A lot of times, when someone is first starting to try and combat their weight, they take to the internet and look up their ideal weight. They want to know just what they’re supposed to weigh for their height.
After all, don’t doctors use this? Isn’t this closely tied to the Body Mass Index (BMI)?
To some extent, that’s true. But focusing on your ideal weight can be dangerous at the end of the day.
You see, today is the last day of the first week of my reverse diet. Despite the increase in calories, I still lose a bit of weight. I suspect it would have been more if my sleep hadn’t gotten jacked up a couple of nights. It was only 0.6 lbs, but that’s with eating more food and with some bad sleep, so I’ll take it.
After getting on the scale, I did a quick check of my body fat percentage. I don’t check it every week like I should, but I check it fairly often. I was thrilled to see my lean body mass is right where it was a few weeks back when I last check, down to the tenth of a pound.
But after morbid curiosity, I decided to look up what my ideal weight is, and this is what I saw.
See, this doesn’t mean much to you right now, but I’m going to let you in on something. None of those ideal body weights are possible without me doing very bad things to my body.
Why? Well, because my lean body mass was calculated at 151.3 lbs alone. The only formula that calculates my ideal body weight not giving me a number below that lean body mass is the Hamwi scale, and that would give me a body fat percentage of something like two percent.
That’s not exactly ideal for long-term health.
Hell, even the BMI range isn’t exactly practical.
You see, my goal weight right now is 165. Based on my current body fat percentage, allowing for losing a little LBM, that should put me at about 10 percent body fat. That’s fairly lean, but not unhealthily so.
The BMI range would require me to cut even further just to hit the upper edges of the range. Being comfortable in a normal body fat range, though, isn’t practical.
Unfortunately, some people will look at those ideal ranges and just start working towards those. They’ll be confident that they’re doing the right thing, that they’re being healthy because the experts’ formulas said so.
However, they’re probably going to wreck their bodies and their metabolisms in the process.
You see, muscle helps boost your metabolism. Not a great deal, mind you, but some. When coupled with intense dieting, an individual’s metabolic adaptation is going to lead to one needing to cut calories to an unhealthy amount just to see weight loss.
And that’s only part of the problem.
Another issue is that there’s some scientific evidence suggesting that when you cut lean body mass rather than fat, your body increases production of leptin and ghrelin. These two hormones have an impact on hunger. The more LBM lost, the more leptin and ghrelin are produced (from my layman’s understanding).
This is probably why so many who lose weight fail. They cut weight aggressively. In the process, they drop a lot of LBM. Unfortunately, that means they then start getting hungry as their body wants that lean body mass back.
People, now thinking they’re at a healthy weight, try to resist it. However, willpower isn’t something that will last forever and eventually, many succumb. Just like that, they start reversing all the work they’ve done.
Now, it can be mitigated. For example, I’ve lost about 10 lbs or so of lean body mass in the 61 lbs I’ve lost so far. I’m not thrilled about it, but it’s something I’ll have to deal with.
So, when I hit my goal, it’ll be time to find a new one. This time, I’ll be building muscle. The name of the game will be to replace that lean body mass I lost in a controlled and healthy manner. Natural bodybuilders do it all the time, so yes, it can be done. Plus, I don’t really need to gain all that much.
But that’s a topic for another day.
That said, when it comes to ideal weight calculations, though, they’re really a bad idea for many people.
Unfortunately, that leaves the question of what one should do then?
For me, that answer is and has always been body fat percentage. Body fat calipers can be had pretty inexpensively on Amazon and calculators are available on the internet. While it takes a bit of skill to learn to use calipers correctly, if you’re consistently wrong, you’ll still get useful information.
The advantage to using body fat measurements, though, is that it lets you tailor your efforts to your body.
For example, a woman who has been a heavyweight Olympic weightlifter is probably going to have a lot of lean body mass. She probably doesn’t necessarily want to lose all of that, either. By using body fat percentage and trying to get her’s in a healthy range, she can see much more advancement than if she used BMI or her ideal weight for her height.
In the same vein, body fat percentage is also useful for someone trying to gain weight. After all, chances are good they want muscle rather than fat. Checking one’s body fat would allow that person to make sure they’re gaining where they want to gain.
But whatever you do, don’t try to follow your ideal body weight as a goal blindly. If it also means you’re at a healthy body fat percentage, awesome, but in many cases, it doesn’t and it can lead to serious problems later on.