Each of us has in mind, in a more or less conscious way, a hypothetical “ideal weight” for himself, a number that if one day, while we are weighing ourselves, we see on the scale, it would make us say ”Here! I’m really in shape, I have the perfect weight! ”.
It may be what we had when we were teenagers and we thought we could bend the world to our will, it may be what we already have even if we are not physically “perfect”, or it may be a number that rationally makes no sense because it is not never been our burden and we already know in our hearts that we will never get there.
The concept of “healthy weight” – at least in everyday language – is therefore personal and depends on the vision that each of us has of himself.
But on a more scientific level, the concept of healthy weight is a more structured topic, which puts a strain on those who want to lose weight and maintain the right weight over time.
What is the body mass index
A healthy weight is essential for identifying energy needs, i.e. how many calories (and which type) to eat each day.
There are various methods to understand what this weight is: a tool that is usually used is the Body Mass Index.
BMI, also called BMI (from the English “ Body Mass Index “) is an indicator that is used as a discriminant in the clinical setting to determine if a person is in a normal situation , overweight (or obesity) or underweight.
It is a value obtained from a simple mathematical operation in which the weight of the person and his height are used as variables, as follows: in the numerator there is the weight expressed in kg, while in the denominator the high height squared, measured in meters.
BMI = weight (kg) / [height (m)] 2
The normal range is for values between 18.5 and 24.5: below 18.5 it is considered underweight, above 24.5 overweight.
Values above 30 indicate obesity , which can be 1st degree, 2nd degree (with BMI over 35) or 3rd degree (with BMI over 40).
If you want to test it, just do this by replacing the variables with your own data.
For example, a 1 meter 70 tall person who weighs 60 kg has a BMI of about 21 and is within the normal range.
It goes without saying that taking into account nothing but weight and height, categorizing a person based on just two data provides a very partial view of that person’s physical state : the index of body mass does not take into account muscle mass, gender or age, but it can be considered a good starting point to understand in which direction to move.
But always paying attention: a person who is overweight due to the calculation of the BMI but who has a very important muscle mass, because perhaps he trains constantly, certainly will not be put on a diet, because precisely the operation does not take this into consideration! It is no coincidence that the use of BMI is criticized when it comes to verifying the ideal weight as an ideal weight.
The BMI cannot therefore be the only value on which to base yourself if you want to know whether or not you are in your ideal weight, also because we are talking about a range of values, whose extremes can also be very different: it will not be the same if your BMI is 18.5 or 24.9.
In general, in dietetics, an average value is used to get an idea of the weight that a person should have to be considered fit, and is the one resulting from a BMI equal to 22.5: the nutrition professional who will assess the adequacy of your weight will take this number into consideration and will act by adapting the dietary scheme to your ideal needs, in addition to several others variables.
Body composition: fat mass and lean mass
In addition to BMI, another useful tool to assess our fitness is the knowledge of body composition , that is, knowing the percentage of lean mass and fat mass present in our body.
The fat mass (or Fat Mass) is made up of all the lipids present in our body and can be divided into essential fat and storage fat.
essential fat is a structural part of tissues such as the brain, bone marrow and various organs.
The storage fat constitutes the fat that we see for example in the belly and buttocks area and in turn is divided into subcutaneous or visceral.
Fat mass can vary a lot, but it must not fall below certain percentages in order not to compromise the normal functioning of the body, since it constitutes our main reserve of energy .
Non-lipid lean mass (or Fat Free Mass ), on the other hand, is made up of muscles and skeleton and can vary according to our level of training.
There are various ways to measure body composition: the most used and widespread are skin folds and bioimpedance analysis.
The detection of skin folds involves measuring the thickness of the subcutaneous fat layer thanks to the use of a caliper.
Bio-impedancemetry measures the electrical resistance of various body tissues through their water content.
Each type of measurement has its limits but provides a good approximation and data that can be taken into account together with the BMI.
Body composition is fundamental in determining our state of form: in fact, when we lose or gain weight, the percentage distribution of the components of fat and lean mass varies.
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Healthy weight and diet
Let’s say it’s done: you’ve reached your ideal weight, thanks to a famous diet that a friend tried successfully.
You look at the number on the scale with satisfaction and see (or convince yourself) that the clothes fit you much better.
You feel light.
Now you can finally stop turning down drinks, dinner invitations or pizza. It sounds too good to be true and indeed it is: once you reach your ideal weight with so many sacrifices, a wrong lifestyle will bring you back exactly where you started. It is clear that the very idea of sacrifice requires that it be done within an acceptable time window. How much can you sacrifice? How many privations do you have to inflict on yourself?
The reason you quickly regain the weight you lost once you finish the diet is that perhaps the very concept of a diet is wrong. You don’t have to import fast weight loss cycles because they are based on momentary losses anyway: you lose fluids, for example, you lose accumulated fat. But if you are not lifestyle changes , your daily routine, it is practically certain that you will regain all the lost weight, with interest.
If you did some analysis you would find that your BMI is within normal range, but a deeper investigation of body composition does not add up to something.
What went wrong?
The real meaning of the word diet from the Greek instead is “lifestyle”, that is everything that includes everyday life, the way we live our days and routines, both food and general.
In short, our habits. Good habits.
This is why the diets we do nowadays don’t work: they are momentary changes and at the limit of feasibility that require too many deviations from the daily routine, sacrifices based on a willpower that is put to severe test from the habits of others, from advertising, from the short time available.
The real problem is that making definitive changes, even if much smaller, such as eliminating sugar from coffee, seems to us something impossible, while on the contrary it is these that can really change our life (and weight, if let’s talk about food modifications). The race towards the ideal weight begins with the small sacrifices: eliminate the sugar from the coffee, then introduce a walk of a few kilometers. It’s a step, but it’s the beginning of something nonetheless.
Getting to your ideal weight does not have to be an aspiration to see the perfect number on the scale.
There are other factors to weigh carefully, namely your state of general well-being and physical health.
Ask yourself from time to time: “Am I okay with myself? Do I feel physically well or are the usual ailments always present? Are your blood values OK or are they a risk factor for metabolic diseases? Does my doctor agree on my fitness? “.
Even if the number you see on the scale is the one you really wanted to reach, ask yourself this question honestly: you feel really good , you feel you are in a healthy relationship with your body, you feel at yours also comfortable in the midst of others?
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, great, keep it up. Otherwise, don’t stop reading.
How to maintain weight over time
As we’ve seen, it’s hard to tell what our ideal weight really is.
Its definition is not unique, but includes several factors such as weight, lean mass and fat mass and not least your state of both physical and mental well-being.
Here are 7 key points you shouldn’t forget:
- the ideal weight changes over the course of life depending on the physiological moment in which you are (adolescence, adulthood, old age, pregnancy);
- normality cannot be defined solely by a mathematical operation with a few variables: you can calculate the BMI yourself if you want, but remember that it only counts in part;
- your training level and your muscle mass affect in a more or less important way: train regularly and consistently;
- the ideal weight is ideal when it determines a decrease in risk factors for your health: consult your doctor to find out which ones are in your case;
- replace the expression “I go on a diet” with ” lifestyle change (food) “: replace refined cereals with whole grains, increase the consumption of vegetables and fruit during the day, insert healthy sources of protein, these are all behaviors that little by little will bring about big changes in your health;
- the optimal form is the one that makes you feel at ease with yourself and among others;
- maintaining a healthy weight is possible with the definitive modification of the small daily habits, proceed in small steps. Do not eliminate pasta and bread, for example, but reduce the portion over time.