If you’ve never had any weight struggles, this question may not hold much “weight” for you (and I don’t just mean being overweight, underweight people struggle as well, in fact, many “ideal” weight people struggle with weight too)!
If you do struggle with weight then whether how much you weigh really matters or not may indeed be a loaded question.
It’s also an interesting question because of the two layers it carries – the top layer is talking about factual numbers – your weight on the scale. The layer under it is subtly hinting at how you feel about the possible answer to this question – are you hoping to read what you want to be true?
Let’s find out, shall we?
The Number On The Scale – Does It Really Matter?!
I’ll say two things right away – physiologically speaking, yes, the number matters in some contexts, and no, it doesn’t matter in many other contexts. However, emotionally and mentally speaking, if you’re reading this article (especially if you were searching for it), chances are that it does matter to you what you weigh. And well, if it matters to you, then yes it matters. You see, your idea of weight is not an arbitrary quality that you can randomly, completely abandon by reading someone’s opinion or a research paper. Your idea of weight affects you in many more aspects of life than just your physical health. So, yes, weight matters, but probably not in the way you think it does. Let’s explore these ideas further.
As you read on, I encourage you to engage with yourself by asking yourself the questions I pose along the way.
Since I’ve already shared that the answer to this question is both yes, and no, we’ll use this Yes & No framework to deepen our understanding.
No, How Much You Weigh Does NOT Matter.
Google is full of answers to the top layer of our question (weight as just a number to check health status), and you’ll see below, how multiple sources – experts and researchers – have said & found, time and again, that weight doesn’t really matter to the extent we used to once believe it did!
1. There Is NO “Ideal” Weight Whatsoever!
According to Harvard School Of Public Health(1):
“Although healthy weight guidelines have been developed at population levels, each person’s healthy weight range will vary and depend on factors such as age, sex, genetics, body frame, existing medical history, lifestyle habits, and weight as a young adult.
Weight is only one of many determinants of health.”
According to me, these factors they’ve mentioned above are in no way an exhaustive list of factors. There can be many more, for instance, a grieving period (losing someone or a relationship), a period of extreme love & happiness (initial phase of falling in love), for women their menstrual cycle phase, any of the numerous psychological struggles (usually referred to as “disorders”), etc.
In each of the above situations, different people respond differently – some engage in emotional eating when stressed out, others stop eating! Some eat more when in love, others forget everything else (including food) when in love!
Given all the above, how can there ever be an “ideal” weight? Yes, I know, that’s why a “weight range” is mentioned. But, hey, did you know that all these “ranges” and “ideal” numbers are based on research done on WEIRD populations?
An article(2) published in the National Academy of Sciences states, “However, most research published in our leading journals has relied on sampling WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) populations.”
Why is this a problem beyond the fact that it’s skewed to a particular kind of population?
Joseph Henrich and his colleagues argue in another article(3) that most people are not WEIRD:
“…that people from Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies — and particularly American undergraduates — are some of the most psychologically unusual people on Earth.”
The word to note here is “unusual”. So it’s not just skewed to “a” population, it’s skewed to “an unusual” population!
2. ONE Of The Many Health Parameters
A Healthline article(4) emphasizes, “Body weight matters, but it’s not the only factor you should consider. That’s because it’s just one piece of a large, complex puzzle that makes up your overall health.”
What you may already know is that your weight might stagnate, and or slightly increase, at some point in your “fitness” journey because you’ve gained muscles, but have you heard about “skinny fat”?
Michelle Konstantinovsky writes about “skinny fat” in One Medical(5):
“The oxymoronic phenomenon is also known by various acronyms, including MONW (metabolically obese normal weight) and TOFI (thin outside, fat inside).
People who fall into this category may look thin, weigh a “normal” amount, and maintain a “healthy” BMI, but their appearance conceals chronically unhealthy behaviors leading to consequences typically associated with overweight or obese individuals.”
This means neither the number on the scale, nor the BMI range, can in and of itself prove anything about your health. In fact, in the next point, we’ll also see that obesity doesn’t necessarily equal being unhealthy!
3. Correlation Is NOT Causation
This is in my top 5 favorite quotes – correlation is not causation – probably because I find so many of us (including me) making this error!
“He had a heart attack?! Of course, he’s so overweight!”
“Cancer? She must be a chain smoker?”
Heart attacks happen to the “healthiest” of people who follow a daily “fitness” regime, and cancer doesn’t really care whether you smoke or not! If you haven’t noticed this around you, read on to see what research has found:
“A 2014 systematic review of various studies included the finding that a significant portion of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy (with no signs of insulin resistance or elevated blood pressure or cholesterol).
A 2016 study found that “people with healthy obesity have lower risks for diabetes, CHD [coronary heart disease], stroke, and mortality” than unhealthy subjects who may not be obese.”– Is Weight Just a Number? by a Fitbit Staff (6)
Having said the above, I’d be fooling you if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that how much you weigh does matter for multiple reasons, and in many different contexts.
Yes, How Much You Weigh DOES Matter.
Most people focus on the physiological reasons why you might want to consider what the scale says. We’ll look at some of those, and then also look at the less spoken about psychological reasons.
1. Weight-Related Health Conditions
Being over or underweight does increase your chances of certain diseases.
For instance, if you’re over 30 years of age, have a family history of Type 2 Diabetes, don’t have an active lifestyle, have poor sleeping habits, and are unable to manage stress, then being overweight will increase your chances of getting Type 2 Diabetes.
Similarly, if you’re underweight, Health Direct(7), an Australian government funded service, says:
“…you may be at greater risk of certain health conditions, including malnutrition, osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength, hypothermia and lowered immunity. You are more likely to die at a younger age.”
“You are likely to die at a younger age.” – Please take all averages (research studies give trends, averages, and generalizations) with a pinch of salt, and as a piece of a larger, more complex puzzle as the Healthline article quoted earlier states!
2. Visceral Fat
Visceral fat is the fat that’s actually dangerous and is more directly related to weight-based diseases. It lies deeper in the body and wraps around the abdominal organs.
WebMD says, “You can’t always feel it or see it. In fact, you may have a pretty flat tummy and still have visceral fat.”
In my opinion, this makes it more dangerous than fat right under your skin – the one that’s visibly visible – since you can see it, chances are you may do something about it.
But with visceral fat, what you don’t see, you believe doesn’t exist. And then when out of the blue a “fit” looking, non-alcoholic person is diagnosed with fatty liver, everyone is taken aback!
So, yes, the level of visceral fat in your body does matter. And while not every overweight to obese person necessarily has unhealthy levels of visceral fat, being more than a certain weight usually is because of higher levels of fats stored.
Higher levels of fats stored are likely to wrap themselves around the abdominal organs!
3. Environmental Limitations
If someone weighs more or less than a certain level, their access to some activities in their environment might be limited, or uncomfortable.
For instance, if I’m too light, I may not qualify for my school’s wrestling team.
On the other extreme, I’m not sure how many sumo-wrestlers can enjoy every joy ride in an adventure park – not because they can’t enjoy it, but because it’s highly likely that they may not fit into some (if not many) of the rides.
In another instance, someone with more weight usually tends to feel hot, which is great in a cold environment, but not so much in the heat. Similarly, someone with less weight usually tends to feel cold & would do well in a comparatively hot climate than cold.
So your weight will impact you in different ways based on your environmental factors.
4. (Possible) Practical Reasons
Let’s look at basic, observable science – the more the weight, the more the energy needed to move the weight.
I can share my personal experience – most of my adult life I’d been around 133 lbs (~60 kgs). I never thought I was too “over-the-ideal” weight. However, in 2020, I did a 21-day water-only fast (more about Water Only Fasting) and dropped to 114 lbs.
I’ve also been running for the last several years. The day I did my first run after having dropped the ~20 pounds, I was like, “What?! I feel so light as if I can run so much better!”
Now, I’m not saying you should fast, and drop your weight, so you feel great! But I am saying that if you have less weight (not too less) various physical activities feel easier to do. It’s just practical!
I want to learn pole dancing. Can I pole dance with an extra 20 pounds? Yes, of course, I can! Will it be easier if I’m 20 pounds less (and healthy)? Yes, of course, it will!
And finally, we’ve reached the uncharted waters of how your weight matters, psychologically speaking! Please note that when I say, “It matters”, I don’t mean, “Thus, you should be x weight”.
I simply mean, yes, of course, it matters because you’re thinking about it – probably anxious about it, likely not very happy about it – if it matters to you, it matters. Period.
1. Association With Who I Am
Our sense of seeing has many gifts. But its biggest curse is that our mind shuts down the moment our eyes see. The eyes, as a physical organ, can only see things that are externally apparent. And since our mind shuts down when our eyes see, we believe what the eyes see to be true.
So when I see “admiration” associated with being “thin”, and I see myself as not-thin, I feel not-worthy, and assume that to be worthy and deserving I must look a certain way.
Since I associate my weight with who I am – worthy-not-worthy, deserving-not-deserving, beautiful-not-beautiful – when my weight fluctuates, I find myself fluctuating!
So does how much you weigh matter? Absolutely, how much you weigh matters to your sense of worth and mental peace.
Should it? Is your weight actually who you are? Horse Poop! Absolutely not!
But if you do associate yourself with it, then it matters to you – and by saying it doesn’t matter, your suffering is being denied. When something is denied, it doesn’t heal, it only hides to further fester in invisibility.
2. The Human Need To Be Liked
We are social animals. Since time immemorial we have worked and survived in groups. Thus, it makes sense that we crave social approval, that we want to be liked by others. After all, it’s in our DNA!
So when we receive constant messages about how we should look, how much we should weigh, what we should and shouldn’t eat, how we shouldn’t look “fat”, and how we shouldn’t look “sickly”, subconsciously we try to meet these societal standards so that others who see us like us!
Alas, we forget, these others too have the curse of the eye – they see, but only superficially. And together, we all reinforce the stories we’re all struggling to live!
So, again, does the weight matter? Seems like it! In fact, it seems to matter to the whole effing world!
3. At The Core Of Unhealthy Relationship With Food
When we’re constantly struggling with what the scale shows us, our relationship with food tends to become abusive. And you don’t need me to tell you that abusive relationships aren’t that healthy!
How you feel about your weight can have a huge impact on your relationship with food, and then it becomes a “toxic” cycle – you weigh more, you abuse food; you abuse food, you weigh more.
Again, you see, how much you weigh matters because it can make or break your relationship with food.
4. Subjective Overall Wellbeing And Health
There’s ample research(8, 9) that shows happy people rate their well-being higher and live healthier lives (and in some instances longer too!)
If the number on the scale makes you feel terrible, and you’ve been struggling with the fluctuations and/or minimal movement of the scale towards where you want it to go, do you think it’ll affect your well-being score?
I’d say there’s a high probability of it affecting how you feel on a day-to-day basis, which will affect subjective well-being, and eventually, sooner rather than later, your physical well-being too.
So How Do We Weigh This Weight-y Matter?
Now that we’re no longer trying to hide from the fact that the scale’s reading does matter to some of us, let’s see what we can do about it!
First things first, the physiological aspect – if you’re healthy, a.k.a., don’t feel exhausted on a normal day, are energetic (almost) every morning, get a good night’s sleep (almost) every night, are able to do some form of physical work with a fair amount of ease without getting out of breath, eat a good nutritious diet, and there are no other visible health issues, then your chances of being healthy are higher.
If the above is not in place, then you do need to bring in the necessary changes for your well-being. However, there is enough on the internet for all that.
At the end of the day, the issue of how much you weigh is not really about that number. It’s about what that number means to you – what it says to you every time you look at it. So what does it say? What does what it says mean to you?
Beyond the physiological issues that weight can create, it’s not about facts at all. It’s the deeper messages, beliefs, and stories you’ve been living for so long that you believe them to be true.
Explore Your Weight-y Narratives
Journal, paint, dance, work with a therapist/ coach, do a course, join a program – whatever works for you – find a place that will help you explore your long-lived narratives so you can see them as such, as stories, and not as “reality”.
Once you see them as stories, you’ll be able to change the stories, and thereby, your life!
All mental and emotional suffering is due to not getting what we want, or getting what we don’t want. However, life doesn’t really care much about your individual wants! Life continues on – that’s its core character.
In the midst of whatever happens in life, if you start to cultivate a sense of equanimity – where whatever is, is. And whatever is, is okay. This “okay” is not a disheartened okay – it’s a wise okay that understands that such is the nature of life so why worry!
Equanimity is best cultivated through meditation.
No matter what you specialize in, if you’re like most people, and received “productivity-focused” education (which is most traditional school systems across the world), then you need to educate yourself, maybe into a new way of being!
Whatever you may have learned thus far about food, body, weight, etc., from traditional sources, let it take a backseat for a while, and go get some real education!
Learn about intuitive eating, mindful eating, long fasting, ayurveda, naturopathy, mind-body connection, and the lesser-known research studies around food and diet – I could go on!
The point is – start learning with a child-like mind, full of curiosity and wonder!
Find A Community
Most people don’t get it. Most people won’t get it. Most people won’t have people around them willing & ready to truly explore & discover. The choice is yours, and yours alone!
You can explore this new space on your own, or you can join a community of like-minded travelers and journey together.
Communities with a shared purpose can form a wonderful support system on a path that not many take.
Let’s Bring It In!
- How much you weigh does matter, but not necessarily in the way you’d think!
- Physiologically, there are various reasons why the scale’s reading, by itself, doesn’t matter.
- However, there certainly are physiological ailments that are affected by weight.
- Apart from the physiological issues, your weight is more than a number on a scale and matters to your psychological health and overall well-being.
- It is important to explore your weight-related narratives, practice equanimity, and educate yourself to let go of the weight of the weight!
So, does your weight really matter to you? If it truly doesn’t, I’m really happy for you!
If it does, what are some challenges you’ve been working with? What are some things you’ve been able to resolve?
Have you been able to witness any long-held narratives? Shifted any of them?
I would love to hear from you – your experiences, your journey, your story! Pour it all out – the comments box below loves a good pour.
(1) Healthy Weight. What is a Healthy Weight? The Nutrition Source, Harvard School Of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/
(2) Rad, M. S., et al. (2018). Toward a psychology of Homo sapiens. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S. A. 115, 11401-11405. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721165115
(3) Henrich, J., Heine, S. & Norenzayan, A. Most people are not WEIRD. Nature 466, 29 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/466029a
(4) What Should You Weigh? Tips for a Healthy Body Weight, By Jillian Kubala MS, RD. Healthline.
(5) How Much Does Weight Matter? By Michelle Konstantinovsky. One Medical.
(6) Is Weight Just a Number? What Experts Say Really Matters When It Comes to Health, by Fitbit Staff, Fitbit.
(7) What to do if you are underweight. Health Direct.
(8) Kyriopoulos I, Athanasakis K, Kyriopoulos J, Are happy people healthier? An instrumental variable approach using data from GreeceJ Epidemiol Community Health 2018;72:1153-1161. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech-2018-210568
(9) Diener, E. and Chan, M.Y. (2011), Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3: 1-43. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x