Friday, March 27, 2009

How to Find Your Happy Weight

March 28, 2009 1:59 am

How to Find Your Happy Weight

Much has been written about finding your healthy weight but in recent years, some of the focus - especially in LadyMag Land - has shifted to finding your “happy weight.” I’m assuming that by happy weight, they are talking about a weight at which you would be both comfortable in your own skin and also healthy. And I can see that numerical Shangri-La actually existing. After all, don’t we all have a weight we feel best at?

The other night, Gym Buddy Megan sent Gym Buddy Allison and I the Self Magazine Happy Weight Calculator, asking us what we thought of our prescribed healthy weight. This amused me mightily. (On the “Friends” scale, I would put it as funnier than the episode where Monica goes to Bermuda and her hair grows to gargantuan proportions but not quite as funny as when Joey puts on all of Chandler’s clothing. And of course nothing beats Ross singing “Baby Got Back” to soothe baby Emma. But I digress.) I was giggling for two reasons:

1. The first thing you will notice about the Happy Weight Calculator is that is says in big bold letters NOT FOR USE BY PREGNANT WOMEN. Megan, as you will recall, is in her 3rd trimester. Gym Buddy Allison is also pregnant. That leaves, um, me as the only person who is actually allowed a happy weight at this point in time. And we all know I’m crazy.

2. Where does anyone get off telling me what my happy weight should be? Isn’t the very word “happy” subjective? Shouldn’t a health-loving girl be allowed to decide her own happy weight? Given the above requirements, I’m guessing that if women were really honest, our happy weights would vary widely from girl to girl. I mean everyone from Kim Kardashian to Kate Moss to Scarlett Johansson and Beth Ditto seem happy and healthy at their widely differing weights. Notable exceptions would include people with eating disorders who are obviously unhealthy and also, in my experience, pretty darn miserable.

What Makes a Weight Happy?
So what criteria does Self Mag use to determine a woman’s happy weight?

1. Height. Okay, whatever. Every weight tool uses height. Taller people get to eat more cheeseburgers, it’s a law of nature.

2. Frame size as determined by your wrist measurement. This is an interesting one to me. Bigger bones theoretically mean you weigh more, right? I suppose that is true. But is wrist size an accurate measurement of frame size? Gym Buddy Megan said she measured at a “small” but from personal experience would put herself as a “medium.” As a sad sidenote, this study discovered that frame size - the one thing you absolutely cannot change by dieting - was the #1 predictor of body dissatisfaction and dieting tendencies among young girls.

3. Obese siblings or parents. This was included, I assume, to make some accounting for genetic weight variables as well as patterns learned in one’s family of origin. In non-science speak, they’re essentially saying that apple trees don’t grow carrots.

4. Age. Sigh. People’s weight usually increases as they age. Although this can be ameliorated by watching your diet and making sure to exercise.

5. Children. The Self question actually reads “Do you have children?” Notice that it doesn’t say “Did you birth children?” Studies have shown that mothers gain weight when they get a new child whether said baby actually surfs the placental wave or finds its way cribside via other means. Of course pregnancy adds a degree of difficulty thanks to the associated weight gain. I do wonder about the inclusion of this factor though. For me, the weight I am most happy at didn’t change when I started popping tots out. To really feel like “me”, I need to get back to my pre-preg weight. But then perhaps I just have unrealistic expectations?

6. Exercise frequency. Cardio and weight training are lumped together in this factor, with emphasis on the number of workouts rather than type or intensity. It’s not ideal but it’s better than not including it, I suppose. I would have preferred to see this factor broken down further.

7. Recent smoking cessastion. Having never smoked in my life, I can only assume that people gain weight when they quit smoking as nicotine is a known appetite suppressant (oops! I think I just spilled the real “secret to Hollywood weight loss”!)

8. Treats. Seriously? Part of your happy weight (about a pound, I discovered) is accounted for by whether or not you occassionally allow yourself a treat. It doesn’t read “Do you eat sugar every day?” but rather “Do you allow yourself a treat now and then?” Who doesn’t do this? Teri Hatcher and Nicolette Sheriden come to mind as possibilities but we all saw where that got them. There’s a wide range of options between “now” and “then.” I think this question is ridiculous.

(Side note: Men are apparently not allowed to have a happy weight as the calculator makes no allowance for gender. I can’t decide if this is dissappointing or encouraging. Consider yourselves freed, men.)

My Happy Weight
According the Self calculator my “happy” weight is about 10 pounds higher than my panic weight and about 20 pounds higher than my personal feel-good weight (which, incidentally, is still a healthy BMI for those of you wondering if it is my ED voices typing this out). I would definitely not be happy at their prescribed weight. In fact - and I’m not trying to tempt fate here - but I can pretty much guarantee I’d be so miserable at that weight that I would employ drastic (read: unsafe) measures to get it back down.

But, let’s not forget, I have issues.

I think what this calculator is trying to accomplish is to manage your expectations for what your weight realistically should be. And that, I think, is quite a worthy goal. There is only frustration to be found in striving to achieve a goal your body is not made for (again, see the poor girls from the frame size study). I applaud Self for taking other factors besides just height into account. However, I don’t think this calculator necessarily accomplishes that purpose. First I think they are missing some critical factors like ethnicity, chronic illnesses, area of the country and/or world you live in, and hormones among other things. But the real problem for me is that rather than calling it what it is - a reasonable weight expectation tool - they instead promise the ever-elusive happiness in a number.

What did you think of this quiz? Did the number match up with your own happy weight? Do you think it’s a helpful tool or just one more way for us to drive ourselves nuts?