First of all DON’T. Yes, you read that right. I’m telling you bluntly: setting a target weight is NOT a good idea. Whether you’re stuck in the diet binge cycle, have yo-you dieted your entire life, or are recovering from a clinical eating disorder, my opinion on this is the same.
OK, hear me out. If you’re someone who is currently aiming for a target weight- you’re not alone. In fact, I spent years thinking that for me recovery meant hitting and staying at a target weight.
And I didn’t just make up the idea of a target weight. And every magazine I opened up talked about setting goal weights. Every piece of diet culture propaganda that bombarded me sent the same toxic message. That it was my job to control my weight and to keep it in a certain range. For my health. My treatment team even gave me a target weight. It was my main goal while in treatment. All three times I went.
Now that I have learned so much through my own experiences. And through witnessing other’s experiences. I have strong opinion about this practice. It is harmful and counterproductive to recovery.
The idea of a target weight belongs in the garbage- right next to your scale.
Problems With Setting a Target Weight
1. Setting a target weight implies your weight determines your health/recovery.
The problem: people of all shapes and sizes can be struggling with dieting, binge cycling, poor body image, and disordered eating.
While living with an eating disorder, my weight fluctuated a lot. And where I fell in that range did not determine how much or little I was struggling. I struggled significantly at every single weight within that range.
And, want to know something even more disturbing? Even at the target weight prescribed by a dietitian, I was NEVER emotionally or physically healthy or free of my eating disorder.
2. This problem started with focusing on weight as a goal.
The problem: Having a goal literally defined by a number can never solve a problem that started by focusing on numbers. It makes zero sense.
Diet binge cycling and disordered eating all begin with an overblown focus on weight. We think controlling our weight will make us happy. And healthy. And loved.
By setting a target weight as a goal, we continuing to feed into the crazy making obsessive thought cycle that disordered eating feeds off of.
3. Setting a target weight as the goal reinforces the myth that weight matters.
The problem: focusing on weight during recovery reinforces the myth that our weight determines our health.
Diet culture sells us the lie that fat=unhealthy and thin=healthy. Despite a lack of any scientific evidence supporting this myth, our medical field continues to perpetuate the fairy tale that health can be improved by reaching a number calculated based on a chart. This simply is not true. Don’t believe me? Christy Harrison, Lindo Bacon, and Paul Campos are just a few who’ve studied and written about the data on this subject. Check out Antidiet, Body Respect, and The Obesity Myth for more information.
4. Setting a target weight ignores body diversity!
The problem: setting a target weight implies all bodiesa are supposed to be the same size.
The truth is- we’re not all supposed to be the same.
Just like people have different hair colors, foot sizes, and skin colors, people naturally have different body shapes and sizes.
Target weights are determined by using charts of average body sizes. These charts were derived mostly from white males in the 50’s. This practice falsely assumes everyone should fall in the “average” range. By denying body diversity is normal, we end up setting target weights that may or may not be in the range of a person’s natural set point weight.
This great video called The Problem with Poodle Science illuminates the faulty way we currently view bodies. If you’ve never seen it, check it out here.
5. To a disordered mind, setting a target weight = setting a maximum weight.
The problem: someone obsessed with their weight will cling to a target weight as a maximum.
I spent decades of my life believing the lie that my target weight range determined my health. I obediently accepted my weight “should” be within the ten pound range professionals had assigned to me. After all, I paid and trusted these professionals.
Despite them explaining this as a target range, I saw this range as a maximum for myself. Meaning, I did everything I could to make sure my weight NEVER went higher than the top of my target range/goal weight. As a result, I was never, ever free of restrictive eating and thoughts.
Anyone with disordered eating is already obsessed with numbers. By assigning them a target weight range, you’re fanning the flames under their obsession with weight and numbers.
6. Target weight ranges are often set far below a person’s actual set point weight.
The problem: target weights are often much lower than natural set point weights.
Now years into recovery, I understand a major flaw with setting a target weight. It was significantly lower than my body’s own set point weight. I was trying to recover from being obsessed with food, body, and weight. But instead of freedom, I was now obsessed with staying at my target weight.
The goal of doing this work was to become free from obsessing about a number on a scale.
I chose recovery in order to break free from building my life around my weight.
Ever the conscientious patient and client, I accepted the direction of my treatment team. I believed the false narrative that in order for me to be healthy, I had to keep my body in my target weight range.
I was still fighting my body every single day. My body naturally wanted to be a larger size than my target weight. This place of pseudo-recovery was still built around the idea of controlling my body. I’d simply traded in obsessing over shrinking my body with obsessing over keeping my body in a size not natural for her. This is not true recovery. It’s not freedom. And it’s is not true health.
7. We’re NOT meant to control our body size
The problem: our bodies have a size they naturally want to land. We are not in control of what this size is.
OK, I saved the best for last. The number one reason setting a target weight is NOT productive in recovery is simple. Our body size is not supposed to be controlled. The weight we are healthiest at is the weigh our bodies arrive at when we are nourishing them on a regular basis. We can’t find that number on a chart. And we certainly aren’t supposed to make our body go there. It is literally the exact opposite.
The key to breaking free from dieting and disordered eating is to surrender to the truth that we are not meant to control our body size.
What Can We Do Instead of Setting a Target Weight?
We must actively reject the myth that a target weight assigned to us based on charts and meaningless BMI numbers is our path to health. We also must reject the lie that some foods are “good” and some are “bad.” Instead, embracing our body’s set point weight, eating freely, and listening to the wisdom of our bodies is healing.
When I finally committed to recovery, I knew I had to make big changes. I started to eat when I was hungry. And permitted myself to feel full. I ate a variety of foods depending upon what sounded good. I even let myself enjoy food (despite how scandalous it felt).
Doing this, I reached my body’s set point weight.
A weight that is significantly higher than my target range and by today’s irrational BMI standards is “overweight“. We ignore so many factors when we use a simple chart to assign goal weights.
My body’s set point weight is the weight where I can listen to my body and give her what she wants. Where I can enjoy cupcakes with my sons on my birthday and share a dessert with my husband without guilt, fear, or self harming.
It’s the weight where I can live my life free of constant obsessions and self hatred. Where I can spontaneously grab lunch at a drive through with out a panic attack. At this weight I can be present and feel the joy of being alive. I can relax into life without being consumed by fear, anxiety, and shame. And I can share a meal with a loved one actually focusing on what they say, instead of obsessing over what is on my plate.
THIS is what true recovery and freedom is about. And it has absolutely nothing to do with a target weight.
At this weight I am significantly healthier emotionally, mentally and probably physically as well.
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