How do I determine my goal weight?

There are many factors to consider when trying to determine your “goal weight” or “Bright Body.” In no particular order, here are some things to keep in mind…

When just starting out, especially if coming from bigger numbers, many people pick an initial goal weight that they know is preliminary, but it’s the lowest number they can currently wrap their mind around. They suspect that they’ll reassess when they get closer. That is very typical. A long weight-loss journey can be successfully traversed with no firm goal weight in mind or with a series of successively lowered goal weights.

Many people target a specific number and find, as they close in on that number, that it’s advantageous to switch to a goal weight range. For example, if your specific goal weight is 130 pounds, your range might be between 128 and 132 pounds. That takes into account the normal fluctuations in weight that often occur day to day and week to week.

People tend to find, over years and years of maintenance, that their goal weight range trends up or down and rarely stays perfectly static. Flexibility with the notion of “goal weight” is key. The body is a living, breathing system, and its needs and state flex and flux over the years based on myriad factors. Many of us find that we need to let go of “that number” and stay fluid with our bodies, prioritizing feeling happy, free, and neutral with our food above any particular number on the scale.

You may want to consider a different term than “goal weight.” One alternative is “goal body.” The term “goal body” comes from the book AC: The Power of Appetite Control by Bert Herring, MD. This approach involves asking yourself what you want your body to be able to do. Is the body you’re in meeting those criteria? To hear more about this non-scale way of conceiving of your goal, see the vlog that Susan released on December 5, 2018.

There are other alternative terms to “goal weight” as well. One is “quality life body,” which involves thinking about how your body supports your quality of life and settling into a relationship with your food and your body that best enhances well-being and flourishing. Another option is “Bright Body,” which we are particularly fond of using here at BLE—it puts the emphasis on maintaining shiny Bright Lines and trusting your body to find its way into the size that results from that single priority. In the Eating Disorder community, many people refer to a “happy weight” instead of a “goal weight.” A “happy weight” allows breathing room in one’s life—freedom to attend social events, to eat heavier choices sometimes, and to have full vibrancy and energy. It feels happy and free, not constrained or restrictive. These are alternative perspectives you might consider as you land the plane at maintenance.

As you get close to a maintenance-weight range, ask yourself, how do you feel in your body? Are you moving around comfortably, feeling good in your clothes and being in social situations without feeling self-conscious about your body? Just not thinking about it one way or the other—in other words, feeling neutral in your body—is one indication that you’ve settled into a comfortable size.

Is there a weight you were at in the past when you felt healthy and comfortable in your body? That might be a number to consider. Even if you’re much older now, our experience has shown us that many people can, indeed, return to a former goal-weight range from earlier in their lives, even if other aspects of their body or lifestyle have shifted over time.

Consider your bone structure. Is it small, medium, or large? Bones have weight, and a larger frame that is right-sized will carry more weight than a smaller frame. An easy method to assess your bone structure is to wrap the thumb and middle finger of your right hand around your left wrist. If the thumb overlaps your middle finger to the first knuckle, that might indicate you have smaller bones. If they barely overlap or just touch you might be more medium-sized, and if there’s a sizable gap, that could indicate you have a larger bone size.

Also consider your body’s shape. Is your body equally proportioned from top to bottom? Or do you have a pear shape, where you carry more weight in the lower half of your body? Those with a pear shape may need to add as much as 5-20 pounds to their goal weight, as the musculature of their legs, in a lean state, can add a fair bit of overall mass to the frame.

Are you coming from big numbers? Have you lost a LOT of weight? Do you have extra skin? Some of the skin may tighten up over time, and some perhaps will not. Extra skin has weight, although there is no precise formula for determining how much it may weigh, so you might need to consider as much as 5-25 pounds of extra skin weight when thinking about a goal number.

Some people consult BMI (Body Mass Index) charts, which measure body size based on a person’s weight in kilograms (kg) divided by his or her height in meters squared. Traditionally, a normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, but some agencies like the NIH have started using different cutoff points. The BMI chart will provide a broad range of what a “normal” weight is for your height. Keep in mind, though, that even that broad range may not be appropriate for your body, because the BMI does not take muscle mass into consideration.

Another weight measure is what we call the “French Formula.” This is a way of estimating body weight that was developed in 1871 by Pierre Paul Broca. Yet another weight measure is the Fuhrman Formula, based on Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s guidelines. For more information about these tools, see this FAQ.

Please note that if you have a current eating disorder (ED) or a history of an ED, it’s wise to be cautious about determining your own goal weight. You may want to write in to a coaching call to receive guidance, and be sure to double check your thinking with your doctor and other trusted confidantes. Especially if the number you have in mind is on the lighter side of the above recommendations, please get support and practice surrender and flexibility. Real recovery may, indeed, involve practicing acceptance and letting go of what may be a too-firm grip on a particular “ideal number.” Breathe, get support, and stay open-minded.

Remember that the body is going to have an opinion as well. It’s not necessarily wise or advantageous to fight the body to get to a specific number. If you’re on a light food plan and your weight isn’t going down, you’re very hungry, and/or your brain is constantly hounding you for food, it may be time to add food even if you’re not at the number you had in mind.

Finally, for some, a goal weight may not be a fixed number and can change over time. Many Bright Liners have set a goal weight as a number they’d always dreamed of, and then found that they were able to get there and keep going! Others have gotten to a number, realized they might be a little low, and went back up again. Others have a number in mind but find that their body fights them and won’t seem to get down there, and they’ve had to surrender to a higher weight than they’d hoped. It varies, individual by individual. At the end of the day, a connection with one’s highest self may be the best source of guidance around what a Bright Body looks and feels like.