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Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Ideal Weight

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

Today we'll look at a simple question: How much should I weigh? I'm taking these figures from a book called Eat Well, Live Well by Dr. Pam Smith (1992); despite the age of the book, they still represent the typical advice you'll get. However, my personal advice is almost certainly influenced by the fact that I was underweight for most of my life, so be aware of that. (Most doctors wouldn't tell you upfront if they had a bias. But I'm not selling anything, so I will.)

We're going to calculate your so-called "ideal weight." Personally, I find this to be somewhat subjective, as muscles weigh more than fat, so a very fit person could weigh considerably more than a larger but "softer" person. (I'm going to try and avoid the word "fat," simply because it gets abused by almost everybody selling their own fitness plan.)
  • For men, start your calculations with a base of 5 feet and 106 lbs, then add 6 lbs for each inch over 5 feet to find your weight if you have a medium build. Small-framed men should multiply that result by .90, and large-framed men by 1.10.
I'm between 5'9" and 5'10", so I'll use the latter. Start with 106 lbs, then add 60 lbs (10 inches x 6 lbs) to get 166 lbs. The small-frame man would weigh 149 lbs (166 x .90), the large-frame man 183 lbs (166 x 1.10). You don't have to weigh those numbers exactly, but it gives you an idea.

Since this book came out, doctors have found that most people are healthier if they weigh about 10 lbs more than is traditionally recommended. That would put a medium guy at around 176 lbs. But I'm not at all sure these figures assume you're an active guy. Personally, I wouldn't consider myself bigger than medium-size, but I currently weigh around 185 and I'm not carrying much fat. My friends who fit the numbers struggle to do things I handle pretty easily, so I'm inclined to think the "large-frame" numbers should be the norm for medium-size active people.
  • For women, start with a base of 5 feet and 100 lbs, then add 5 lbs for each inch over 5 feet. Then use the multipliers if you have a smaller or larger frame.
Smith gives an example of a medium-frame 5'5" woman: 100 lbs (base) plus 25 lbs (5 inches times 5 lbs) for 125 lbs. Using that 1.10 multiplier, an large-frame woman would weigh around 138 lbs. I would guess that's probably also a reasonable weight for an active medium-frame woman.

My guiding principle for figuring ideal weight is simple: Pay attention to inches of fat, not lbs. If I was 5'10" and weighed 200 lbs, but I didn't have a layer of fat around my middle and my muscles weren't flabby, I'd just say screw the charts and keep doing what I'd been doing. (Obviously I'm just talking from a weight standpoint here. If the things that got me that way had driven my blood pressure through the roof or caused some other major health problem, I'd re-evaluate the situation. But weight alone is not a reliable indicator of health. I think a healthy skeleton is a contradiction of terms.) Still, I think these figures can give you a ballpark idea of where your weight should be.

Are you with me so far? Good. Next time we'll talk about how many calories your ideal weight needs each day.


  1. Good stuff Mike - the charts are there for a guide not immovable stats. I pay attention to how I feel for the most part. This includes my energy level, endurance, and even how things fit.

  2. If I'm not overstepping the bounds of propriety by asking a weight question... since you work out regularly and are almost certainly more muscular than the formula's "average woman," do you agree that an average-build active woman should probably be closer to the formula's larger-build weight?

    I don't think most people (especially women) realize just how much heavier muscle is than fat, even though it takes up a LOT less room.

  3. Yeah, but it really depends. See, I just barely made the 150 mark in the last few years because my bones are rather small in spite of being 5'10" and muscular. Also, I can fluctuate up to 155 and not be upset at all. Quite honestly, I haven't owned a scale in years. Many, many years. I only get weighed when they make me do it at the doctor's office.

    On the other hand, I know a very muscular lady that is 5'6" and 180 lbs. I dare you to find one bit of flab on her.

    So yeah, the "average" active woman is probably on the larger side as far as the chart because muscle is more dense than flab.

    I still say ditch the scale and listen to your body. Pay attention and you'll find your ideal weight!

  4. Yeah, I agree. But most people want some idea of what "normal" is. I guess that's the price you pay in a world where everybody is aware when one starlet (or star, in Kevin Federline's case) gains or loses a pound.

    I think you may have agreed with my idea though. According to the formula, an average-build 5'10" woman should weigh 150 lbs. But you say you have a small frame, which the formula would put at 135 lbs. So you're an active woman weighing in about one "size" higher than the formula says. That's how I figured it -- the medium-size woman should be the next higher "formula" weight.

    According to my idea, I'm guessing your friend would be large-framed, so I thought I'd try figuring her at 1.20 times the medium-size, which worked out to 156 lbs. (According to the formula, a 5'6" medium woman would normally weigh 130 lbs.) But people are built differently, and I can see how she could carry that much weight comfortably.

    I have pictures of my dad before he went into WWII and after. He was really skinny (like I've always been) before he went in, but weighed 200 lbs when he came out... and he was SOLID MUSCLE. (In the picture he's doing a muscleman pose, and his lats look like wings!) He was shorter than me -- about the height of your friend -- but if I muscled out to the degree he did back then, I figured out that I would weigh about 230-240 lbs... 50-60 lbs heavier than I am now. The formula simply has no way to account for that.

    Everybody has their own "playing weight" and we just have to have the confidence to accept it.

  5. Yes, the confidence to accept it!

    As an aside - I had a colleague that used to walk around telling everyone how she just had to lose a pound. She was about 5'5" and didn't even weigh 90 pounds. She wanted her weight to be an even number and she hated being 89. She had to be 88.

    I gave her the big ol' scientific talk about how one's weight could fluctuate throughout a day and be dependent on what time she weighed herself. It was fun to mess with her but I really actually felt sorry for her. This poor thing was chained to her scale all day and the number consumed her every action. In addition, she looked a bit like the walking dead since she was also rather pale with dark hair.

    I'm so glad that isn't me!