You're Doing It Wrong
It's true that I purposefully used a provocative title to capture your attention (and it worked, by the way), but I'm serious. Americans have become obsessed with weight as their key health indicator. Ladies, you especially have been fooled into having a number in your head. But it needs to stop.
And I'll go one step further and say this: Weight is arbitrary.
I'll prove it real quick: If I told you I have a friend who is 210 lbs and asked if that's good or bad, what would your answer be?
You don't have enough information to answer the question, do you? (That's because weight is arbitrary.)
If I told you my 210 lb. friend was a 6'2" male athlete with 8% body fat, you'd probably say that's generally good. If my 210 lb. friend was a 5'5" male accountant with 40% body fat, you'd probably say that's generally bad. But the weight was the same. So clearly we shouldn't be primarily concerned with a number. Or at least not that number.
The Real Number
In general, the number (or range) you should care about is your body fat percentage. Americans need to stop focusing on weight and start focusing on body composition. Weight will work itself out if you focus on your body fat percentage, but body fat will not necessarily work itself out if you're focused on weight. Not to mention that you can gain weight while getting "skinnier", just like you can lose weight while adding fat.
So What's My Goal?
Glad you asked. The chart below is from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and arguably the most commonly used body fat chart.(1) You'll notice women have a higher body fat percentage relative to men. This is simply because women were designed to carry more fat because of physiological differences such as hormones, breasts, and sexual organs. In addition, women need a higher amount of body fat for ovulation.
But let this serve as your new goal, almost entirely regardless of your weight.
What's Essential Fat?
Again, glad you asked. Essential fat is the minimum amount of fat necessary for basic physical and physiological health. Admittedly, there are varying opinions (you're shocked) on what amount of body fat is optimal for overall health. But a research paper by Gallagher et. al. in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000) came to the conclusion that certain low body fat ranges are "underfat", which implies "unhealthy".(2) According to their research paper, men who are between 20-40 years old with under 8% body fat are considered "underfat", whereas a "healthy" range is described as between 8-19%. For women in the same age group, any level under 21% is "underfat" while 21-33% is considered "healthy".
How Do I Know My Body Fat?
There are several methods for testing your body fat and overall body composition, all with varying degrees of accuracy. I recommend (and myself partake in) hydrostatic body composition testing—also referred to as "underwater weighing" and "hydrodensitometry."
Key understandings you'll gain from a hydrostatic body composition analysis:
- Your fat and fat-free body mass, as percentages and in actual weight
- How much fat, if any, you need to lose to achieve your desired body composition
- How many calories per day you burn without exercising (unique to you)
- How many calories you burn from different exercises (unique to you)
- Where you are on a scale of ideal body fat for your age and gender
I don't know where you live, specifically, but with the magic of Google you should be able to find a location in your area that performs this kind of body composition test. (I use www.bodyfattest.com)
Not the Only Indicator
Now, it should go without saying that body fat percentage is not the only indicator of health. Someone with more fat who exercises can be generally healthier than someone with less fat who does not exercise. But to serve as a foundation, your goal should be focused on a healthy body composition—not an arbitrary weight.
Where Do I Begin?
The vast (and I mean vast) majority of your body composition change will be the result of nutrition, not exercise. You need to fuel your metabolism to create healthy muscles and burn fat. That's where macrobolic nutrition comes in.
1. Exercise AC. Ace Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant Manual, The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. American Council on Exercise; 2009.
2. Gallagher D, Heymsfield SB, Heo M, Jebb SA, Murgatroyd PR, Sakamoto Y. Healthy percentage body fat ranges: an approach for developing guidelines based on body mass index. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(3):694-701.