Ideal Weight or Happy Weight?
Maybe you’ve been struggling — without success — to get down to the size
you were in high school or on your wedding day. But do you really need to go
that low? The truth, experts say, is that you can weigh more than your ideal
weight and still be healthy (not to mention happy).
If you’re overweight, losing just 10% of your body weight is associated with
a myriad of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, blood
cholesterol, and blood sugar, and reducing your risk for heart disease. Not
only that, experts say, but this kind of weight loss is easier to attain and
maintain, setting you up for success in the long run.
By Jeannette Moninger
Your Weight “Set Point”
Just as your body temperature is programmed to stay around 98.6 degrees,
your body weight is naturally regulated to stay within a range of 10%-20%, says
Thomas Wadden, PhD, director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at
University of Pennsylvania Medical School. This weight range is known as the
A complex set of hormones, chemicals, and hunger signals help your body
naturally maintain your weight within this range, says American Dietetic
Association spokeswoman Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD.
It is not just a matter of genetics, though. Your eating and exercise habits
can also help to determine your set point.
“Overeating swamps the internal regulatory system, and, as a result, the
set point increases — which is much easier to do than it is to lower it,”
says Wadden. The body adjusts to the higher weight and “resets” the set
point to defend the new weight.
It is difficult, but not impossible, to set your range lower. “With
changes in healthy eating and exercise behavior, you can lower your set
point,” says Blatner.
The 10% Solution to Weight Loss
A recent book, Break Through Your Set Point: How to Finally Lose the
Weight You Want and Keep It Off, by George Blackburn, MD, suggests that
maintaining a 10% loss for six months to a year helps your body adjust to the
lower weight and thus reset the set point.
Wadden explains that when you lose large amounts of weight at once, you set
up an internal struggle and hormones like ghrelin spike to make you hungrier as
your body tries to defend its comfortable range.
Instead, experts recommend that you try losing 10% the old-fashioned way —
by slowly changing eating and exercise behaviors — then maintain this new
weight for a few months before trying to lose more. Not only will your
body get the signal to lower its “set point,” but you’ll give yourself
a chance to get used to new food choices, smaller portions, and regular
“When patients lose 10% it may not be the pant size they want, but they
start to realize how a little weight loss impacts their health in very positive
ways,” says Blatner. “They feel better, sleep better, have more energy
or less joint pain, and some people are able to reduce medications.”