a whole piece, which can set you back 300 to 500 calories. Or, simply swap in a cup of light cheesecake-flavored yogurt (yes, <a href="" target="_hplink">it exists!</a>).

  • If You Love To Savor The Crunch

    When it comes to chips, it's all about the crunch! Skip the full-fat chips, though, and swap in one or more of these satisfying crunchy snacks: • Pretzel chips (0g fat) • Pistachios (0g fat) • Whole-grain tortilla chips (1.5g fat) • Whole-grain lowfat microwave popcorn (2.5g fat) • Baked whole wheat Pita chips (4g fat)

  • When You Want A Bagel

    Skip stopping at the nearest bagel shop, and try low-calorie bagel thins with a light spread of nut butter, which gives you extra protein to tide you over to the next meal. Or, limit yourself to a mini-bagel.

  • If You're Taken With Bacon

    The latest craze, bacon is in everything from appetizers to pizza to fudge these days. Guess what? Here's one you can have, just in smaller amounts. You'll flip over any of these delicious bacon recipe choices: <a href="" target="_hplink">Healthified Bacon And Edamame Wraps</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">Healthified Grilled Bacon And Tomato Pizza Wedges</a> or <a href="" target="_hplink">Healthified Cheese And Bacon-Stuffed Mushrooms</a> (pictured).

  • When You Start To Think Twice About Juice

    One cup of juice can amount to between 100 and 150 calories. However, water with a squirt and a twist of natural orange, lemon or lime juice and zest will save those 100 calories for something else.

  • If You Need A Defense Against Chocolate

    Forget the high-calorie, high-fat candy bar from the nearest machine, (candy bars typically range from 180 calories and 8g fat to 280 calories and 14g fat), and try a chocolate-flavored fiber or cereal bar instead. They're often equally delicious, while keeping your energy up and hunger down.

  • When You Want To Take The Fry Out Of French Fries

    Try oven-frying, or baking at a high temperature with a small amount of oil. For a total of 130 calories and 270 percent daily value of vitamin A, these <a href="" target="_hplink">Asian-Style Oven-Fried Sweet Potatoes</a> pack great Asian flavor and crunch.

  • If You're Prone To Say "Yes" To Carrot Cake

    Just eat the fresh carrots dipped in fat-free Ranch dressing instead of tossing them into a cake. Think of the calories and fat you'll save, the vitamin A you'll get, not to mention the time spent shopping, shredding, baking, and frosting.

  • If You're Addicted To Soda And Iced Tea

    Kick that 100-140 calorie soda or the iced tea with sugar to the curb, and stir up your own drink, like this <a href="" target="_hplink">Sparkling Raspberry Tea</a> at 40 calories per serving.

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