With summer here, the campus rec center may seem more crowded than the week before spring break as collegiettes try to perfect their beach bodies. But when it comes to hitting the gym, dieting, and getting to your ideal weight, the ultimate goal should always be health. We’re all for getting in shape, losing the freshman 15, and rocking that new bikini this summer, but it’s important to know what is a healthy weight for you, rather than hold yourself to unrealistic exercise and diet standards. We’ll help you find out what that weight is – and how to maintain it!
Finding Your Healthy Weight
If you want to know or track your weight, chances are that you’ll probably just step on the scale at the gym, see a number, smile or cringe, and then walk away. But a number on a scale is hard to interpret if you don’t know which weight is actually healthy for your particular body! Here are a few ways to find it.
Body Mass Index
Your individual healthy weight depends on a number of factors, including your height, shape, and even race. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a commonly used method that uses height and weight to estimate an individual’s body fat content. As a measurement of body fat, BMI can tell you how your physical composition compares to that of the general population.
Normal BMI measurements for adults fall between 18.5 and 24.9, whereas a BMI of less than 18.5 constitutes being “underweight,” a BMI of 25 to 29.9 constitutes being “overweight,” and a BMI of 30 or above constitutes being “obese.”
“It’s easy to calculate your BMI online,” says Antonia Hartley, the clinical nutrition specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Campus Health. She suggests using the National Institutes of Health’s BMI calculator.
Although BMI is commonly used by doctors and health professionals, there is an increasing amount of evidence that suggests it may not be the best tool to rely on. The number from a BMI calculation does not distinguish between fat and muscle mass, meaning that a fit person who is very muscular could fall into the overweight range, despite being in good physical shape.
“When many college students think about a healthy weight, the may immediately think a weight that falls into the healthy BMI category,” Hartley says. “However, I truly believe that we can be healthy at any size. BMI is only part of the equation.”
As Hartley explains, even the National Institutes of Health assert that one can reach a healthy weight without falling into the appropriate BMI category. “While the NIH is clear to point out that a BMI of 24.9 or greater puts one at greater risk of weight-related diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, the NIH is also supportive of the idea that if your BMI is considered overweight or obese and you do not have two or more risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, then you are at a healthy weight,” she says.
The National Institutes of Health calculation
BMI may not be a perfect tool, but luckily, there are other methods of determining your healthy weight. According to the National Institutes of Health, women can find a healthy body weight for their height using the following formula: Five feet in height corresponds to a healthy body weight of 100 pounds. Each inch beyond those first five feet corresponds to a weight increase of five pounds. So, a woman who is 5’3’’ would have a healthy body weight of 115 pounds. Obviously, your weight doesn't have to fall right on that five pound mark, but you can use this formula to figure out a general range that works well for your height.
Another way to know and keep track of your healthy body size is to measure your waist. Simply wrap a tape measure around your waist to the point where it fits snugly, and take a measurement. For most women, a healthy waist size is less than 35 inches, according to WebMd. However, the goals for a healthy waist size, as well as the standards for BMI, may be different if you are Asian.
Body fat percentage
Like BMI, waist measurements do not take into account the composition of body mass. For this reason, calculating your percentage of body fat can also help you pinpoint your healthy weight and provide guidelines for weight loss goals. For adult women, a range of 10 to 12 percent body fat is considered “essential,” and a range of 25 to 31 percent body fat is considered “acceptable.” Obesity is classified as having 32 percent body fat or higher. For men, athletes, and other fitness enthusiasts, these numbers differ.
Body fat percentage can easily be calculated by your doctor or online. Just fill out your gender, age, height, weight and waist measurement here. Before determining a weight loss goal, you should make sure your ideal weight does not fall below the essential percentage of body fat.
Using a combination of the above tools can help you determine a healthy five-pound weight range for your specific body at which you can look and feel your best. Aside from these measurements, remember that weight is not the only indicator of true physical health.
“A healthy weight is a weight that supports good, overall health – in terms of normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol, and normal blood sugar, for example,” Hartley says. “People of just about every size can be considered to be at a healthy weight if these lab values are normal, if they do not have any weight-related health problems, and if they get adequate physical activity.” Hartley says that your doctor can help you find out if your lab values are normal.
With such busy lives, collegiettes often find it hard to keep track of their weight, and many don’t know the value of these measurements.
“I have a scale in my bathroom, and I know my average weight, but I don’t always keep track of it while I’m at school,” says Jordan Delaney from Gannon University.
“It’s easier to think about while I’m home for the summer or on breaks. At school, I don’t always have time to think about it.”
Even if you think you don’t have time, it is important to know your healthy weight before you begin any exercise or diet plan so that you can set appropriate goals for yourself and understand your true physical status—beyond the number on your scale!
Getting to Your Healthy Weight
If you are not at your healthy weight, there are plenty of things you can do to get and stay there. Firstly, you can (and should) talk to your doctor or primary care physician to discuss your healthy weight range and strategies for gaining or losing the right amount of weight in a healthy way.
Whenever you’re trying to lose or gain X amount of pounds, it’s critical that you do so in a healthy, responsible way. We all know that crash diets and crazy workout goals are not the answer for long-term health and change. Rather, it’s important to set realistic, specific goals for yourself to incorporate healthy behavior into your daily life.
“For those who have two or more weight-related risk factors (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar) and have a BMI that is considered overweight or obese, weight loss of five to 10 percent of their current body weight is recommended,” Hartley says. To achieve this weight loss, Hartley offers a two-step plan.
“The first step is regular physical activity that is fun and convenient,” she says. She recommends getting at least 150 minutes of “sweaty exercise” per week.
If you’re looking for fun and convenient physical activity, consider going to an exercise class at your local or on-campus rec center. You and your friends can easily spend 60 minutes dancing those pounds away at a Zumba class, for example.
“The second step is to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet,” she says. “My favorite tool is the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, a simple tool that easily shows what a balanced meal should look like.”
MyPlate offers Daily Food Plans that can help you maintain your weight or gradually move to a healthier weight, depending on your weight goals. The plans are personalized based on factors like gender, age, weight, and level of physical activity.
You can also follow these 10 weight loss tips that actually work, which include tracking your calories using apps like Livestrong’s MyPlate and MyFitnessPal, keeping a food journal, limiting your liquid calories, and finding healthy alternatives for your favorite sweet treats.
“Consulting a registered dietitian is also a smart first step toward receiving accurate, personalized recommendations,” Hartley says.
The right diet and exercise plan for your body will set you on a path towards a healthier you in no time!
Maintaining Your Healthy Weight
Once you get to your healthy weight, give yourself a pat on the back – and maybe splurge on a new dress or bikini! Remember, though, that maintaining that weight is just as important as getting to it in the first place. Experts warn that trying to lose weight beyond your ideal weight is unhealthy and often results in regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose.
Despite her busy schedule, Jordan manages her size and weight by working out regularly and making healthy eating choices.
“I try to go to gym everyday,” she says. “I’m not trying to lose weight; I’m just trying to maintain my shape and gain muscle.”
Physical activity is necessary not only to help you lose weight, but also to maintain your weight. Experts assert that getting an extra 20 minutes of physical activity per day is a great start to preventing weight gain. That doesn’t mean you have to go for a 20-minute run or do a bunch of push-ups – you can get those extra 20 minutes simply by going on a walk!
Emily Balkonis, a collegiette from UNC-Chapel Hill, also incorporates physical activity into her daily life on campus as a way to stay fit and healthy. “I try to get a workout in five to six days a week,” she says. “I make sure to split my time between cardio and weights every week.”
The combination of cardio and weights helps Emily get a well-rounded workout. “Neither alone has been effective for me in the past,” she says. Specifically, she runs outside, rides a stationary bike, or uses an elliptical, and uses both free-weights and weight machines.
Like losing weight, maintaining weight is also about sticking to a healthy, balanced eating plan. For those of us who like our junk food a little too much, using food-tracking tools like MyPlate can help with maintaining weight through a healthy diet. Calorie tracking apps can give you a target amount of calories and nutrients you should consume daily to maintain your weight based on your current weight, height, age, and gender.
“[MyPlate] is an easy tool to help folks moderate their intake of starchy foods like potatoes, breads, chips, and sweets, and increase their intake of low-starch vegetables and fruits,” Hartley says. “Using MyPlate can help with maintaining your weight by promoting a healthy, balanced diet.”
Let’s face it, collegiettes – most of us could probably use this type of help. “Research shows that only four percent of UNC-Chapel Hill students eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and veggies,” says Hartley.
Once you’ve got the diet and physical activity under control, you’re on your way to healthy weight loss and maintenance. For success no matter what your goal, it’s important to stick with the program you set for yourself. Take it seriously, and don’t cheat!
A major reason why weight maintenance is so important is because yo-yo dieting, or inconsistent attempts at weight loss, can cause serious problems like depression and poor heart health. Furthermore, such inconsistency can actually reduce your metabolism and cause weight gain!
So stick with your healthy lifestyle, but don’t obsess over it. Emily says she owns a scale, but only uses it about once a week. “I like to keep track of my weight just to make sure I’m not gaining without realizing it; however I don’t suggest weighing yourself every day,” she says. “I did that my sophomore year, and because my weight fluctuated within a few pounds every day, it was harder to keep track of my overall progress. No huge changes are going to occur overnight, so weighing yourself that often isn’t necessary in my opinion.”
Obsessing about weight management can also lead to dangerous disordered eating. “If any of these behaviors, like tracking calories, becomes excessive, or if your weight gets too low for your height, you should definitely consult a registered dietitian, doctor, or therapist,” Hartley says.
The first step to any weight-related goal is to know your healthy weight. With that number, and the help of tools and apps, you can make a plan to get to – and stay at – the best weight for your body. By sticking to your plan, those physical activity and diet practices will soon become second nature, like they have for Jordan and Emily, and you’ll be on your way to a bikini-ready (and healthy) summer bod!