I was just thinking this morning about the intersection (or not) between ideal weight and goal weight. And, to be honest, now that I am at a normal BMI, I am struggling with losing weight to get to a more ideal weight where my body fat percentage would be lower. I do think that having a goal weight — whether on Weight Watchers or simply losing to a personal goal — has a benefit. It gives me something to shoot for. While I was trying to get to my official goal weight of 126 pounds, I constantly set smaller goals along the way. In Fitbit, I would set a 5 or 10 pound goal, then meet it and go on. But, then I got to my goal weight of 146 pounds.
For a number of years now, Weight Watchers has set the official healthy weight range based upon BMI. 146 pounds at 5’4″ is at the top of the BMI “normal” weight range. As a lifetime member, meeting that number means I can attend meetings for free and get free eTools. There is a tiny bit of wiggle room. That is, if I am not more than 2 pounds above goal weight, I maintain my free status.
I remember last summer when I got to 146 pounds, I felt this huge feeling of relief. I was normal weight. I had left obese the year before, and it feel truly strange to be leaving the category of overweight. I had been overweight for about 25 years. Wrapping my head around the idea of being normal took time. And, even though I know I still have too much body fat, I know that I have accomplished a lot to get where I am. And, my body fat now is better than it was before. Getting to a normal BMI was an achievement for me.
At the same time, I realize that the concept of picking a goal weight based upon BMI is, at best, flawed. By this time, I am sure most of us have heard about BMI’s disadvantages. And, at best, there are limitations to using BMI in part because it doesn’t measure body fat directly. The weight lifter or athlete with high amounts of muscle, but low body fat may measure as overweight on BMI without having actual excess fat. Now, that is not the same thing as saying BMI is meaningless. The reality is that most of us who are overweight by BMI are also over fat. We aren’t athletes with a lot of muscle and low body fat. And, if you are, then you know that. When I was obese and overweight it was because I had too much body fat.
And, then, suddenly (well, after 25 years) I was at a normal BMI and I was at my Weight Watchers goal. And, all was kittens and puppies and rainbows. And, yet, having gotten to that goal weight it feels at times like it is its own kind of tyranny. And, it seems to get in the way of me mentally working on getting to my ideal weight. There are really a couple of issues.
First, for months I stressed about always needing to make sure I didn’t go more than 2 pounds over. If I weighed in at 148 pounds, all was golden. Weigh in at 148.2 pounds and I would have to pay. It isn’t so much the paying that was the issue, but just the feeling of failure. In my case, I knew that I was skinny fat, that is, I had a normal BMI but had excess body fat. So, I was working on doing weight training to try to build muscle. I didn’t want to gain weight, but did want to gain muscle. At the same time, I didn’t really have a goal to lose more weight. After all, I was normal weight!
Back in the early 90s, my goal weight had been 125 pounds. I got there and couldn’t sustain it. So, I wanted to be more cautious now. For a few months, I really tried to lose body fat and build muscle, while mostly maintaining my weight. And, since I was just at 146 pounds at best, this was constantly stressful for me. I would wear shorts and a tank top to every weigh in to make sure I would not be over 148 pounds. I was super careful what I ate the day before. If I got a little constipation that would cause my weight to temporarily rise. This blog post does a good job of expressing the anxiety of the monthly weigh in, particularly when trying to build muscle. I think I am actually finally somewhat past that in that I am now far enough below my official goal weight where even if I have a bad week and my weight temporarily jumps up I am not in any danger of weighing in at more than 2 pounds above goal.
Now, in my case, the trying to build muscle while trying to lose body fat and maintaining my weight didn’t work. I did maintain my weight, but I didn’t improve my body fat percentage. So, it became clear to me that to lose any appreciable amount of body fat I need to lose more overall weight. I can’t stay this weight and do it. And, with a body fat over 40% I need to lose body fat. While 146 may be the top of the normal BMI weight range, for me, 146 pounds isn’t where I need to be since my body fat percentage is so high. And, simply working on weight training wasn’t enough in my situation. I had to face the fact that I won’t really lose much body fat unless I lose more weight. I do need to keep strength training so I maintain the muscle that I do have. And, I hope to build more muscle. But, in my case, to lower my body fat, I need to lose more fat and that means lose more weight.
If I lost body fat only and neither gained nor lost muscle I would need to get to 135 pounds to be about 40% body fat. I would need to get to 125 pounds to get to about 35% body fat. So, that is all well below where I am now. Of course, I do want to build some muscle so that I don’t have to rely just on losing body fat. Still, it is clear to me that 146 pounds is not a good weight for me and that I am obese by body fat percentages.
So, what does this have to do with goal weight? It is the flip side of the coin. For months, I was nervous every month at weigh in because I didn’t want to go more than 2 pounds above goal weight. The thing, though, is that I find it hard to focus to consistently stay in losing mode to get much below 146 pounds. SmartPoints has made it easier. At my last weigh in, I was at 143.6 pounds (24.6 BMI). And, for a moment I thought I was on my way to to my next unofficial goal of 135 pounds.
And, yet… my head still messes with me. I know that I am at goal and I see that normal BMI number. And, some part of me, still wants to be ruled by BMI. Just like I would panic at being slightly above a 25 BMI, I am also soothed by being below a 25 BMI. But, I shouldn’t be content with a normal BMI, when I am still over fat. And, it is mentally hard for me to stick with losing weight mode when I see that I am below 146 pounds. This week I am currently over 2 pounds above where I was at last weigh in. I am not in any danger of weighing above 148 pounds, but I am only slightly below my goal of 146 pounds right now. Somehow I see that weight below 146 and I mentally give myself permission to eat more since I can eat more and gain a couple of pounds and still be at goal. On the flip side, if I see the scale jump above 146 pounds, I immediately get back into losing mode.
Of course, one solution to this is to set my Weight Watchers goal at 135 pounds. Then, I don’t see myself as being at goal. There are two problems with this. First, it makes no economic sense. With a goal of 146 pounds, I don’t have to pay. With a goal of 135 pounds, I would have to pay until I got to 137 pounds. If that was the only reason, though, I think I would just pay the money and set my goal lower.
But, psychologically, I’m not sure doing that would help. Yes, I would know my goal was less, but I would still know that I was in a normal BMI range. I would know that I could reset my goal to 146 pounds any time I wanted to. I am not sure setting my official goal at 135 pounds would make that much difference when I was at home during the week.
The difficulty for me is that getting to a normal BMI was always such a goal for me (with all of its flaws), that I am flailing around a bit at trying to lose below that. Back, when my goal was 125 pounds I set a goal based upon where I thought I would look good. Back then, I was much younger and my body fat percentage was lower than it is now. My waist measurement at 146 pounds was several inches smaller than my current waist measurement. I don’t remember the top of my range back then. It varied with age. But, 125 pounds was well below the top of the range. In my mind at the time, though, I was really picking goal weight based upon what I thought was my ideal weight based upon how I thought I would look. (And, in fact, for awhile I was below that. My lowest weigh in weight was 119 pounds). Health considerations weren’t really a major factor back then. Now, it is health considerations that are more important to me than just how I look (although I do still care about that).
Honestly, 146 pounds isn’t my ideal weight. It is simply the highest healthy weight for my height according to Weight Watchers. But, once I get within that normal range I find it hard to stay motivated to go from there to 135 pounds or 125 pounds. If I had a healthy body fat percentage at 146 pounds, it wouldn’t matter. I would just be content to be there. If I am OK, why stress to get to ideal?
But, my body fat percentage is high so I am not really OK to be there at 146 pounds. I want to be lower, at least 135 pounds and maybe a little lower than that (but only while sustainable). But, I continue to have trouble getting traction to go lower. I weighed in at 143.6 pounds at my last weigh in. My lowest weight in about 25 years. It was great.
And, I sustained it for several days. But, since then, I have struggled. I’ve had some great days, but others I have just flat out overate. I have to weigh in this Saturday (well, at my first February meeting) and I know I am in no danger of going over 148 pounds. So, I don’t feel that pressure. My struggle is how to stay consistently in losing mode when I see a normal weight on the scale.
I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. I don’t really know the answer. Nothing I have written here is news to me. I know there is a mismatch between the weight I want to be — based upon body composition — and the top of the normal BMI weight range. Just like there are people who can weigh above a normal BMI and may not be over fat, there are people who may be at a normal BMI who are over fat. I know that I am one of that group. My head tells me that. My head tells me that I can’t just stop with a BMI of 25 and call it done. Yet, translating that into a real sense of urgency and action has been difficult for me. It still is. And, I’m not quite sure how to stay on track to get to where I want to be. When I weighed over 200 pounds or even 180 pounds, I knew I was obese and had a real sense of urgency to get below it. Then, even in the 150s I felt a need to get to a normal BMI, although not quite as urgent. Now that I am below 146 pounds, emotionally, I find it hard to have that sense of urgency. But, in reality, at my body fat percentage it is still really important to lose body fat. But, that is my head talking. I haven’t yet brought my heart along with it.
Has anyone experienced this? How do you keep up motivation to get from what is sort of OK to get to something more ideal? How do you keep up motivation to lose weight when it isn’t as urgent as it was starting out?