Published 17th October 2022

How to figure out a healthy weight for you

A healthy weight range is specific to each person. Your age, body composition, height, genetics, and even ethnicity can all help determine what range is best for you. 

But your weight is only one measurement of your health. There are many aspects to being healthy, and a single factor, like your weight, can’t account for everything. 

A healthcare professional can help you find the weight range that’s best for you.

In this article, we look at the most common ways of assessing how much people should weigh and what you can do to reach and maintain a weight that's moderate. 

With the ZOE at-home test, we can analyze your unique blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut. 

We can then give you personalized nutrition advice tailored to your body and your long-term health and weight goals.

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Weight loss and weight management

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using body mass index (BMI) or waist circumference to assess your weight. A healthcare professional can also use other measurements to get a clearer picture.

Carrying excess body fat, especially around the middle of the body, can on average increase a person’s risk of chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. 

Losing weight can be very challenging. And not everyone needs to.

Let’s look at ways healthcare professionals can measure your weight and body fat to determine what a healthy weight range is for you. 

BMI

BMI is a common place to start. It’s a calculation based on your height and weight, and it involves dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. 

The resulting number will fall into one of these categories:

  • below 18.5: underweight

  • between 18.5 and 24.9: “healthy,” or moderate, weight

  • between 25 and 29.9: overweight

  • 30 or higher: obesity

You can use a BMI calculator, and BMI charts are also a helpful resource.

But BMI isn't a perfect tool. Though it works well at the population level, and scientists often use it when studying large groups, it has limitations.

One major limitation: BMI scores don’t account for differences in age, sex, or ethnicity. Each of these can play a significant role in determining whether your weight is in a range that's healthy for you.

Another big drawback is that BMI scores don’t differentiate between fat mass and lean mass, like the mass of muscles, bones, and water weight. 

For example, a bodybuilder who is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs 205 pounds would have obesity according to their BMI score, even if the “excess weight” comes from muscle mass, not fat.

Also, BMI doesn’t take fat distribution into account.

Waist circumference

The distance around your waist, measured just above your hips, is your waist circumference. This is an important factor in your overall health. 

Research has linked a high waist circumference with an increased risk of many health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. 

According to the CDC, a waist circumference of over 40 inches for men or over 35 inches for women who aren’t pregnant may be a sign of a greater risk of chronic health conditions.

To start assessing whether your weight falls into a healthy range, a healthcare professional may check your BMI score and waist circumference. But they can’t use these measurements alone to make a diagnosis. 

Waist-to-hip ratio

Another way to tell if you’re carrying extra weight around your middle is to calculate your waist-to-hip ratio.First, you’d measure the distance around your waist (just above your hips). Then, you’d divide this number by the distance around the widest part of your hips.

For example, someone with a waist circumference of 29 inches and a hip circumference of 38 inches would have a waist-to-hip ratio of roughly 0.76 inches. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy waist-to-hip ratio is less than 0.85 inches for women and less than 0.90 inches for men.

Some evidence suggests that a person’s waist-to-hip ratio can help show their risk of health complications, such as dying from heart disease. 

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Waist-to-height ratio

This can also help you check if you have excess fat around your middle. First, you’d measure the distance around your waist in inches. Then you’d divide that number by your height in inches. 

Scientists who advocate for the waist-to-height ratio as a screening tool say a ratio of under 0.5 inches is within a healthy range. This would mean that your waist circumference is less than half of your height.

Some studies suggest that waist circumference and waist-to-height ratio may be more reliable ways to determine the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, compared with BMI alone. 

Other measurements

BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and waist-to-height ratio don’t directly measure body fat. Healthcare professionals have other ways to estimate the amount of fat your body carries. 

Body fat percentage

According to the American Council on Exercise, a healthy body fat percentage is 14–31% for women and 6–24% for men. 

Measuring this can be quite tricky, and a healthcare professional may use skinfold calipers. This small tool pinches to show the amount of fat under the skin of the thigh, abdomen, triceps, and back.

Another way to measure body fat is by entering your age, weight, height, and the circumference of your neck, waist, and hips (for women) into a body fat percentage calculator

Recently, more people have been using body fat scales. But evidence indicates that these may underestimate the true percentage of body fat.

Air displacement

Another way to measure body fat is through a process called air displacement plethysmography (ADP). It’s available in some doctors' offices, other healthcare settings, and fitness centers.

It involves wearing a bathing suit and sitting in a pod-shaped chamber filled with air. The person giving the test checks how much air your body has displaced within the chamber. Then, they use this to calculate how much fat is in your body, taking into account that lean mass is denser than fat mass

While this is a very accurate measurement, there are some limitations. First, ADP can be very expensive and hard to find.

Also, moving in the pod and your hydration levels can alter the results. Plus, the test only calculates total fat mass — it doesn’t show the distribution of fat in your body.

How do I reach a healthy weight?

Above, we describe some ways to check whether your weight and levels of body fat might fall within moderate ranges. But none of these methods alone can paint a full picture.

Ultimately, any one number doesn’t define your overall health.

A healthcare professional can help you figure out what to aim for, based on your age, sex, ethnicity, body composition, medical history, and health goals. 

To get to a moderate weight, focus on making small, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle. 

Crash diets and quick-fix programs rarely work in the long term. 

Evidence shows that losing weight very quickly can actually work against you by slowing your metabolism. And even if you do lose weight, it’s likely to return when you go back to your regular eating patterns.

Instead, aim to lose weight gradually in a way that works for you. Focus on fuelling your body with high-quality, minimally processed, and gut-friendly foods.

Other considerations, like getting plenty of sleep, managing stress, being physically active, and setting realistic goals are also important for long-term weight loss.

Summary

Keeping your weight in a moderate range is one aspect of good health, and it can reduce your risk of many metabolic diseases. But weight alone doesn’t give you the complete picture. 

Finding a healthy weight for you involves considering a number of factors. It’s best to work with a healthcare professional, who might use a combination of measurements.

Some of these measurements are BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, body fat percentage, and ADP. 

Each has its limitations, and your healthcare professional should use additional tests if they think your weight might affect your risk of chronic health conditions.

If weight loss is a goal, it helps to make small, sustainable changes, have a healthy diet, and consider other lifestyle factors, like sleep, exercise levels, and stress.

At ZOE, we believe that nutrition is one of the best tools for improving your overall health. 

With ZOE's personalized nutrition program, you get advice tailored to your body and long-term health goals, based on our insights from the world's largest in-depth nutrition science research program.

To get started, take our free quiz.

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