How to Discover and Reach Your Ideal Weight

by | Aug 23, 2016
Photo by foshydog

Photo by foshydog

When I was a dieter I always had a goal weight that I thought would change my life. I’d get on the scale (if I was brave enough) and would hold my breath as I watched the needle move, calculating in my mind how many pounds away I was from happiness.

In retrospect I don’t know what I expected to happen at that magic number. If I had been less delusional I might have acknowledged that the few times I did manage to reach my goal I instantly adjusted it a few pounds downward, the flicker of joy suppressed by the sudden realization that an even smaller pair of jeans may be in my future.

Ugh. Dieting is the worst.

Okay, so what if you’re done with the dieting neurosis but still want to lose weight for health reasons? Is there a target or ideal weight you should shoot for?

I get asked this question a lot, and unfortunately there is no easy answer. There are, however, several frameworks and benchmarks you can use to help guide your efforts.

Science doesn’t know

The first thing you need to understand is that science can’t tell you what you should weigh.

Generalizations about height and body weight as are used in the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation are meant only to inform scientists of population health trends, and are not supposed to advise an individual person about his or her health status.

For example, at my height (5’5″) a “healthy” BMI could be considered anywhere from 111 to 150 lbs. Not only does BMI not care that I am a women and that I have a small frame, but it is inconceivable that my weight could fluctuate up to 30% and not have a dramatic negative impact on my health, as the BMI suggests.

Your BMI tells you almost nothing about your nutritional status, body fat percentage, or strength, and therefore tells you almost nothing about how healthy you are (or aren’t). It doesn’t even come close to giving you a sense of what proportion of your weight is visceral fat (dangerous), subcutaneous fat (only problematic at higher levels) and brown fat (metabolically advantageous).

BMI is particularly unhelpful if you are near any extreme on the height or size scales, for instance if you are very tall, very small, or very muscular.

Most of the critiques I’ve seen of BMI suggest that the measurement tends to give people a false sense of security about their health level. In other words, your BMI is likely to indicate that you are healthier than you really are, as opposed to the other way around.

But again, this tells you nothing about your personal health status.

The scale doesn’t know

Taking this argument one step farther, your body weight alone is also a very poor measure of your health. In fact, it tells you even less about your health status than BMI, which at least also accounts for height.

This means that the question, “What is my ideal weight?” is fundamentally flawed. Because the answer is, “It depends.”

And it depends on a lot.

Health is a vague term, since it can be applied to so many different aspects of your physical well-being. For the sake of this article I’m going to assume that for most of you “good health” means feeling energetic, physically able to do everyday tasks with ease, clear minded, and devoid of any physical illness or disease. I’ll also assume that your idea of good health means maintaining this status for as long as possible into old age.

Obviously you may have different, more specific goals. Athletes typically have performance goals that would require accounting for much more than I’ve listed here. On the flip side, if you have a chronic disability your goals should be adjusted to account for limitations outside of your control.

You may also have vanity goals, which is perfectly fine in my book so long as they aren’t tied up in your sense of self-worth. If your life is easier at work or in the dating scene in your city when you look a certain way, don’t let anyone tell you that isn’t a valid reason to keep tweaking your healthstyle until you’re happy. Life should be awesome, and you should do what you can to make it that way.

But none of these goals can be defined by the number on the scale, so focusing there is not the right way to start.

What matters is how you feel

No matter what you weigh, if you aren’t getting the majority of your calories from Real Food, exercising vigorously 3-5 days per week, avoiding prolonged periods of sitting, getting 7-9 hours of sleep, and maintaining strong social relationships, then you could be healthier.

Don’t use a number on the scale as an excuse to drink soda or avoid strength training. That isn’t how it works.

If you’re doing all these things you’ll probably find that you feel healthy. You will have steady, strong energy throughout the day. You’ll have fewer cravings for sugar and not mind parking farther away or taking the stairs. You can zero in a bit more by having your doctor test your nutrients and blood lipids, but that’s about as good as you can do.

Congratulations. Get on a scale, you’re now at your ideal weight.

I define “ideal weight” as the weight you’re at when you’re doing everything you can to promote good health. It’s where you settle at naturally from incorporating these behaviors into your life.

For me this process took nearly three years as I learned to cook, built muscle, quit diet soda and taught myself to eat mindfully. The bulk of my weight loss happened in the first 12 months, but there was a slow drop (4 lbs total) over the next two years as I refined my habits.

The sweetest irony of all is that I ultimately landed 7 lbs under my arbitrary “goal” weight. Take THAT diets!

For every person there’s a range of weights which are near ideal, probably within 5-10 pounds (I’m speaking only from experience, science doesn’t know this for certain and neither do I). Within that range you can start to consider secondary goals if you wish, like getting down one more size or bulking a bit at the gym. These things have little to do with health, but “ideal weight” means different things to different people.

No one can tell you your ideal weight, so for now you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself. The bathroom scale is a very useful tool, but the data it gives you is meaningless without context.

What does ideal weight mean to you?

Originally published June 2, 2015.

Tags: , , ,
You deserve to feel great, look great and LOVE your body
Let me show you how with my FREE starter kit for getting healthy
and losing weight without dieting.

Where should I send your free information?
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

47 Responses to “How to Discover and Reach Your Ideal Weight”

  1. Polly Owens says:

    Darya. This is everything.

  2. Dani Spies says:

    I really love the way you simplified this idea of ideal weight (which by the way, is definitely your super power – being able to simplify so beautifully!). I agree with everything you said 100%. But I have a question and would love your thoughts – what if someone has attained all of the things you mention to FEEL healthy, but does not LOVE the way their body looks? Would you still consider this their ideal weight? Thanks in advance:)

    • Darya Rose says:

      I hinted at this at the end of the article. At that point it isn’t about weight or health, it’s about shape and sculpting. For instance, I’m happy to admit that I’m happiest at the lower end of my healthy range (my clothes start feeling tight if I gain 3 lbs), so if I’m not loving what’s happening I just get more careful about sugar and flour for a week or so. It’s easy.

      For me the biggest improvement on this front was made in the gym, which puts curves in all the right places and toned up all the areas of my body I didn’t love. Awesomely, this certainly made me stronger and healthier.

  3. amy says:

    I would love to start weight training at home but don’t know where to start. Once your cooking class is in maintenance mode and you’re ready to do something else, I would love a class on building a weight training (or exercise) habit. I already have an exercise habit but want to add weight training and am not sure how to start.

    thanks for all you do to help us get healthier without the crazy!

    • Hilda Bryan says:

      Check out the stronglifts 5×5 program: http://stronglifts.com/5×5/

      The program is very detailed, you can do it on home easy, and it’s a great weight lifting foundational program. :)

    • Marylee says:

      I hired a personal trainer for a while (for me it was several years because we really hit it off). She taught me so much about strength training and modeled good form and healthy competition. The knowledge and skill is mine for the rest of my life; it was worth every penny. I now workout daily at home, including weight training 3 days a week.

  4. Emily says:

    If the ideal weight is the one where you feel good then why do you consider daily weighing so important?

    I tick all the boxes – real food, exercise, relationships, sleep (and very little alcohol in my particular case) – and feel good in myself and in my clothes but I can’t bring myself to step on the scales because I have a feeling I weigh a little (2-3 kgs) more than I did a couple of years ago when I was eating a more restricted and unsustainable diet. I think seeing evidence of this may undermine my efforts to live more healthily.

    • Darya Rose says:

      You have to figure out what works for you. My recommendations to weigh in regularly are for a couple of reasons:

      1) Monitoring to stay on top of your habits. It’s a valuable data point to know if your habits subtly shift. This has happened to me and the scale has helped me get back on track, though admittedly this doesn’t have to occur every day to be effective.

      2) Learning to see the number as a data point and not a measure of your self-worth. I think acclimating yourself to the normal fluctuations in your weight can be a healthy step to breaking those last shackles of body shame. But if you’re happy without it, I’d never tell you to change what is working.

      • Dee says:

        This is such a great explanation on how often to weigh yourself. I often get discouraged by the number I see and then just give up! But you are so right. We should just see it as a valuable data point and not a measure of our self worth. Well said xx

  5. lynda mac says:

    FERS- Food, real. Exercise 3-5 times a week. Relationships. Sleep 7-9 hours a day.

    Got it!

  6. ScottV7L says:

    Wonderful perspective! Found this post while surfing. I am a 62 year old male. I’ve lost 40 pounds in the past 6 months, and doing it largely not by dieting, but simply by eating better. When I want a burger and fries, I eat it. Funny thing is, I don’t want that very often :) THAT is the most interesting change for me. I used to eat donuts all the time. Now I don’t want them. They don’t make me feel better.

  7. Jessica Erin says:

    Good informative post. We can manage healthy body weight by following some of the regular healthy habits like drinking more water, avoiding junk foods, taking healthy foods at regular intervals of time, regular exercises, sleeping for 8 hours, etc.

  8. Kitty says:

    I have been thinking about this a lot as I’ve lost 58 pounds, but am less than 4 pounds from the top of the normal BMI range. In fact, I did a whole post talking about what my goal should be a few weeks ago.

    Basically, what I came down to, was feeling that once I was in the normal BMI range (which I think is a reasonable range for me), then my goal was more to reduce my body fat percentage and body composition. I’m one of those people who DOES have visceral fat and I still have it. I have less than I did have, but more than I want to have.

    So, right now I’m working with a personal trainer to really work on the body composition aspect. I do have in mind having my waist below a certain number and my body fat below a certain percentage. My ideal weight will be somewhere around achieving that. I’m sure that number will fall in my normal BMI range, but I’m not sure now where it will fall. From past experience (where I weighed toward the lower part of my range I think it will probably be middle part of the range. But, anywhere in the range is OK if the body composition ends up being right.

  9. Laura says:

    This article speaks to me so much! My weight hovers around a BMI of 24.9 – 25.1 and that bugs me some times. Which is actually kind of insane because I’m 43 years old and I weigh 90lbs less than I did when I was 20. The weight loss happened somewhat gradually – in 30 lb chunks or so – and around the time I turned 40 was when I lost the last 30lbs and got out to the obese category. And that’s really a HUGE deal in terms of how I approach food not to mention my health and appearance. I’m also extremely big boned and my weight does fall into the normal range according to a few actuarial charts I’m come across. Every once in awhile I get a bug up my butt to get that BMI lower and it just doesn’t work. Right now my body doesn’t want to lose any more weight. So really I need to focus on the continued management of my current lifestyle. Managing my food issues will always be a challenge for me and accepting that has actually made it easier to deal with. Sure I slip up every now and then and overeat but overall I’ve made a tremendous amount of progress and I need to celebrate that rather than worry about some stupid number on a chart.

  10. Leanna says:

    I am a full 20 pounds heavier today than what I thought was my ideal weight. I still fit in all of my clothes and people regularly ask me if I have lost weight. My body composition has changed so drastically that I have to fight with my brain from freaking out about the number on the scale.

    When I look in the mirror, I have never been happier with my body. But it is so deeply ingrained in my brain that the scale matters, that sometimes I am upset by the number.

  11. Ayme says:

    Since I have PCOS and resulting infertility, losing 10 lbs. is a huge deal and helps a lot while trying to conceive. For me, my ideal weight is the one in which allows me to get pregnant. I’m not there yet, but with Foodist Kitchen and beginning a habit of exercise and movement, I’m hoping for a “positive” result in my future!

    • Jane Pendry says:

      Thanks for this article Darya. It’s great to have someone who understand the science and then digests it into sensible and realistic goals. As human beings we are terrible at anticipating what makes us happy ie an ideal weight. So a focus on what feels good makes so much sense to me. I’m moving into 2 months without sugar in an attempt to recalibrate from a life long sugar addiction. It’s still tough to move past the cravings but I trust my body more to say no because I don’t get the afternoon slumps. I just wanted to say thanks because your articles have helped me think about things from a habit forming point of view. So now that sugar is much more under control, I’m working on paring back on wheat which I suspect will make me feel even better. By seeing it as an experiment there’s less pressure for me! By picking one focus at a time I’ve stopped my usual all or nothing and consequent self sabotage. Many thanks and Ps great move on cutting down on the number of articles you write,ive done something similar and quality over quantity seems to be working for me too :)

  12. Dee says:

    My ideal weight is one where I can run… And feel excited to enter half marathons…. Feel light on my feet and it’s no problem to walkabout, look great And feel energetic for any physical activity..

    I’m 5’6″ and my pre-pregnancy weight was 136lbs … Although I was happy with my body, I Was aiming to skinnier and sexier because in our culture, for Carnival you have to look your best when you going out there…

    Now I’m pregnant I’ve slowed down considerably and weigh much more it’s not a good feeling ☺️ I’ll just have to start over….

  13. Wendy Lynne says:

    This article was a total mind shift for me! Even though I have always been a healthy eater, love to exercise and mostly get good sleep I still beat myself up for not being at the lowest end of the BMI scale.

    This reframe makes perfect sense – thank you!!!

  14. Aurora says:

    Wonderful post Darya! This is honestly just what I needed. I’ve been really beating myself up since I’ve let the flu and insane work stress derail what I thought were my well-entrenched healthy habits. The more I lost my way and the harder it was to beat the extra pounds, the more I was tempted to give up and the harder I was on myself for not ‘being good.’ All this was anchored on my arbitrary ‘ideal’ weight, the weight I was when I got married…and what I was told was an ideal weight (high school weight). But literally, after reading this post, it was like a light bulb went on. I’m going to adopt this new way of thinking, focusing on ensuring all my good habits are in play and let THAT tell me what my ‘ideal’ weight is instead of some random number. I really like this balanced way of thinking…letting the health process dictate the outcome.

  15. Sanjana says:

    This s indeed a great post. I got to know the better way of geting it. Guess I willbe able to see a good deal of difference in me. Thanks Darya!

  16. When people obsess over their weight I wish they would simply throw away the scales!

    I’ve got friends who can bench more than my body weight and can count their digits of body fat on two hands, yet they are still listed as obese by the BMI scale.

    Use the scale as a guide, but focus primarily on how you look and feel day to day.

  17. Bianca Elena says:

    Is it a good idea to weigh myself daily? (considering that, even if I rationally know that fluctuations of 300-700g from day to day are normal due to hormonal changes, water retention, etc., I still feel better and ‘successful’ when I weigh the least and crappy, anxious and inclined to eat a bit less on the days I weigh a few hundred grams more)

    • Anna says:

      I weigh daily and also focus too much on sticking to my goal weight. Even though I appreciate that weight can fluctuate up and down a little (for me it’s 300-600g daily), it’s still a downer to see a higher weight. I’m getting better at accepting the fluctuations.
      Another bad? habit I got myself into was averaging my daily weighs once a month and recording both weights and measurements in a journal. I also have a body analyser scale and use that once a month. I would dearly like to be rid of these habits.That said my weigh has been stable since 2005 (BMI 20-21) (currently 54kg/119 lbs and 64 yrs old)

  18. Claudia says:

    I got a fitbit zip. I’ve only reached almost 6,000 steps on one day. Other days I am at 4k or 5K. I’m still healing from a broken 5th metatarsal so I can’t exercise 3-5 days like you mention in this article. I am very frustrated. I’ve gained weight this past year eating very low carb and then, had the foot injury so gained some more. When I read that it took you 12 months to lose weight this way, I got so discouraged. Do you address this at all on your blog and book? I am reading Foodist. Most of us chronic dieters need to see results fast, which is one of the reason we turn to dieting in the first place. I have been dieting like this for about 5 years trying to lose the baby weight from second baby and have succeeded in gaining, instead of losing or losing and gaining over and over again but not because of poor eating choices. I’ve always gone back to a Paleo-like, healthy fat, very low carb way of eating, albeit with success, in the hope to get to my “ideal” weight. I am doing the best I can with exercise. My foot still swells and gets sore. I can’t do any more steps than I am. I started yoga again and some dumbbells and body weight stuff at home. It’s been a few weeks. I know that’s not much, but the scale doesn’t move down at all :(. Yet, I know I have to get off the dieting wagon. Hasn’t helped me at all.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Claudia, why is being at your ideal weight 1 year from today discouraging compared to being at a heavier weight 5 years from today? You are trapped deep in a dieter’s psychology, which is a downward spiral. You know this, but don’t know your way out. Just keep reading Foodist, it has worked for hundreds of people.

      You can read some success stories here:

      http://summertomato.com/better-shape-at-35-than-at-17/

      • Claudia says:

        It’s discouraging because I was at my ideal weight and I was doing fine for 15 years and then, two babies and multiple losses of family members and major grief happened and I got derailed. I’ve been trying to get myself back for the last 5 years and all things I have tried have led nowhere. I am definitely trapped and all these diets I have tried that have ultimately led to failure, have driven me here. It’s very frustrating to eat what you are being told is a perfect diet and to do it perfectly for months on end, without results. You are right: I don’t know my way out. But I will keep reading. All I can do is try and many have credited me for not giving up.

  19. Claudia says:

    Also, I should add that I am 12-15 lbs from my “ideal” weight. I was lower than that in my 20s, but in my 40s, I’m cool with being about 12-15 lbs from where I am now as an easier to maintain weight. That’s also why I find it discouraging….please let it not take a whole year to lose 12-15 lbs!! I’m sort of laughing, but people do lose 1-2 lbs a week on many diets and that is supposed to be a healthy rate. I don’t know if it is a healthy rate or if that is more “diet talk.” I’m lost.

    • Darya Rose says:

      At the end of the day do you really care about the number on the scale? If you weighed 10 lbs more but were 2 sizes smaller wouldn’t you be stoked? I’m just saying relax, and focus on the right things. Look at your habits, see what’s working and what’s not. Stop worrying about carbs and fat and nutrients and stick with Real Food. Chew. Be active (not a gym maniac).

      Take a minute to ask yourself what you really care about. Don’t you really just want to be less stressed about food and your body? To fit comfortably in your clothes? To have energy for yourself and your family?

      I dieted for 15 years (way more than 5) and had the exact same experience as you. Who cares how long it takes on the right path? It’ll still be way faster than it never happening on the wrong path.

      And btw, results start immediately. And in my experience as long as you’re making progress in the right direction you’ll be pretty happy.

  20. Bryant says:

    Great post! I’ve always had some numbers in my head but in truth, I am unsure where I will end up. The feeling of energy after losing almost 60 pounds is incredible. I would add that your point about strong social connections is far more important than we think.

  21. Kelly says:

    I completely agree with your points in this article. I do not like BMI being used to assess health status, and yet much of our medical community insists on using this tool. I found while working to loose 100lbs, over the course of about 5 years, I continually readjusted my “ideal weight” based on how I felt, how I felt about how I looked and how my body functioned. It was not a quick process but one worth doing. What I discovered, much to my amazement was that my body looked different, at the same number on the scale during different phases of my transformation. Because I lift weights (resistant training), as I built muscle and lost body fat, the number on the scale did not always go down but how my body looked certainly did change. My ideal weight is between 143-146, that’s just the # at this time in my life where I feel my best and feel I look my best. Several years ago, I looked very different at 145 lbs than I do right now. It’s easy to let the # on the scale get to you, but I have found that weighing myself daily these last 5 years has allowed me to acknowledge that fluctuations are a given and you have to look at the #’s over the long term and not allow it to dictate your mood or effort level. I found it helpful to focus on positive things I could either see in the mirror or improvements in strength. For me I value strength, mobility and stamina over any # on the scale. When I recently competed in a figure competition, I was 12 pounds lighter than I am now, but I was much weaker, wasn’t sleeping well, and was very irritable. People kept telling my how fabulous I looked and “ripped” due to strength training and fat loss, but I honestly can’t tell you how unhealthy I felt at that weight. At this point I’m trying to regain control over my diet and establish a healthy relationship with food and the scale.

  22. Libby says:

    Hi Darya,

    I love your site, and I absolutely devoured your book in June of this summer! My healthstyle has always included a lot of fruits and veggies and plant-based protein, but with your book’s encouragement, I’ve mostly cut out processed wheat and sugar, I shop for produce at the farmer’s market, I’ve been trying to ramp up my NEAT, and I get in some exercise 5-6 days a week (a mix of yoga and body weight exercises using the FitStar app). I’ve had chronic headaches since I was a teenager (I’m in my mid-30s now), but with my new and improved healthstyle, the headaches are down to 1-2 days a week. Amazing!

    However, I haven’t really lost any weight along the way. I’d like to be down about 7-10 pounds from where I am right now, mostly, I will admit, for vanity reasons. I just like how I look better and I like how clothes fit me when I weigh a bit less than I do right now (I’m only 5’0” tall, so 7-10 pounds makes a big difference for me.). So my question is: what should a person do when their “ideal weight” or set point doesn’t seem to match up with the size they’d like to be?

    I will also admit that I track my calories and macros, even though I know that’s not necessarily the most useful way to think about nutrition), and I usually aim to eat around 1300 calories a day. I know calories in/calories out is probably too simplistic a way to think about weight loss, but my body seems to want to stay at the weight it’s currently at, and I’m out of ideas for how to shake things up. Any thoughts?

    Thanks again for all you do!

  23. I love your blog so much, I found what I need in health field.. thank you

  24. John Bauer says:

    Darya,

    I have followed your site off and on for some time, and always enjoy your viewpoint. This article nails it, but getting on that scale is sooooo tempting! Force of habit from having that ingrained for so many decades I guess.

    I do personally weigh every day, but I also use skinfold calipers to measure body fat everyday. This helps give the context to the number on the scale that you note is often missing.

    And of course, when my belly starts bulging a little too much I know it is time for small tweaks to bring things back under control. I follow an aggressive weight lifting program and so if I am making progress in adding muscle mass I should expect about a half pound weight gain a month potentially – but when it exceeds that I very strongly suspect additional fat is the culprit.

    Not to mention the fact our bodies are constantly adapting to the inputs we give it and therefore is a dynamic system which up-regulates and down-regulates in response to those inputs. Bottom line, it is not “set it and forget it” – I am starting my seventh year since I began my health journey by losing 50 pounds or so and I don’t think I have gone more than about 60 to 90 days at a time without changing something.

    Sorry for the long comment, but this is indeed a complex subject. I am subscribing today and looking forward to reading more than I have and even backlinking to some of your articles from my blog.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Thanks for your comment John. I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with weighing daily, so long as you understand what you can and can’t interpret from it, and don’t have your self worth wrapped up in that number shining back at you.

      Congratulations on your weight loss and continued healthstyle success. Keep up your great work!

  25. When I was in the Army, one of the men was flagged for being overweight (then, they did weight numbers and then BMI). It was obvious he wasn’t–he was quite muscular, but to the army, it was about the numbers and not the healthiness. Numbers, unfortunately, are easy to measure and check the box off.

  26. Andy Atari says:

    I honestly don’t weigh myself. I haven’t weighed myself since PE class in high school, and that was more than a decade ago. I also don’t count calories or other things like that. I probably need to have a medical checkup just to be much more certain that I am healthy, but I lift weights 3 times a week, do HIIT in between, eat real food, sleep 9 hours a day, have good, close relationships with the people I love, and do something I love for a living. My body isn’t perfect. In fact, my life isn’t perfect. But I think I’m living a pretty healthy life.

    PS: I had cabbage and eggs for breakfast (your recipe) this morning and it’s awesome! It’s going into my regular rotation of meals now.

  27. Steve says:

    Thank you for sharing, Darya. I love your suggestions and easy tips. There are many positive activities to do instead of focusing on counting calories, eating healthy foods or exercising for weight loss. Choose activities that increase your sense of self-worth and efficiency. These may include fulfilling long time and long delayed desires, dreams and aspirations. Your post and all your related information gave me new hope in certain problematic areas in my life right now. Thanks again!

  28. sabeen says:

    nice post as before

  29. I totally agree with you that what’s most important is how you feel! Feeling confident and comfortable in you own skin. I try not to even use the scale, it only gives negative thoughts. I feel trimmer and fitter than I’ve ever been but the number on the scale should lead me to believe otherwise.

    I would like to know more about what you said about BMI and how it doesn’t tell you much and it’s not important. Would you agree that it is important in a relative manner? Example we hear the term “skinny fat” all the time. Where while yes someone is thin, their body fat composition as well as their over all eating habits make them a little softer than others. Do you think that this is still important because it could affect body systems if you don’t fuel you body properly? Also because of potential for increased visceral fat?

  30. Tessa Needham Synnott says:

    I love this article! I’m involved with body image activism and it’s so refreshing to read such a clear approach to giving up dieting. You’re absolutely right – no matter what the number on the scale, it’s so important to not let that affect our sense of self-worth! Thank you. :)

What do you think?

Want a picture next to your comment? Click here to register your email address for a Gravatar you can use on most websites.


Please be respectful. Thoughtful critiques are welcome, but rudeness is not. Please help keep this community awesome.