Weight is a heavy topic in and of itself, nevermind natural weight.
When I worked out of a local fitness studio, many of my clients came to see me to lose weight. It’s always a topic I’ve hesitated to coach on, particularly when it’s concerned young women. Some expressed interest in hitting the lower end of the weight range they give you at your doctor’s office, as though being on the low end makes you healthier (to clarify: it doesn’t). Some had gained a few pounds over the years and were puzzled as to why or how and what they could do to stop it. And some just wanted to be a specific weight they deemed best.
I’ve been all three of those women.
I’m just under five-foot-two. Since about birth, I’ve felt intense pressure to weigh light. I played soccer, figure skated, and danced throughout my childhood and spent my summers rollerblading, so my legs and glutes have just about always been developed (plus, genes). But when you’re shorter than all of your friends, shouldn’t you weigh the least? Not exactly. And not with my bone structure. But I couldn’t resist chasing after this impossible ideal for over a decade, assuming there must be something wrong with me that I couldn’t get there. Maybe I needed to exercise more? Eat less? Give up carbs? Or maybe I weighed exactly what I was meant to weigh, which was the hardest of the possibilities to accept because I'd spent so long fighting for the alternative.
Now I'm of thin privilege. I'm a small human. Because of this, my journey has been easier. I don't have to "convince" anyone of my acceptable size. But I also know what it's like to feel uncomfortable in your own body and to search for ways to get outside of it.
So today I’m rolling through 5 ways to know you are at your own healthy weight — so you can feel confident in the knowledge that you are exactly where you are suppose to be, regardless of the opinions of others or what you feel you "should" weigh.
1 | Your natural weight is the weight you arrive at when you’re moving in a sustainable, intuitive way
Fitness level is important; statistically, those who are fit experience greater health outcomes than those who are not fit. Unfortunately, exercise has been marketed and packaged as another dieter’s tool in recent years, a vehicle for fantasy physiques, “effortless” weight loss, and worshipped thigh gaps. But what few point out is these results take intense training and restrictive meal schedules (you know, the kind that promote disordered eating and binge eating), which are far from healthy.
Movement is important, but you want to make sure you’re doing it in a way that is sustainable for you. Exercise should not exhaust you. Exercise should not deplete all of your resources. Exercise should not result in skipped or missing periods, injuries, and a compromised social life. Exercise is just one part of your amazing, crazy life. Not everything.
Sustainable movement is going to mean different things to different people. For some, it’s regular activity through walking and cycling. For others, it might mean a morning run a few times a week and yoga on the weekends. Entrepreneurs have taken to the term “fitness minded”, where you blend fitness into your everyday. Some of the things you might do? Use of a standing desk instead of sitting, keeping a yoga mat out for mid-day stretching and savasana, and completing one exercise (say, push-ups) to failure rather than trying to stuff a structured workout into an already-crammed day.
I don’t believe in being rigid with exercise, forcing yourself to complete a designated number of workouts if you’re not feeling it, or pushing yourself to extremes. I just don’t. I know I won't exercise on Mondays or Tuesdays, for example, because the beginning of my workweek tends to be busy and I'm flat-out tired. I might go for a walk to feel the sun on my face, though, and get some fresh air. While having goals can be an awesome thing, rigidity is not. You are not “bad” at working out if you commit to a couple of workouts a week if that feels good to you, in the same way that working out six days a week doesn’t make you a better person.
Ultimately, exercise or movement should energize you (mind and body), help you to manage and reduce stress, and keep your body flexible and strong. Try to focus on functional reasons for getting fit rather than aesthetics. For example, I exercise because I want to be able to haul my own groceries home at eighty, I don’t want hip or knee issues, I sit a lot for work and crave movement, and I would like to strengthen my hamstrings and upper body.
Sounds pretty reasonable to me.
2 | It’s the weight you’re at when you’re eating a balance of foods.
Let’s get real here: sticking to the lean, clean, green life is unrealistic and unnecessary. There’s place for both green smoothies and cookies, for kale salads and ice cream at the beach (and yeah, I’m talking about cow’s milk ice cream laced with sugar.)
I am talking about all the foods.
Food is pleasure. Food is love. And it’s an enjoyable, amazing part of life. The weight you effortlessly maintain is not the weight you’re at when you’re caught in a vicious restrict-deprive-binge cycle, trying desperately to stick exclusively to an arbitrary (often elitist) list “approved” foods designed by pseudo-science.
It’s the weight you arrive at when life involves a balance of vegetables, fruit, fats, protein, carbohydrates. Wine and cheese nights with your friends, chicken salad with Mom, cupcakes on a Sunday, brunch at the local greasy spoon, holiday cookies, ice cream on a hot day, sandwiches at the beach, spaghetti al fresco on the best night of the year, margaritas and guacamole just because, the best roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots dipped in hummus that taste like the earth only sweeter, yogurt with walnuts, a just-picked apple, sweet potato fries dipped in mayonnaise, local hard cider after a tough week, a kale salad studded with hemp hearts and softened by butternut squash.
Your natural weight includes a wealth of experiences, unforgettable moments, random occurrences, and everyday eating.
Your natural weight is not the place you get to by restricting, counting, macro-ing, or depriving.
3 | Your natural weight is the number you land on when you’re respecting your body
This works with both #1 and #2, but it deserves its own separate category because self-care is that important and requires some serious spelling out. Your natural weight comes when you’re respecting your body — whatever that means to you. Sometimes this means staying home with Netflix and tea because it’s snowing and you don’t feel like working out, taking a walk when you feel like you *should* be working, or enjoying a relaxing bath in preparation for a busy workweek (hand raised over here.)
Self-care is as essential to our well-being as what we eat and how we move. If you’re anything like me, you’re used to dismissing it as something reserved for people with more time who’ve accomplished more and have somehow “earned it”. But self-care is for everyone and can take so many different forms. Eating when you’re hungry, intuitive movement, reading for fun, taking a walk, going for coffee with a friend, going for a drink by yourself, cycling around the city, having lunch on the beach, journalling, yin yoga, organizing your closet…these are all forms of self-care. Whatever you need to do to re-energize yourself is a form of self-care.
Because while kale salads and tabata workouts are nice, hobbies and pastimes are pretty high up there, too.
4 | You’re (quite possibly) at your natural weight if your hormones are balanced.
Or rather, you may not be at your natural weight if your hormones are all over the place (you’re not menstruating regularly, for example, or your progesterone is low.)
There’s way more to hormones than weight, but it’s an important connection to speak to. Even if you personally feel you can lose weight and get down to a smaller size doesn’t mean your body is happy there or your genes will allow you to stay there. I was “in range” at my lowest weight, but I wasn’t having regular periods. In retrospect I realize I really wasn’t eating enough food. I was always hungry, hyper fixated on food, and overate at parties, social gatherings, and family dinners because I was always depriving myself back at my apartment. Interesting how all of this resolved once my weight was restored and I returned to what I believe to be my natural set-point.
5 | You're (quite possibly) at your natural weight if your energy is awesome.
Energy level is another factor to consider. You need to eat enough to keep amazing energy levels and to feel good in your body. Unfortunately, diets prevent this from happening, zapping your reserves. Most people don’t realize that even minor calorie deficits can really curb your productivity levels and kill your energy. While sometimes it can be easy to undereat, especially if you’re stressed, busy, and overworked. But it’s even more important during these times to make sure you’re eating regularly and meeting your energy needs.
I realize we’re often encouraged to undereat. The longest living cultures don’t eat much! Dieting equals health! So many disordered alignments. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you’re at your healthiest when you have the energy to do what you need to do with some leftover for what you want to do. This isn’t idealistic; it’s entirely possible. But you need to make sure you’re eating enough (and a variety of foods, most of the time) in order to do exactly this.