How Much Should I Weigh?
The answer to this question will be different from person to person. Even people of the same height or physical build will have different ideal weights. Some will scoff at the idea of an “ideal weight” — suggesting instead that your ideal weight is whatever weight you are comfortable with.
But what most people want to know when they ask “How much should I weigh?” — how much the average person of their height weighs. We want to fit in, to have a niche. We want to be “the skinny girl”, or “the average guy” and we may think of other people as “big-boned” or “voluptuous”. Labels are convenient, and when it comes to something personal like weight, wearing label is often comforting.
What is BMI?
When talking about “ideal weight”, a lot of fitness types and the diet-obsessed talk about this mystical number, the “BMI.” It stands for Body Mass Index and it is supposed to be a single calculation that reveals (using just your height and weight) if you are “underweight”, “overweight”, or “obese.” Unfortunately for proponents of the BMI, it is fast losing ground as a diagnostic tool.
The BMI was invented by a Belgian mathematician with a hell of a name — Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. Quetelet was not trying to make a statement about people’s health — he was merely inventing a category to represent their relative height and weight so he could publish a sociological study. His book, 1835’s “A Treatise on Man and the Development of His Faculties,” is really just a “study of the average man.” Quetelet never drew any conclusions from the BMI about health, he used it as a statistical tool. Cut to the year 2010 and everyone is walking around worried stiff about their BMI. Ridiculous.
To calculate your BMI, mutiply your weight times 703 then divide that number by the square of your height in inches. Here’s an example for the math-disinclined:
Weight, 190 pounds. Height, 6 ft (72 inches)
72 squared = 5184
190 (weight in pounds) x 703 = 133570
133570 divided by 5184 (height in inches squared) = 25.76
BMI = 25.76
According to the BMI scale, this person (at 6 feet tall and 190 pounds) is classified as “overweight.” This is a big reason why the BMI is not a good way to gauge a person’s health by weight, and now is it a good way to figure out how much you should weigh. BMI vastly overestimates the amount of fat in lean bodies and vastly underestimates the amount of fat in obese people’s bodies, and as such it is not an accurate measurement.
Luckily, there are some ways to figure out “how much you should weigh” — namely the Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR) and body fat percentage.
The WHR doesn’t give us a weight we “should be”, but it does tell us if our weight and muscle tone are dangerous for our heart. A WHR is a simple ratio of the circumference of your waist to the circumference of your hips. Take the WHR number by measuring the smallest circumference of your waist, just above your belly button, and divide that total by the circumference of your hip at its widest.
If a person’s waist is 28 inches and her hips are 36 inches, her WHR is 28 divided by 36, or 0.77. This turns out to be a perfectly acceptable WHR score that means this person’s weight is not harmful to their cardiovascular health. Here’s the “healthy” and “unhealthy” scores for men and women’s WHR.
Male WHR Scores
Less than 9 – low risk of cardiovascular health problems
0.9 to 0.99 – moderate risk of cardiovascular health problems
1 or over – high risk of cardiovascular problems
Female WHR Scores
Less than 0.8 – low risk of cardiovascular health problems
0.8 to 0.89 – moderate risk of cardiovascular health problems
0.9 or over – high risk of cardiovascular problems
The big knock on WHR is that it doesn’t give an accurate measure a person’s body fat, or their muscle-to-fat ratio. Critics don’t seem to understand that the WHR is important in that it predicts cardiovascular health, and not as a tool to measure a person’s specific “healthy weight.”
Percent Body Fat
Body fat percentage is the weight of your body fat divided by your total weight in pounds. The number that comes out is a percentage that indicates your essential fat as well as storage fat.
Essential fat is the amount of fat in your body that is necessary for survival. Please note that women require a higher percentage of essential fat than men. Look for 2%-5% essential fat in men, and 10%-13% in women. Storage fat is similar to essential fat — it exists in adipose tissue in the body, protecting internal organs in the abdomen.
To find your total body fat percentage, you need to add essential fat and storage fat. The following percentages are recommended by dozens of medical experts worldwide, including the CDC and WHO.
Non-athletic but fit
Men 38% or more
Women 42% or more
BMI was problematic because it begins to fall apart at the extremes of weight, both the extremely athletic and the morbidly obese. Body fat percentage doesn’t crack under the pressure of these more complicated bodies — you’ll notice that the body fat percentage recommendations are more customized than any other scale, including entries for athletic bodies, average bodies, etc.
So how do you find these percentages? Your gym and your doctor’s office should be well-equipped to determine your body fat percentage. There are devices (manual and electronic) that can give you a very accurate number for your body fat percentage.
Finding your ideal weight can be confusing. Many doctors still use the BMI as a “healthy weight” index, but science has shown us that combining understanding of your natural body type with your waist to hip ratio and your body fat percentage is the best way to know if you are at a healthy weight.