Each of these suggestions are important, but not all are clear. Because people represent a diverse population - with a variety of ages, shapes and backgrounds - how can individuals determine precisely what a "healthy weight" is for them?
Understanding healthy weight beyond BMI
According to Cheryl Holsworth, RN, a senior specialist for bariatric surgery at S harp Memorial Hospital, medical providers commonly use body mass index (BMI) as a tool to assess an individual to determine if they are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. BMI is a calculation that uses a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can be an indicator of having high amounts of body fat, which may lead to health problems.
However, BMI does not differentiate between muscle and fat. Other important factors, such as an individual's health conditions, lab values, fitness level, distribution of body fat (adipose tissue) - particularly in the abdomen and the neck - and other important measurements are used to determine a person's healthy weight.
"There are a variety of diagnostic tools used to help guide medical providers in assessing health risks related to one's weight," Holsworth says. "And it is equally important to evaluate an individual's relationship with food, lifestyle habits, eating habits, and emotional health when assessing them for a healthy weight."
Importance of a healthy weight
The importance of a healthy weight has recently been highlighted, as those who are overweight or obese are reported to be at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. Other health conditions that can be related to a high weight include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and other respiratory conditions
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as fatty liver, gallstones and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Fertility issues in women and men
- Kidney diseases
- Certain cancers such as breast, colon and renal cell cancers
- Skin issues
- Musculoskeletal disability or pain
However, it is important to note that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight does not always require weight loss. In fact, being underweight can also negatively affect your health, both physically and mentally.
Risks of being underweight or malnourished include the following:
- Osteoporosis from low vitamin D and calcium levels
- Nutritional issues related to the reduced intake of essential nutrients
- Delayed wound healing
- Stunted growth in children
- Decreased immunity
Best way to reach your healthy weight
Whether you are concerned about being overweight or underweight, Holsworth recommends that you talk with your doctor. Together you can determine your healthiest weight and create a plan to reach and maintain it.
"Have your medical provider or a dietitian make an assessment of your health," she says. "Follow up with them regularly and follow their advice."
Holsworth also offers the following tips:
- Evaluate emotional connections with food and food triggers to avoid eating inappropriate foods or overeating.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Find exercise or physical activity that you enjoy. It is motivating to engage with others who enjoy the same activity.
- Eat foods rich in nutrients, such as lean protein sources, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.