Hi! Excited to be guest posting here while Robyn is off honeymooning. I met Robyn a few years ago at the annual dietitian conference, FNCE. Since then, we’ve become friends, getting to hang out annually at FNCE and chat by phone at least monthly along with a few other like-minded RD’s, discussing everything from blogging to the latest research.
Like Robyn, I consider myself a “real” dietitian. I love food. In fact, I spend most of my day thinking, talking and writing about it. Whether it’s seeing clients in my private practice, researching for a column or working as a recipe developer, food is almost always in my focus. I eschew diet talk and try to focus on what foods make me feel amazing and nourished- not on fat grams or calories. Of course, this took a while to get here. Like most, I’ve been on my fair share of diets. Yo-yo’ing back and forth on just about every plan through most of high school and college. I’m grateful for that experience; that path now allows me to appreciate food, my body and balance in an kinder, more appreciative light.
It’s this journey that led me to throw away any preconceived ideas of what I’m supposed to weigh and instead focus on my happy weight. Most of us have a happy weight. That weight where you’re comfortable in your clothes, you don’t hate your closet every time you get dressed, you’re happy when you head to the gym, and you don’t deny yourself the brownie, croissant, or piping hot bowl of mac-and-cheese. You’re, you know, happy.
Which may or may not be your ideal body weight. Your ideal weight is what you will most often get when you ask a medical professional that wonderful question, “how much should I weigh?” Why does this exist? Why do so many of us focus on a specific place on a scale instead of where we are most content?
Instead, I’d like you to try to think about your happy weight. This may or may not be a number. More than likely, it’s a feeling.
For me, at 5’4″, my “ideal body weight” is 120. 120! I’m not 120. Even in my days of extreme diet restriction, I wasn’t 120. It’s just not how my body is put together.
To get close to 120, I would need to take out dessert, red wine with girlfriends, rest days, and avocado on my sandwiches. I could try and be 120 if I spent 2 hours a day at the gym and kept my calories under 1400. I could try do it, sure. But I won’t.
I’m not happy at 120. I’ve tried to get to 120 and…. well, I was miserable. Not only was I miserable, but I’m pretty sure I made everyone else around me miserable, too.
My husband wanted a date night? Not if I didn’t get to the gym earlier in the day. Girlfriends want to meet for happy hour drinks? If my calorie total for the day was already too high, I skipped it.
Somewhere in grad-school it clicked. In order to be happy, I couldn’t be my ideal weight. An ideal weight that I should point out was not chosen by me, but by a textbook.
Instead, I asked myself, where am I most happy? While the only time I really know my true weight is at the doctor’s office once a year, I know that my happy weight is somewhere a pant size or two above that 120. That’s my happy place, my happy space. I don’t share that to reveal a specific size, just to show how different my happy weight is compared to where an ideal height and weight chart put me at. That didn’t work for me, and it’s okay if it doesn’t work for you either.
Girlfriends want happy hour? Of course! I’d rather sacrifice any ab ambition for quality time with my best friends. My husband wants a date night? Of course! I’ll balance my nutrient-dense entree with wine and split dessert. If I start to not feel as comfortable in my skin, it’s OK. I’ll modify my habits based on how I am feeling, not because I feel any pressure to do so. There’s nothing wrong with exercising and eating nourishing foods, as long as the intention isn’t punishment.
I encourage my clients, especially my weight loss clients, to aim for their happy weight over their ideal weight. As long as you are healthy, it really doesn’t matter what you weigh…AT ALL. Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Whatever you’re goal or your journey, I encourage you to switch the focus to whatever makes you happy.
For more musings on nutrition (and lots of recipes!), follow my blog, or follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Thanks again to Robyn for letting me hang with ya’ll today!
emily vardy says
this is one of those things that makes 100% sense on paper, but is SO HARD to fully embrace and live in reality. i’m workin’ on it!
I am trying t make my happy weight much lower than a healthy weight for my height should be. I gave up all the situations you mentioned above plus more. I am terribly unhappy starving down to a weight that is substantially much lower than what I should probably be. Problem is, if I gain weight and experience happy situations, deep down inside I am miserable with the number on the scale so I’m never really happy. I have chosen to be happy with the number on the scale rather than happy with enjoying life experiences. I have not been able to have it both ways. 🙁 Any suggestions?
Alexandra Caspero says
Hi Beth, thanks so much for your comment. I’m sure Robyn will jump in more here as well, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s hard to have it both ways. Happy weight means exactly that; where you are most happy. Sounds like you’ve identified that both of those options really aren’t “happy” places for you. Instead, I’d work on focusing on what foods and exercises make you feel your best, to offset starvation and focusing less on an actual number and more how your body feels. Happy weight doesn’t necessarily mean gaining (or losing!) weight, it means finding a mindset where you feel best in your body, and giving up any notions of what you “should” weigh.
I (mostly) gave up the idea of being my ideal weight several years ago, and my weight has been stable for a few years now, with a few ups and downs. It is very difficult to give up the fantasy of being back at the weight I was thrilled with when I starved all day and overexercized. I am at my happy weight, but not happy with my weight. I am mostly resigned to being 25 lbs overweight, but I still feel self-conscious and long to be smaller. I no longer indulge in disordered eating and exercise, but I’m not sure I will ever really be at peace with my body.
Lindsay @ Hot Mess, Cool Day says
I love this! I am just barely 5’0 so my weight should be way down there – never gonna happen! I’ve noticed that I can definitely feel when I am feeling good..and when I am starting to feel not so good! Just gotta keep an eye on those feelings and LISTEN – hard to do though!
I’m trying always to be my ideal weight, but sometimes I fail to achieve that, but i didn’t give up.
I always follow fixed routine to be in ideal weight, and I also do exercises often daily.
so so so thankful for you sharing this; this is still a struggle for me, but at 5′ 3″ I’m so much happier than I used to be at my weight.
Abigail T says
Love what you said, especially in this line: “There’s nothing wrong with exercising and eating nourishing foods, as long as the intention isn’t punishment.”
Alexandra Caspero says
Amber @ Madden Wellness Counseling says
I absolutely love this. I am 32 years old and am JUST NOW figuring this out. I have spend the last decade (plus) of my life trying to be a certain size. Like you pointed out here, in order to get to that size, I literally have to give up on many things in life that make me happy. What’s the point? I am learning to accept my size and find that I am HAPPY at the weight that is easy to maintain and doesn’t require tremendous effort.
Erica @ fitnfabulous says
I love this post. What resonated with me was the part when you said, “In order to be happy, I couldn’t be my ideal weight.” Lately I have been going back and forth with my mind and my heart. I feel happy now, but know that I am not at what the world has deemed “ideal” for me. There are some days when I don’t feel great but I am no longer in the space where I deny myself and others time. Reading other comments, it saddens me that the simplest thing to do (listen to yourself and what your body needs) is the hardest for females.
Ooooh I really like this. This can get so tricky when someone IS at a weight higher than their “ideal” weight, but it doesn’t feel happy. Finding that balance of how to engage in behaviors make you feel food about yourself, but aren’t punishing, is so difficult. I like what you said – “there is nothing wrong with exercise and eating nourishing food, as long as the intention isn’t punishment” – definitely going to use that!
I love this post! I love it as much as I hate IBW. Boo Hamwi. I cringed every time I had to use it throughout my dietetic internship.
I feel the exact way about my happy weight vs “ideal weight.” When I was my “ideal weight”, I was obsessed with eating perfectly and had basically no social life. That’s not living and not ideal, in my opinion.
This is such an important topic to shed light on. Too often, we women are pushed around by pressures of what and how we “should be” and “should do.” We’re all individuals with different bodies, minds, and souls. Thank you for your wise insight!
I love, love, love this post! I spent most of high school and my entire 20s starving myself to be at my ideal weight. I am 5’3″ and ideally, I’d like to weigh 130 and wear a size 4-6. Killing myself with exercise and counting every calorie got me down to 135 (130 on a really good day) and solidly a size 6 (size 4 remained a dream). At some point in my early 30s, I got tired of trying so hard, and decided to focus on being healthy, rather than being a certain weight/size. First, I switched to mostly whole foods, and I varied my exercise routine to include weight lifting…scale went up to 140-ish. Then, I stopped counting calories (which was utterly terrifying), and cut back on how often I exercise, and the scale went up to 145-150, and I went from a size 6 to a size 8. About 5 years later, that’s where I still am–145-150 lbs depending on what’s going on in my life, and a size 8. This is clearly my body’s happy weight, and it feels good to not be in a constant fight with myself! Would I love to be a size 6 again and to be able to say that I weigh 130 or 135? You betcha! But, do you know what I love even more? Pizza and wine and chocolate and not killing myself at the gym every day! I eat mostly clean, real, whole foods, and I still exercise 4-5 days a week, but my focus is on being healthy and strong, and I am those things 🙂
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