I had a long discussion with a client about what a comfortable weight for herself would be. Having spent time years before engaged in anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, it made sense that she didn’t know, now that she was eating more “normally,” what a healthy weight would feel like. I understood. This is an issue for many women I treat. Honestly, it doesn’t seem to be as much of a quandary for my male clients.
We looked at this issue from several angles. First, we talked about cultural pressure to look a certain way. For those of you who are young, please know that it wasn’t always this way, and that now there’s almost no escaping it. My grandmother, who was considered a great beauty in her day and who buried two husbands and then had a boyfriend in her eighties, would have been told she had a too high BMI if she were alive today. Even if you don’t subscribe to the thin ideal, it seems that many others do, so it’s difficult to know what size and shape your body would be happiest at.
Next we looked at what my client’s family looks like body-wise, which often provides an indication of her genetic inclination. Many families have a look: short, muscular, large, lanky or slight. Of course, I’ve known families where there’s a real gene mix, so you can’t always go by what your relatives look like. But sometimes it helps to see what’s likely and, more importantly, what’s unlikely.
Then we examined messages my client received in childhood about food and weight. For example, if you had a mother who was always dieting and wanted slim children, it might make it hard to ever feel you’re thin enough. Alternately, if high weights were the norm in your family and love-handles made you more lovable, you might be more comfortable than others at a higher weight. We also talked about other messages of import, particularly those about needing to be perfect. This drive or obsession can keep telling you to lose weight when you’re fine and healthy exactly as you are.
I tell clients that the way to find a comfortable weight is to eat “normally” for at least six months while getting regular exercise and see how their bodies feel; to focus on being healthy, not shedding pounds and see where that takes them. If they’re ingesting mostly nutritious foods in an appropriate amount and being active in ways which bring their minds and bodies pleasure, they’ll likely settle into a comfortable weight eventually. Alternately, if they deprive themselves of food or binge-eat a good deal, they’ll be moving away from “normal” eating. A comfortable weight is one which you can fairly easily maintain with “normal” eating and regular activity.