How to Determine Your Healthy Weight and Set Realistic Weight Loss Goals.

Estimated reading time: 8.5 minutes.

In this article, you'll learn about:

  1. Objective and subjective criteria for healthy weight
  2. Body Mass Index (BMI), and why it's not enough
  3. Waist circumference, and why it matters
  4. How to practically determine your healthy weight
  5. How to set realistic weight loss goals

One of the main questions that you will have once you've decided to follow a weight management program will be: “What are my weight loss goals?”

This question feels especially difficult to answer if you have been gaining weight over a longer period of time and lost track of your healthy weight.

Let's be realistic. Weight loss goals you set for yourself are going to be personal and the ones that fit only you. Because everybody is different, with different body types and expectations.

For once, your goal weight should be a number of pounds (or kilograms) you feel strong, healthy and happy with.

However, your weight loss goals can't be decided that subjectively.

For example, if you have been overweight for a long time, you might consider yourself to be in great physical shape after you lose some pounds and still be far away from your healthy weight.

That's why there are also objective indicators that will tell you where you are currently with your weight and give you a concrete figure your weight management efforts should be directed to.

These two objective criteria to determine your healthy weight are Body Mass Index (BMI) and Weight Circumference.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

What is Body Mass Index?

BMI is a number calculated based on solely your height and current weight. It is used by doctors to generally determine whether you have a healthy weight or might be overweight.

However, BMI has its limitations, because it doesn’t distinguish between muscular mass and fat in your body.

Muscles are denser than fat, meaning a pound of muscles occupies less space as a pound of fat. So if you compare two people of the same height and same figure, the one who has more muscles will have a higher BMI. 

Some athletes, for example, will have their BMI fall into the overweight group, even though they are clearly not.

Confusing, I know. But unless you are pregnant or exercise regularly building your muscle tissue, BMI will give you a general idea on where you are with your weight.

How to Determine Your BMI?

The simplest way, of course, is to use an online BMI calculator, like this one below.

You can use it without leaving this page. Simply type your height and weight in the corresponding fields (select "imperial" if you use inches and pounds), and you'll see your BMI immediately:

Supplied by BMI Calculator NZ

The formula behind is as follows.

If you count your weight in pounds and height in inches:

If you count your weight in kilograms and height in meters:

How to Interpret Your BMI?

Although that online BMI calculator has already done it for you, you can also determine where you are with your weight yourself, using this classification provided by World Health Organization (WHO).

Source: WHO, 2004

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Waist Circumference

What Does Waist Circumference Have to Do with Your Healthy Weight?

Waist circumference measures the excess of body fat in the abdomen, the unhealthiest and the most dangerous fat in our bodies.

A prominent belly means that a lot of fat accumulated in the abdominal area around your vital organs, which are suffering the consequences: More bad fat in the blood is carried to those organs, which, in turn, increases fat accumulation.

Also, a person with high volumes of abdominal fat is producing hormones that create a negative imbalance in their metabolic equilibrium. This imbalance increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, can cause breathing problems, certain types of cancer, hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, etc.

In 2005, International Diabetes Federation (IDF) declared body fat in the abdomen to be one of the causes of metabolic syndrome and suggested using waist circumference as one of the tools to assess the risk of suffering from metabolic syndrome. 

How to Determine Your Waist Circumference? 

Watch this 1,5-minute video I made for you to find out how to measure your waist circumference correctly.

Basically, you need to measure your waist circumference while lying down horizontally, midway between the lower margin of the ribs and the upper border of the iliac crest - the thick curved upper border of the ilium, the most prominent bone on the pelvis.

You can feel the iliac crest by pushing your hands on your sides at your waist, feeling for the bone and following it down and to the front. 

How to Interpret Your Waist Circumference?

The following table will help you interpret your waist circumference. If your waist circumference exceeds the corresponding number, it means you are overweight. 

As you can see, the numbers are different for different ethnic group and genders.

If you use inches as a measurement unit: 94 cm = 37 inches, 90 cm = 35.4 inches, and 80 cm = 31.5 inches

Source: IDF Report 2006

How to Practically Determine Your Healthy Weight

Your Healthy Weight Based on Your Current BMI

Note: You'll need to know your current BMI to be able to do this. If you haven't calculated your BMI yet, you can quickly do it here.

Now you can calculate your healthy weight as a starting point to setting your personal realistic weight loss goals. 

Let's say your height is 5 feet 6 inches (170 cm) and your current weight is 166 lb (75.3 kg). This will make your current BMI 26, which means you are overweight.

To fall into normal weight category, your BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9 (as we know from the classification provided by WHO).

Now you can determine your healthy weight range based on this graph below created using the data from WHO by Wikipedia.

In our example, for a person of 5 feet 6 inches (170 cm) the normal weight range is approximately between 115 lb and 153 lb (55 kg and 72 kg).

If you want to know it exactly, you can calculate the normal weight range, given your height and your current BMI, with the following formula.

For pounds and inches:

For kilograms and meters:

According to the BMI classification, a person of normal weight should have a BMI between 18.5 and 24.99.

If we apply the formula above on these numbers, it means that a person 5 feet 6 inches (1.7 meters) tall has their healthy weight between 117.768 lb (53.4 kg) and 159.2 lb (72.2 kg).

As you can see, it's quite a big range of almost 42 lb (19 kg), which again shows that BMI alone is not enough to determine your healthy weight.

To determine your healthy weight correctly, you will also need to apply the subjective criteria - the characteristics of your body and your personal expectations.

Setting Realistic Weight Loss Goals

"Feel" the Numbers

Once you determined your healthy weight range with the help of BMI, you need to take a closer look at those numbers.

What do these numbers tell you?

Do you remember how much you weighted last time you felt healthy and in shape?

Was it the lowest limit, the highest, or somewhere in between?

If you've gained weight recently, after having a bad time in your life, pregnancy, or too much eating out after your first serious job, you probably still remember what your ideal weight is and where you want to be.

If you can't remember, select the higher limit (in our example, 159.2 lb) of your healthy weight range just so you have a figure to work towards to. You can always change it later once you reached this weight.

Start Working on Your Weight

With this figure in mind, keep following the weight management program you have chosen to see where it leads you.

At some point, your weight will stabilize and you will reach the point where you are neither losing nor gaining weight. Most probably, it means you've reached your healthy weight.

Interpret Your Progress with Caution

When you start to change your diet and start a moderate exercise program, you may initially substitute fat for muscle. Even though you will be losing fat, your BMI and weight may not only remain the same, but they could even rise.

The reason for this is that limitation of BMI we discussed previously - the fact that it doesn't distinguish between muscle and fat, with muscle being more dense than fat.

Be Realistic in Your Expectations

You also need to be realistic with your weight loss goals. If you have been very skinny in your twenties and want to go back to that figure now, when you are in your forties, you might keep fighting forever and never achieve your goal.

We need to accept that our bodies change with age, and it is difficult to be exactly the same as we were in our younger days.


Losing weight can be difficult because of a low metabolic rate (or metabolism, the rate with which your body converts food into energy).

Other common reasons for losing weight slowly are hormonal imbalance, aging, low thyroid function, chronic stress, insulin resistance, food addiction, depression, medication, excessive fat and yo-yo dieting, etc.

However, none of these reasons should make you throw the towel on your weight loss goals, because the right weight management program will help you overcome all these difficulties.

You can’t just sit back and accept adding pounds every year as that will have no end.

The longer you wait, the unhealthier you become, and the harder it will be to lose weight later.

You need to check your weight right now, determine how different it is from 5-10 years ago, find a point where you'd like to be, and make a plan on how you'll get there.

If you join a weight management program, you will gain the necessary knowledge to keep your healthy weight forever with ease.

This article is also available as PDF download!

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Over to You!

Have you determined your healthy weight? Were you surprised?

Let me know if there is something I can help you with!

I'd love to hear from you!

About the Author

Arantxa Mateo

Arantxa is a trained biologist, nutrition specialist and weight management coach. Born in Spain, she spent 5 years in Australia before moving to the US. Her motto is "Food is a pleasure. Nobody deserves to be on a diet."

Find out more about Arantxa and 32 Mondays >>

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