Most women have sized up their bodies to someone else’s—the woman killing it on the treadmill, the mom buzzing by at preschool drop-off, the co-worker three cubes over who you think is named Becky (but you know for sure has the great butt). There are so many women and bodies and body types, it’s easy to start asking yourself: What should I weigh?
But weight—er, wait a minute.
Debating your weight based only on what you can see—in the mirror, on the scale—is exactly the problem when it comes to trying to figure out if you’re truly healthy, says Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D., a registered dietician in Washington D.C., and author of the upcoming book, Body Kindness. Women often turn weight into such a superficial thing, and try to answer the question "How much should I weigh?" by asking the question: "Does my favorite little black dress still fit? Are my arms jigglier than hers?"
It becomes a numbers game—
but it shouldn’t be.
"A healthy weight is not one specific number for all people," Scritchfield says. "It’s a range based on so many things, including genetic and lifestyle habits." Additionally, there are three main body frames: large, medium and small, and within those categories there are sub-groups. So, for example, you could have a large frame, but be on the smaller end of the larger-frame spectrum. You get the point: There are lot of different body types going on in this world, and one type isn’t necessarily healthier than the other (damn, right!).
While it’s true that a scale isn’t going to spit out a number that tells you all that much, being underweight or overweight is a legit problem, and both can have a real effect on your long-term health. And in some cases, your weight may be a signal of what’s going on health-wise in your body. Here are some things to help you determine if your weight is the right weight for you.
BMI is bullshit! Here's something better:
You’ve likely heard of using the BMI (body mass index) formula to see if your weight falls within a healthy range, but a recent study carried out by UCLA psychologists, and published in theInternational Journal of Obesity, showed that it’s a completely unreliable measure of health. Not to mention, adds Scritchfield, "it was developed by an insurance company and was based on white men—so yeah, totally bogus."
A better gauge: A Body Shape Index (ABSI). It takes your weight circumference, height, and weight measurements into account, and according to research published in the journal PLOS ONE, it’s more reliable than BMI. (You can try the calculator here.)
Some guidelines if you want to do a temperature check on where your weight’s at: A waist circumference higher than 35 inches and a body fat percentage of 32 percent or higher, is an indicator that your weight may be in an unhealthy sphere.
Weight change isn't necessarily a bad thing.
You go from 130 to 135 and suddenly you’re spiraling into a late-night web search for diet tricks. Stop. Fad diets suck. But you don’t! "A healthy weight changes on a continuum," Scritchfield says. So you can be at a good weight now, gain or lose a few pounds, and still be completely ’normal.’ Why? "There are biological and hormonal changes that occur in your 30s, after pregnancy, and later in life that can impact your weight," Scritchfield says.
So small changes in weight? Cool! Giant swings? Probably not. That could be a sign of a bigger problem (unless you were recently put on a medication where weight gain is a side effect), so in that case, it’s best to talk to your doctor.
If you can get physical, you're good.
You don’t have to posting #fitspo pics 24/7, but you should be able to move and be agile. If you start to notice that your mobility is limited, it could be a sign that your weight is an issue. For example, if you used to run an ten-minute mile, but now you can barely bend over to tie your shoes, your weight may be causing some health issues. It’s not about size, it’s about ability.
Have "the talk" with your doctor.
Can you be heavy and healthy? Is skinny fat a real thing? Yes and yes. So schedule a visit with your physician to get tested. If your blood pressure is normal, your cholesterol is on the up and up (or, in this case, on the down low), than it’s likely that your body is right where it’s supposed to be.
And that’s something that you can only know by looking on the inside.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.