What’s A Number On A Scale: The Difference Between Health and Weight

Calories in…calories out. It’s the simple rule used by so many for calculating weight loss. And I admit, I teach my clients how to use the math to their advantage as well.

One will find it hard to lose weight if they’re consuming more calories than they’re burning during the course of the day or week. But is it really that simple? Can you reach a sustainable, healthy weight by just cutting calories from your normal routine for a couple months?

To answer that question, we need to consider a few other questions first.

Are my goals realistic?

Here, we need to look at how much weight you want to lose and how fast. When determining your overall weight goal, consider the following:

Exercise woman

1. Ideal Body Weight
This is the calculation used to estimate a healthy weight range for adults based on gender and height. Keep in mind, this does not take lean body mass (i.e. muscle) into account and is only one factor to consider when setting your personal weight goals. There are plenty of healthy individuals who don’t fall within these ranges.

Men: 106 lbs. for the first 5 ft + 6 lb. for every inch after (± 10%)
Women: 100 lbs. for the first 5 ft + 5 lb. for every inch after (± 10%)

Woman measuring tape

2. Genetics
That plus or minus 10 percent listed above is meant to allow for a difference in bone structure and body type. If possible, look at family members who you consider to be healthy and use them as a guide for your goals.

3. Age
If the last time you weighed your goal weight was 30 years ago when you were 18, it may be time to reevaluate. Not saying you won’t be able to weigh what you did then, but your body is different now.

Hormones have changed, your metabolism has changed, your body composition and where you hold your weight has changed. The weight you were at 18 may not even be a healthy weight for you at 48.

A healthy weight loss goal may be anywhere from a half a pound up to two pounds per week until you meet your desired goal. Weight will often come off a bit faster in the beginning stages of weight loss, especially for those who have more to lose, but I recommend the more moderate rate as an actual goal.

The people who shoot for faster rates (5-10 pounds per week) tend to have more difficulty maintaining their results because the changes they have to make to reach them are much more drastic. That leads us into the second question to ask ourselves…

Patient scale

Can I maintain this change?

Whether it be a change in your eating habits or exercise level, you need to ask yourself if this is a change you are able, AND willing, to keep up for the long haul.

Not to say circumstances won’t change or adjustments can’t be made, but for the most part, whatever you have to do to get results, you have to continue to maintain those results. So if you start a 1,200-calorie diet to try and drop 15 pounds before your 20-year reunion next month, those pounds will likely come back on just as quickly as they left when you go back to 2,000 calories afterwards.

Anyone can lose weight if they cut calories low enough. I could create a best-selling Twinkie diet where you can have eight Twinkies a day (150 calories each) and water. Many would lose weight, but within a day or two most would be feeling the unpleasant side effects of the high sugar content and lack of nutrition. Ultimately, not sustainable.

Plate split healthy unhealthy

Why do I want this?

Why do you want to lose weight? Is it so the scale says the “right” number when you step on it? Is it to conform to the media’s image of what the ideal woman or man should look like?

Let me tell you something: That number on the scale doesn’t mean much. It is only a small part of a very big picture. There are people of enviable size you see on the street, who may be good at regulating calorie intake but don’t maximize the nutrition they get out of those calories, and therefore may actually have various medical issues, be malnourished, or at an increased risk of disease later in life.

Similarly, there may be others you see who seem they could lose a few pounds, but they are actually the epitome of good health. Weight and health are not synonymous. So make sure your goal to lose weight is for you and not others. In the long run, the motivation will be better.

So back to our original question… Can you reach a sustainable, healthy weight by just cutting calories from your normal routine for a couple months? I’ll go ahead and leave that one up to you to answer.

Contributed by By Rebekah Blakely, RD (Nutrition Director, Wellfit Malibu)

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