If you're trying to lose weight, you probably have a goal, your ideal weight, in mind. A good question to ask yourself is, "Where did I get this number?"
Is it what you weighed in high school? Is it what health experts suggest you should weigh, based on your age, body frame and body type?
While weight loss is an admirable goal for a woman who is truly overweight, many women who want to lose weight don't need to. In study after study, researchers have found that the majority of normal weight women think they need to lose 10 or 15 pounds: what I call vanity pounds.
Why is this a problem?
If our happy weight is based on unrealistic expectations, it will cause us much pain and suffering. We'll exhaust ourselves, trying to achieve the impossible. We'll live in fear: when we've lost weight, we're fearful of gaining it back; when we've gained a few pounds, we're fearful that the scale will keep rising. We may delve into all sorts of whacked out behaviors: crash dieting, food obsession, fasting, and overexercising in our desire to reach our goal.
Unrealistic expectations can create an unhealthy focus on our appearance. You can only be 10 pounds underweight if you're working very, very hard: by exercising for hours a day and being very stringent about what you eat. These behaviors can easily morph into an eating disorder.
The flip side, accepting a realistic happy weight, may mean giving up our wishful thinking of being a size 2. This can be painful; I know. But the rewards of letting go of our impossible expectations are many: vitality, feeling satisfied by the variety and amount of food we eat, energy, stable moods, confidence and a healthy appreciation for our appearance instead of obsession. It's also a sure way to temper the jealousy you may feel about other pretty women.
How can you find a weight that is realistic for your body? Here are 5 tips:
1. Look at the unique factors of your body. Self magazine has a calculator to determine your happy weight which takes into account your age, exercise habits, and if you've had children. You can also factor in your eating and self-care habits: Do you have ways of comforting yourself without turning to food? If not, accept that this may mean weighing a bit more than you'd like until you have stronger nurturing skills. As you learn how to care for yourself, your weight may go down. But accept where you are right now. Then, as Maya Angelou says, as you know better, you do better. And then you can adjust your goal. Having realistic expectations is about looking at what is - not what you'd like to be - and using that information to shape and mold a positive, yet honest expectation for change.
2. Aim for a healthy body fat percentage. One of the best ways to compute a realistic happy weight is by basing it on a healthy body fat percentage. Start by figuring out your current body fat percentage. Then, you can use this number to figure out how much of your weight is comprised of core, lean mass: your organs, muscles, water, and tissues, and how much of your weight is fat. It can also tell you if your body fat percentage is in a healthy range. So, if you want 22% body fat, which is considered a healthy body fat percentage for a woman, you can see whether you need to lose a few pounds, or if your body is healthy just as it is. With hard data, and real numbers, you can see if your expectations are realistic.
3. Look at media images of women with a critical eye. Look at window mannequins in most women's clothing stores, and you'll see a woman whose body fat would make her underweight. Likewise, the "ideal body" that is touted in the movie industry, fashion industry and media is also underweight. This skews our perception, where, as Stanley Tucci's character in The Devil Wears Prada famously quippped, a size 2 is the new 6; a size 6, the new size 14. Separate yourself from these images by recognizing them for what they are: unrealistic. This doesn't mean turning into the body image police. When I see celebrities who look clearly underweight, I bypass judgment. But I do feel compassion for them -- think of the enormous pressure they must feel to always look their best. I know I wouldn't want to live with that kind of scrutiny on my appearance.
4. Give yourself enough time to lose weight. If you are wanting to lose weight, one of the best ways you can support yourself is by giving yourself time to accomplish your goal. You didn't gain weight overnight; you won't lose it overnight, either. If you're holding onto an unrealistic expectation about how quickly you can lose weight, you'll either be discouraged and frustrated because it's taking longer than you think it "should," or you'll delve into drastic measures to lose the weight faster, such as starving yourself, purging, or overexercising. This is being kind to yourself, allowing time for changes to manifest. It's nature's way - growth and change take time.
5. Recognize that your happy weight will change over time. Health is dynamic, not static. Our bodies are always changing, and life is always in flux. The media focus on Jessica Simpson was ridiculous because it denied this basic truth. It is normal for our weight to go up and down, particularly as women. One year you have a baby; another year, you have major surgery and have limited exercise capabilities; another year, you're under tremendous stress and gain weight. All of these things can effect what a realistic weight is for your body at this moment in time. Accepting that your ideal weight may be higher than you'd like - for now - doesn't mean that this will always be the case. Accept the ebb and flow; the highs and the lows, and learn to love a weight range for your body, not just one ideal weight.
We are so much more than a number, but as women in an appearance-conscious society, it is very, very eased to get hooked by the promise of an ideal body. It's easy to believe that it will solve all our pain - our confidence, our needs, our desire for intimacy, acceptance, and belonging.
These needs are valid and important. But the problem is when we use our bodies to feel these needs, instead of our innate worthiness, our beingness. It creates too much pressure, too much focus on one area of our lives. It keeps us from enjoying the present moment, trapped in a place where we are never satisfied; always striving to improve. It keeps us from appreciating what our bodies can do, how we live in them and enjoy their many gifts.
It's a gift to live in a female body. Our beauty should be cherished and appreciated; our sexuality, enjoyed; our strength, celebrated. Yes. While we are not our bodies, we do live in them --- and when we love and care for them, we send a message of love and care for our entire selves.
So, yes, love and care for your body as a loving caretaker, even as a mother lovingly cares for her children. Exercise. Move, sweat, dance, run play. Rest when you're tired. Eat when you're hungry. Feed it whole foods that nourish your particular body (because no one diet is right for everyone.) Breathe. Dream. Release your hurts.
But do so with detachment. Do it out of love, not out of hatred, fear, jealousy or disgust --- I am such a fat cow! ... I am going to run 5 miles because I ate that pizza last night.... I am so sick of being fat ... I hate that skinny b***ch. Love your body with acceptance, embracing every stage and weight of your body, recognizing that your real worth has nothing to do with a number on a scale.
Other articles you may like:
- The Love Your Body Series
- Why Beauty Matters
- Make Small Changes to Improve Your Body Image
- How to Feel Good About Yourself When You Don't Love Your Body
- Get a Positive Body Image by Adding Discipline
- Are You a Perfectionist? 3 Ways to Relax Your Expectations about Your Body
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[photo credit: Getty Images]