Americans seem obsessed with this number – and it’s not just the media, medical professionals care a lot too, some to the point of discrimination. Body weight measurements are important in the medical community – they can be used to appropriately dose medication and assess overall health.
While everyone talks about body weight, what they DON’T talk about is what an ideal weight for YOU might be. And that’s a problem because bodies are unique and an ideal weight for one person (or an ideal weight listed in a manual) may not be ideal for you.
After much research, turns out that body weight (the number on a scale) actually doesn’t provide much insight into overall health.
Body composition provides much more insight into overall health but it’s harder to assess.
Before I get into why, if you’re looking for a very quick weight-based ideal check out this Omni Calculator on Ideal Weight that will give you a snapshot of your ideal weight based off several different calculations.
Body Weight vs. Body Composition
Body weight is actually comprised of several key parts the weight of which can fluctuate day-to-day and person-to-person (even those of the same height/weight):
- Organs/Connective Tissue
The TLDR on this is that the weight distribution (where on your body you carry weight, especially around your waist) and the total percentage of body fat actually DO matter in terms of their impacts on overall health.
Check out this overview regarding waist circumference and body fat from Harvard Medical School and this study Percent body fat is a better predictor of cardiovascular risk factors than body mass index.
And this one from Nature Reviews Endocrinology that supports moving away from BMI and adopting waist circumference as the preferred health metric to track obesity and its impact on health outcomes.
With that said and the knowledge that bodies are unique we can go through a process of figuring out YOUR ideal weight.
How to Find Your Ideal Weight
You will want at a minimum a soft measuring tape for these measurements. If you don’t have one, you can take a long string and then lay it down on top of a rigid ruler to get the measurement but it would be a lot easier to just have a soft measuring tape.
You’ll also want something to record these measurements. I find a small notebook most helpful but there are apps you can use as well (Apple Health) to record them.
Additionally, you’ll also want to measure your height without shoes.
Step 1 – Measure Your Waist Circumference
Abdominal obesity or how much extra fat is around the midsection has been linked to significantly higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. It also can be a sign of increased visceral fat also known as “hidden fat” which is a type of fat that wraps around your organs and makes certain proteins that can increase inflammation.
A waist circumference measurement is probably one of the most important measurements to “normalize” in order to reduce overall disease risk. It will not, however, tell you how much you should weigh to get there. Because of this, waist circumference can be used alongside the scale to clue you into how fat may be distributed on your body.
Standing up and ideally against bare skin, take your soft measuring tape and wrap it snugly around your waist over top of the widest part of your abdomen, usually found across your belly button. Breathe normally and record the measurement when your abdomen is most at rest. Record the measurement.
For more information on how to get this measurement, see Verywell Fit’s post on How to Measure Your Waist Circumference for Health.
Your Ideal Waist Circumference
The International Diabetes Federation guidelines for obesity by waist circumference are:
Women: > 80 cm (31.5 inches) = obese, higher risk of disease
Men: > 90 cm (35.5 inches) = obese, higher risk of disease
The International Diabetes Federation also includes specific waist circumference guidelines for people of different ethnicities namely: Europeans, South Asians, Chinese and Japanese.
There is some disagreement regarding these guidelines, however, and Harvard School of Public Health’s article Waist Size Matters provides a good summary of alternative guidelines.
If you’re far off your ideal, losing fat around the midsection, it usually requires a multi-prong approach (diet, exercise, sleep, stress management) and professional assistance (Doctor, Nutritionist, Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, etc.)
Step 2 – Measure Your Hip Circumference
Another way of abdominal obesity is to look at your waist-to-hip ratio. This looks at your waist circumference relative to your hip circumference and may provide additional insight, especially if you have a larger bone frame or are more muscular.
Standing up straight and ideally against bare skin, take the soft measuring tape and wrap it snugly across the widest part of your hips, across your buttocks. Record the measurement.
For more information on how to do this, see Verywell Fit’s post on How to Calculate a Waist-to-Hip Ratio.
Take your waist circumference measurement from step 1 and divide it by your hip circumference measurement. This will give you your waist-to-hip ratio.
Your Ideal Waist-Hip Ratio
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), you want to look for the following ratios:
|0.80 or lower
|0.95 or lower
|0.86 or higher
|1.0 or higher
Step 3 – Estimate Your Bone Frame Size
While waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio are seriously important measurements to “normalize” they will not give you an idea of your ideal weight.
In order to find that ideal weight range, you’ll want to start looking at identifying your body frame size. This measurement very generally gives you an idea of whether your bones may be petite, average or large. The larger your bones, the heavier they likely weigh and therefore comprise more of your overall body weight.
To better understand this, think of people you know who might be the same height and generally look the same in their clothes. Their body weights, however, may be completely different as their bones weigh significantly more/less than one another’s. It’s how you can also get someone who weighs a lot but doesn’t look like they weigh very much – because they have a large bone frame size and lower body fat.
There are generally two ways to estimate your body frame size – an elbow breadth measurement and a wrist circumference measurement.
The elbow measurement breadth looks at the distance between the two prominent bones on your elbow when it’s at a 90 degree angle. This measurement may be more accurate if you are particularly muscular or carry extra weight.
The wrist circumference measurement is just that – a measurement of the circumference of your wrist.
Be sure to record these measurements along with your waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio measurements.
For more information on how to take these measurements, see Livestrong’s post.
Your Ideal Bone Frame Size
Both of these measurements will give you a general ideal weight range. Record that weight range as we will be using it to compare to other weight ranges to help narrow down an ideal weight range for you.
Step 4 – Estimate Your Body Fat Percentage
Now with an idea of how much bone weight could be relative to total body weight, we can look at measuring body fat.
Along with waist circumference, total percentage of body fat has been linked to having direct health implications. As such, it is one of the major components of total body composition that you’ll want to monitor.
Measuring body fat unfortunately is not that easy. There are a few different ways to do it, however, they vary wildly in terms of accuracy.
The most ideal and accurate way to measure body fat is a Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) scan. This looks at bone density, lean muscle mass and body fat distribution or in other words, your whole body composition and not just body fat. These scans are expensive and hard to find but if you’re really looking for insight into your whole body’s composition, they may be worth the extra effort.
There are also a few other ways that medical professionals can look at calculating body fat and assessing overall body composition. See Healthline’s The 10 Best Ways to Measure Your Body Fat Percentage post for more information, including information on the DXA scan.
Most of us want to track our measurements at home. There are a few ways to assess body fat at home but they are less accurate than medical testing. These include: using skin calipers, body circumference measurements, and body fat scales.
For more on these different types of measurements including how to do them and their pros/cons see Healthline’s post 4 Ways to Measure Body Fat at Home.
My preference is to use body circumference measurements which ishow the U.S. Military assesses body fat. You’ll need measurements for your: height, waist circumference, neck circumference, and if female, your hip circumference.
Be sure to record these measurements.
Your Ideal Body Fat Percentage
Using either a medically-derived percentage or using at-home measurements you can see this Medical News Today chart to find your ideal body fat percentage range.
If you used body circumference measurements, you can use this body fat calculator based off of the U.S. Navy’s criteria for body fat to find an ideal body fat percentage. I actually like this calculator a lot because it gives you estimates for: how much of your weight is lean body mass vs. body fat mass, how many pounds of body fat to lose to reach ideal and your BMI for reference.
It’s also based off the U.S. Navy body fat standards which gives the measurements some authority. Not a fan of the U.S. Navy? The U.S. Army’s body fat calculator is here.
Step 5 – Find Your Ideal Weight
Hopefully all of this measuring has given you some very useful data regarding your body composition right now. Some of the calculators may even help you better understand areas that need additional monitoring or support.
In terms of getting a weight range, I like to start with the Ideal Weight Calculator but keep in mind that those weight ranges do not give you any idea of an ideal body composition – bones, muscle, fat.
To better personalize the range, I like to compare the ranges given in the Ideal Weight Calculator to Bone Frame Size weight ranges. If you’re on the smaller size, take the 5-10 lbs on the lower end of the ranges. If you’re in the larger frame, take the 5-10 lbs at the higher end of the weight range.
The goal of this exercise should look something like this for a female who’s 5’8” with a large frame:
Ideal Weight Calculator Range = 138 – 145 lbs
Large Bone Frame Range = 146-167 lbs
Ideal Weight = 150 – 155 lbs
These ranges can also be impacted by your personal health situation – chronic diseases, aging, mobility issues, injuries, etc. While the information in this post can be used as a guide, you will really want to discuss your personal medical situation and ideals with a licensed healthcare provider.
Processing Your Ideal Weight
Now that you’ve discovered your ideal weight, you might be feeling a lot. Maybe it’s “OMG I could NEVER weigh that!” or “OMG there wouldn’t be a body left if I weighed that much!”
Numbers on a scale tend to bring up a lot of emotion for people and that’s totally normal.
Keep in mind, what matters THE MOST is actually body composition and NOT the number of the scale for overall health impacts.
Tracking your waist circumference measurement is fairly easy to do and in my opinion is a great first step in getting more involved in your body’s health. Getting to a healthy waist circumference is a great way of securing your overall health.
And if you’re already there, you can take a look at the U.S. Navy Body Fat Calculator gives you an idea of the breakdown of lean muscle mass vs. fat mass and how much fat you need to lose to get closer to your ideal weight.
If you’re still not sure that that ideal weight is for you, you can also focus on maintaining your current weight. Preventing additional weight gain also has health benefits.
While it’s important to normalize body fat for overall health, increasing muscle mass is equally important. Working to increase muscle mass and lower body fat has numerous health benefits:
- More muscle mass means more protection for your connective tissue and joints which means less joint pain.
- Stronger muscles means you can do more without strain making movement easier and recovery from injury faster.
- Muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat and therefore burns more calories.
- Improved balance
- Lower body fat
This study in the American Journal of Cardiology also suggests that more muscle mass relative to body fat percentage also decreases cardiovascular disease risk and lowers mortality risk. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and one of the costliest chronic diseases (source).
Muscle mass doesn’t, however, increase the metabolism. For more information on muscle mass’s impact on the metabolism and aging, see this study in Science (TLDR metabolism stays relatively constant ages 20 – 60) and a discussion of its findings by Michael Deschenes.
For ideas on how to increase muscle mass, see this Healthline Guide on How to Gain Muscle, No Matter Who You Are.
All this to say, take the number of the scale as a sign to do more digging into body composition. Your ideal weight actually isn’t as important as the breakdown of its components – especially muscle mass vs. body fat mass. Measuring Waist Circumference might be one of the best ways to monitor your weight as it seems to have a more significant impact on overall health than the scale alone.
The best way to assess total body composition is a DXA scan through a healthcare provider. These scans can be hard to find and expensive but do provide one of the most accurate means of assessing total body composition.
In terms of body weight ideals, this post is meant to serve as a guide to kick-start to a more productive and focused conversation with your licensed healthcare provider. Every body is different and you deserve to have an ideal that’s tailored to your health needs and your life situation.
I feel strongly that having a close and productive relationship with a Primary Care Doctor is one of the best ways to secure your health. See my post on Get the Most Out of Your Primary Care Doctor’s Visit for helpful tips on how to get more out of those visits.
Aside from a doctor, a certified personal trainer (there are a few different types of certification programs) can also help you craft a fitness and nutrition plan to help you achieve your ideal weight and body composition. Many trainers can work remotely and provide basic instruction and training plans virtually.