Here’s a little pet peeve of mine. It’s the idea of being at your “healthy” weight, and how people like to pay lip service to that term. “Oh, I’d just like to reach a healthy weight”, they’ll say. When they’re already at, or close to, a healthy weight, and what they’d actually like to reach is a weight where they look like Jennifer Aniston.
What’s my healthy weight?
Up until very recently, I was a lifelong dieter. I was struggling to get down to a size 4, and failing miserably. Now, I strive to maintain my healthy weight. Which is likely not “the weight that mainstream media has decided women should be at in order to deserve love and happiness”.
Let me share my stats with you. (I’m not afraid to tell the world what I weigh, because maybe if people stop thinking that all healthy, fit women weigh 110 pounds, they’ll stop judging the rest of us so harshly). I am 5’3 & a half (yes, that half is very important). I weighed in this morning at 139.6 pounds. This gives me a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 24.3, which puts me in the “healthy” zone (and in a size 8 most days).
Do I look like Jennifer Aniston? Well, no… but I likely wasn’t ever going to anyway. Can I push a full wheel barrow-load of horse manure from the bottom of our two acre field to the top? Yes, I can. Can I hold my own in your average exercise class? Yes, I can.
Beautiful at Any Size
Listen. I think every woman is beautiful at any size. Beauty is more than skin-deep to me. I would, however, like all of the beautiful women I know to live long, healthy, happy lives. And I feel that by being at a healthy weight, they will be better able to do this.
Now, if you want to push yourself to the lower end of your healthy weight bracket because that’s where you feel most comfortable in your skin, I wish you all the power in the world as you work toward accomplishing that goal. But please, please, please try to do so without destroying your self-esteem in the process, which is what we do when we buy into this idea that healthy is “not enough”. Healthy is enough. Healthy is everything.
I feel happy and proud when I think about all of the adventures my healthy body has allowed me to have over the last few years. It’s taken me to the outback of Australia and the streets of Paris. To sandy Cape Cod beaches and dusty horse show arenas. None of which would have been any more awesome if I were a size four. Some wouldn’t even have been possible if I’d starved myself to get to that size.
Diet vs Exercise for Healthy Weight Loss
Scientifically speaking, weight loss is a function of burning more calories than you consume. There are two ways to achieve this – by consuming fewer calories, or by burning more. It’s basic math (so, by its very nature, simple but not necessarily easy).
For some, the idea of restricting food intake is akin to the suggestion that they gnaw off a limb. But beware that your average workout will likely not be enough to offset your poor eating habits. And considering the fact that a twenty minute walk burns fewer than a hundred calories, if your preferred method of maintaining a caloric deficit is through exercise alone, you’re going to have to do quite a bit of it.
But what if lengthy or intense workouts just don’t work for you? Or you have joint or mobility issues that make it impossible to exercise at a level that would allow you to lose weight? Not to worry, according to Charlotte Markey, a diet and behaviour expert at Rutgers University (and author of Smart People Don’t Diet). Weight loss is more likely to be a result of what you eat, not how long you exercise.
According to Markey, “Exercise increases appetite, and most people just make up for whatever they exercised off. There’s a lot of wonderful reasons to exercise and I always suggest it to people who are trying to lose weight—some sort of exercise regimen keeps them focused on their health and doing what is good for them, and it’s psychologically healthy. But in and of itself it won’t usually help people lose weight.”
So, what will help you get to a healthy weight?
If intense exercise just isn’t your cup of tea, then work on getting at least thirty minutes a day of moderate activity (preferably something you actually enjoy) and follow these guidelines:
- Stay within your ideal caloric intake (i.e. eat according to your goals).
- Eat reasonable portion sizes (of what, you ask? See #3)
- Fill up on nutrition-dense foods (think fewer calories but more nutrients, like fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains)
- Instead of “dieting”, work on creating a healthy lifestyle, one habit at a time
- Indulge once in a while. A weekly treat meal won’t derail your weight loss plans – just account for the calories, enjoy the treat and move on!
For me, I’ve found that if I do the following five things each day, I feel pretty good about my wellness:
- Drink enough water (try for eight glasses a day if you can manage it)
- Get active for at least thirty minutes a day (preferably doing something fun that you enjoy)
- Pay attention to what you’re putting on your plate – follow your meal plan for the day
- Plan tomorrow’s meals so you’re not caught off guard
- Make some time for YOU. Whether that’s riding your horse or reading a book.
I get overwhelmed if I have to follow a long, involved diet or exercise plan. I find it much more helpful to follow the five guidelines above, and I also find it helpful to track how I did each day. So I made up a little checklist I call a “Happy Tracker”. It’s simple, to the point, and lets me see at a glance which areas I did well in each day, and which ones need a little more attention. I’d be delighted to share it with you if you think it would help you as well:
Are you struggling to get to your healthy weight? Have you figured out some tips that might help others? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!