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Ask a loser: What should my goal weight be?

I was wondering what weight chart did you use when determining what you should weigh? – Liz

Asking this question is like asking “How many guys do I have to sleep with before I’m a slut?” It depends. One person’s answer is not necessarily going to be the same as another’s. Just like your sluttiness, you goal weight is subjective.

I had been fat my entire adult life, so setting a goal weight was tricky. I didn’t have a frame of reference for my ideal body weight. People who have been skinny before can refer to the weight they liked their body at best, whereas I was just making my best guess at what weight would be good for me. Plus, I couldn’t exactly go up to people I thought looked good and say, “How much do you weigh?” (Not until I took a self-defense course first.)

Instead, I took a look at the BMI (body mass index) chart to determine the range of weight that was recommended for someone of my height. The body mass index is determined by dividing your weight by your height squared. The ideal BMI is between 18.5 and 25. There are many calculators online like this one from the National Institutes of Health that will do the tricky math stuff and metric conversions for you. The BMI is not perfect, so chill out before you write that comment that says Michael Jordan would be considered obese according to BMI. I consider the BMI to be a guideline, not a non-negotiable rule. One of the things I’ve learned in life is that almost everything’s negotiable.

I set my goal for 160 because it was at the high end of the BMI charts and seemed attainable. However, as I approached my goal I continued to reassess my weight and determined I was happier at 180. This was the weight I landed at when I was eating healthy 95% of the time and exercising regularly. Just as some people are naturally taller or darker skinned or better at foosball than others, some people are naturally a bit chubbier and skinnier than the “norms.” It’s quite possible that you can eat the same things and exercise as much as someone the same height and gender as you, and you’d weigh different amounts. Some bodies are just better at retaining fat than others. Them’s the breaks. Blame your DNA.

I think it best to set an initial goal weight and reassess it as you get closer depending on your overall health and how you feel about your body. You might find you’re very happy at your goal. Other people might find they ideally want to weigh less or more. What’s most important is being in touch with your body and figuring out what’s best for it.

I should also note, that while most people set a goal weight when starting a weight loss program, you can also set a goal dress size, goal measurements, or set a fitness goal like running a 5K. It’s good to have non-scale victories because weight is not the best determiner of fat loss. If you gain muscle and lose fat, you might actually weigh more even though your body has become slimmer, yet more dense. Whatever goals you set, good luck achieving them!

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40 Comments

David Crowell • January 8, 2009 at 9:09 am

Hi! Another loser here.

Another thing to keep in mind, it’s a good idea to re-assess your goals occasionally. My goal weight jumped around a bit. As I did a bit more research, and figured out what I was capable of, I kept changing it. It’s currently at 175 (and I’ve got about 40lbs more to go), but it’s still subject to change.

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beandove • January 8, 2009 at 9:28 am

word.

i feel too skinny if i’m below 185. i’m only 5′ 8″ and my BMI should be 25 (165 lbs.) but i’m just not down with that.

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Helen • January 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

One of the problems with the BMI charts is that they don’t account for muscularity. So my husband who is 5’11” tall and is one big ball of muscles comes up as overweight on that chart, even though he is 54, has a 6 pack and 32″ waist.

The numbers on the scale are definitely just a guideline. I don’t know if they still do this or not, but when I worked for Weight Watchers they allowed people who felt the weight guidelines were too restrictive to bring in a physician’s note stating what their weight goal could be. This very nice accommodated the muscular as well as very tiny, thin boned people.

Setting other goals like dress sizes and measurements and fitness goals are way more satisfying, especially if you don’t see the scale move.

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Tina • January 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

Right on and well said!!! I never really had a goal weight, but my body has been happy at 128-130 for 5 years now. I’m just happy to maintain it!

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Karen • January 8, 2009 at 10:03 am

Good post! I’ve also been fat for my entire life, so I also had no real frame of reference to determine at what weight I would look and feel my best. So, I never chose an actual goal weight. Instead, I did as you had mentioned and had a goal clothing size in mind. At first, my goal clothing size was a size 16 (down from a size 26/28). I’m now a size 14 in most stores and my new short term goal is to be a size 12. My final goals is to be a size 8 (which a size 10 goal in there somewhere before that). Also, like you stated, people are built differently and two women of the same age and height and weight can look totally different depending on body shape and composition, so I TRY not to stress the number too much, and because I am well-proportioned hourglass shape, I don’t necessarily look as over my ideal BMI weight as I am. The downfall of completely avoiding the scale,though, is that I tend to ignore it when my clothes seem to be getting tighter, but it’s hard to ignore an actual flashing number on a digital console.

In any event,

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Jill • January 8, 2009 at 10:06 am

For YEARS I thought I would only be happy if I weighed 125 like I did in college. Now I’m down to 153 (from 186) and I’m thinking, “hey this is okay”. 145 is my goal but really I’m perfectly okay with what I weigh today. Like you said PQ, it’s okay to change your mind about your ultimate goal weight.

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Meg • January 8, 2009 at 10:19 am

It’s nice to hear someone who’s been through this to talk about fluctuating your goals. I think it’s important to keep your goals flexible to keep yourself from getting frustrated and quitting. I like the Dress/Pants size goal myself, however I’ve been finding the variation in sizing across companies to be frustrating with that goal. I’m glad you decided to stay at your happy weight instead of pushing yourself into unhealthy territory to achieve the “perfect” weight!

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KT • January 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

True, true, true. While taking about 18 months to lose 130 pounds, I kept a workout log (in addition to a food diary), for which I weighed myself only every 12 weeks, and I also took measurements of different areas of my body, and also recorded how much improvement (if any) I made with my workout routines (tougher cardio, more weight added to strength training, etc.). During one 12-week stretch, I hadn’t lost any significant weight, but my proportion definitely changed by a couple of inches here and there, as did the size of my clothes. So, while the scale is a good tool, it’s definitely not the ONLY one we should be relying on.

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KT • January 8, 2009 at 10:36 am

@KT – Of course, “the size of my clothes” hadn’t changed — the size of ME changed! But wouldn’t it be nice if our clothing shrank, too? Woulda saved me a bundle!^)

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Nina • January 8, 2009 at 10:37 am

Another loser, here. When I was obese (180lbs), my goal was to be 130. I’m 5’1″ so believe me, 180 is obese. Well I got down to 130 and was still fat, so I lost another 10. At 120, still fat. So now I gotta go to 110.

I’ve never been thin either, so I’m trying to figure out what works best for me. It’s tough when you’ve been fat your whole life.

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Jenny • January 8, 2009 at 10:56 am

I got down to where I was within the correct range on the BMI chart for the first time in living memory, but it proved to be a weight that was unsustainable without what I would deem overly obsessive eating practices. (1800 calories/day plus 10 hours/week of really vigorous exercise – I don’t know, I think 2400 calories is better if you really are exercising a lot!) I’m about ten pounds more than that now, and just in the lowest slice of the BMI overweight category – v. muscular build, that chart honestly does not account for the range in body types. I prefer fitness goals to scale numbers, it seems better for mental health!

Hmmmm, I was sorry to read your headache post the other day. Here’s to hoping that 2009 is a much better year for you than 2008…

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Quix • January 8, 2009 at 11:02 am

Having a bit of trouble myself with this. I’ve been thin (but muscular – at about 125), but I was also 16 and training gymnastics like a full time job. While I’d love to have that same body, I’m not sure it’s realistic (I just don’t have the hours to put in anymore). I pass the BMI normal threshold at 149 – and while I think I look pretty good now, I’d like one thing about me to be normal. :) After that, it’s just a keep going and see where I end up process. While I do wish I had a number in mind that I could stop at, I think this approach will help me find somewhere to stop I’m really and truly happy with myself.

The funny thing is everyone think I’ll be a rail if I lose to 125. I just looked at old pictures over break – I looked great, but still very much not stick skinny. I wore a size 7, that’s not even close to model territory, heh.

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Danielle • January 8, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Good post, thanks! I fully agree with not reading too much into what the scale says. For me, it hasn’t budged for months, but I’ve been working out a lot and gaining muscle and getting a bit thinner, slowly. I’m at an OK size now, so I don’t expect dramatic results.

But I can’t be the only one who finds clothing sizes very frustrating – I should at least be able to know my size in a particular store, but nope, they’re often different. And I’m sure I could walk from one store to another in the mall and range 3 sizes easily. While my husband can go buy pants and not even try them on – 36 is a 36 for men. I think some stores use vanity sizing and some don’t.

Annoying, no?

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AmeliaP • January 8, 2009 at 12:42 pm

It’s so hard to gauge the ideal weight, as you said, especially when you’ve been overweight your entire life. Having recently hit my 100lbs weight loss mark, I realized that my body is no where near what I want it to be, yet. I am happy with my results thus far, but there’s more work to be done. One of the difficult parts of actually saying your actual goal aloud, is everyone else’s reaction, which I know shouldn’t matter. But when you leave people with their mouth agape, wondering why you, the “fat girl” would even think of dropping down that low, it makes you question if it really is doable.

Thanks for the post and reminding me that it’s about getting down to the size that i think is right and that I can maintain.

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Andrew is getting fit • January 8, 2009 at 1:11 pm

I set my initial goal as to lose 100 pounds but when I got close to that I changed it to 120 pounds. I’m thinking of changing it to 130 or 140 now but you have to be flexible.

Don’t carve them in stone as circumstances change.

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Kimberly • January 8, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I picked a nice round number to make my weight loss goal exactly 200 pounds. But my ultimate goal is to be in a size 12/14. Who know? I may stop at a 14 and think, hey I look good and maintain at that current size. Or I may want to go to a 10. Who knows?

I am re-reading your book right now and I absolutely love the part where you are talking about starting to use weights and how fat is light and fluffy while muscle weighs more. I am trying to fight a battle with the scale and really put that monstrous little dictator into perspective. The number does not tell the whole tale. It is how you feel and look that that matters the most.

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John W. • January 8, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Hi Jenette

That post has to be one of the most clear headed things I’ve read about goal setting in weight loss! I really enjoy your work and like to check in regularly. I’m coming from the other end of the scale (skinny guy gaining weight!), but people I love are fighting alongside you and I’ve learned a lot about the challenges they face through you. Thanks.

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Ruth • January 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Jenette,

I am curious . . . how tall are you? I looked all over your site and can’t find that. You look very tall in your pictures, yet you originally wanted to weigh only 160?

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Amy • January 8, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Maybe I just haven’t admitted that I’m not young anymore and it’s harder to stay in shape, but I think the average person isn’t that much more muscular/dense to be falling out of recommended BMI ranges all the time. Surely the bell curve ought to apply…the spread on those ranges seems pretty broad. There is certainly a difference in fitness that can make an impact in the score.

I am 5’8″ and when I was in college, I was heavily involved in daily cardio and strength training for intercollegiate sports. I was strongest and healthiest when I weighed 160, which put me at 24.3, almost the top of the Normal BMI range.

Now I’m 155, 23.6, but squishy around the middle and I exercise a couple times a week when I can. I eat a lot less now too because I’m just not as active w/sports, but there’s more junk food. My doctor says my goal weight should be 150. I believe her, not because I think closer to mid-normal BMI is perfect, but because I know I am NOT fit right now and about five pounds would take care of a pants size and the abdominal squishiness and I’d have more endurance at the gym.

I also think 160 was healthy for me–but only when that was muscle. Unless the person is incredibly active, exercising for hours a day, I don’t see how a BMI above 25 typically is going to be ‘healthy’ compared to one below that. Obviously there will be some exceptions, but I hear a lot of ppl discount the numbers and I just wonder if they do have something more reliable to measure when it comes to fitness or we’re playing a game. I think as a Western society with poor eating and exercising habits, we tend to rationalize we can be bigger just because everyone else is. I’m not sure that’s necessarily best for physical health. (Self esteem and feeling good at a higher weight is something else again and absolutely important–but to me, what helps me live longer and shows up better on my bloodwork seems like a more quantitative goal.)

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Cindy • January 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm

One of the problems I had with Weight Watchers was their emphasis on “goal weight.” No two people are exactly alike, and one 5’5″ woman’s goal weight is not equal to another’s. The goal should be health and fitness, not an arbitrary number. But then, how do you measure that?

BTW, big congratulations to all the commenters I see who have lost so much weight! It’s inspiring to hear from people who have worked so hard.

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Sharon • January 8, 2009 at 4:11 pm

I have a few pairs of jeans that mark sizes in my personal range of “acceptable” but beyond that, I figure that working toward the goal is what matters more than the goal itself. To be fair, I have more history of normal weight than some posters here (not lifelong or even continuously post-puberty fat) and I’m ridiculously defined-goal-averse.

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Rebecca • January 8, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I have been frustrated at the emphasis on the number on a scale in weight loss programs (Weight Watchers, Biggest Loser, etc.).

However, as a woman who started as a very skinny kid and the weight just sneaked up on, it’s all I have to aim for. If I lose 20% of my weight, that will ALMOST put me in the “normal” range of BMI. I have no idea what size I would be, but looks/clothing figure into my goal as much as health, so I figure that at this point, I can make the weight my target, and see how I feel as I approach it!

Overall, I’m trying to say how much I totally agree with what you have written, PQ!

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maris • January 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Agree that weight goals vary from person to person but is that what your reader was asking? It seemed like she wanted to know what SYSTEM you used to determine your goal weight. I think it’s great to set a goal you have something to work towards, it makes your efforts seem more tangible.

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K • January 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I don’t think I really have a goal any more other than “I’ll know I’m there when I feel fit.” By which I mean that I’ll have plenty of energy and be able to run for a sustained period of time and not hurt myself when I lift things.

I’d quite like to be a size 12 (8 US) but if I can’t be, I can’t. Even then I wouldn’t be skinny, but my waist/hip ratio is in the healthy range now, and no doctor has ever taken exception to my weight, so I’m counting myself lucky.

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Melissa Fast • January 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm

When I started the process at 260, I never thought I would see any number below 200. When I dropped below 180, people expressed concern about me getting “too skinny.” I told them I would stop losing weight when my pantyhose stopped making the swooshing noise when I walked…that shut them up!

I talked to my doc…it’s a good conversation to have. I certainly wasn’t capable at the time to figure out a number, and other people I knew had just as distorted perceptions about where they thought I should be. I generally weigh between 155-160. At 153, weird things start happening in my head. It’s been 2 1/2 years at goal, and it is still a learning process.

It’s challenging at times to stay at 155. I need to figure out what I’m willing to do in terms of exercise to stay at that weight, but I like the way my clothes feel there.

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Sara • January 8, 2009 at 11:01 pm

I would love to look down at the three numbers on the scale someday and think to myself: Yep, that’s about right.

I confess I have no idea which three numbers those are or in which order they’ll be. Well, other than I’m pretty sure the first one isn’t a 7. Or anything above a 2, really.

Like you, obesity is my reality and I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t know I was fat. I suppose I’ll just take your sage advice and cross that bridge when I come to it.

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debby • January 9, 2009 at 12:27 am

Thanks, PQ. This was a very good reminder for me–that I am not 26 like I was the last time I lost a lot of weight. And I am not a statistic on a BMI chart or a W.W. chart. I’ve been feeling a little down on myself that I can’t/won’t seem to lose any more weight, even though I am maintaining my 90-100 pound loss (depending on the day of the week!)

Love to you, and enjoy your vacay!

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Ally • January 9, 2009 at 5:36 am

Wow. Talk about an inspiration. I just made a commitment to blogging my journey today and have only just begun to branch out into the online support networks. My goal is to be healthy and maintain my happiness. I can not wait to enjoy reading about you journey. Cheers Ally :)

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Ally • January 9, 2009 at 5:44 am

Oops!!! Just read the post re name in comments!!! Sorry only signed off mine from habit… really truly sorry… please don’t bite :)

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epp • January 9, 2009 at 6:42 am

Pasta Queen

Read your book last night good poop man.

Thank you for the straigt forward aproach.

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Jac • January 9, 2009 at 9:03 am

I’ve spent many hours (maybe?) debating what my ideal, goal weight is. But recently (with my obsession of following blogs) I’ve decided that I will just know when I’m there. No real goal, just to be happy and satisfied with myself.

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plainwater • January 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

@Amy – OMG, you blew my mind. I always hear that criticism of the BMI and let it pass without thinking. But not one person who’s ever mentioned the Michael Jordan thing has had one percent of the muscle mass he must have had at his peak!

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Laura • January 9, 2009 at 11:34 am

I’ve been working the Weight Watchers plan for nigh 8 years now, and I’ve never noticed that they had an emphasis on goal weight, or that they forced you to choose one. (I guess this is a comment to the commenters.) They just recommend starting at 10% to give you something to look toward.

I lost over 100 lbs 5 years ago, and I gained it all back within the last 3 after a big life change. I’m starting over after so many start-overs, after learning from a lot of my mistakes. I don’t want to think about food like an anorexic ever again, and I won’t let it have a pull on me like it did as a bulimic/overeater.

I have a much healthier approach now: eat what I want, what fits into my food plan, and only until I’m satisfied. I don’t have a number goal; I just want to eat, excercise and live so that next week shows a smaller number on the scale or at least a little more room in my pants. Neither of which will effect my happiness or my opinion of self-worth.

Every other way, for me, has proven dangerous and disappointing.

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Amy • January 9, 2009 at 1:13 pm

@plainwater – Some additional data: That 160 number was 25+ pounds more than what I weighed when I entered college (granted, at 17 we are generally thinner than a few years later). After I did all that strength training, I went swimming one day and SANK. My legs had become dense with the muscle. It was really weird. I float just fine now! :D

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Ruth • January 9, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I don’t weigh myself.

After years and years of gaining and losing weight, and having been bulimic through my teens and early 20s, it just doesn’t feel like the thing to do to me.

I have a fairly healthy body image these days, and have been losing fat, gaining muscle and eating pretty healthfully.

When I look the way I want to look, I will by a body fat scale and weigh myself once or twice a week to help maintain.

Till then, I just want to keep moving forward, and my clothes are my guide.

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Rene • January 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Just for the record, someone in the process of losing a large amount of weight DID ask me how much I weigh the other day at the gym. It was odd and out of the blue and she was a perfect stranger but, I didn’t get offended and she explained why she wanted to know and I happily answered her. So, not all people will punch you if you ask them what they weigh, especially if you phrase like she did which was “Can I ask you a question?” and I said “Sure” and she said “This might sound weird and I am not trying to be rude but, how much do you weigh? Because, I just lost 100 pounds and I still have more to lose but I am not sure what goal weight to set and you look good and so, I was wondering, what you weigh so I have some idea of what to aim for.” So, she was basically saying she wanted to look like me and well, I was feeling pretty out of shape and icky for a few days preceeding this and hearing that I was actually an inspiration to someone was pretty cool. So, yeah, if you ask that way, it’s almost like you are flattering the person. That being said, what I weigh, might not be the best way to gauge what another person should weigh. It’s a very personal and variable thing. Still it was nice to hear that she found me to be fit and that she thought I looked good.

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Kim • January 11, 2009 at 9:28 am

You are SO right! I’m 5’5″ and if I weigh 140 (supposedly overweight) I am a size 10 and look skinny as a rail.

I’m in the process of losing now (12 pounds in 9 weeks, thank you Richard Simmons and Jazzercise!), and have every intention at stopping at 160. I felt good at that weight, I look good at that weight, and I can eat relatively what I want (within reason) and keep that weight.

To heck with the charts – I am watching the BMI, but I really get hung up on numbers, so I try to avoid them as much as possible.

Viva la body loca! : D

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Lori • January 11, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Hi! First I’d like to say that I finished reading your book last week. I loved it! You inspired me to start blogging my own weight loss journey. I only have a few entries so far, but I hope it will help me as I continue to lose weight.

As far as a goal weight, I completely agree that it’s a personal thing. I’ve lost 50 lbs. and some people think I’m at a good size now. I do feel a lot better, but the thoughts I had when I was previously this size keep coming up. I think I’ll feel really comfortable if I lose another 40 lbs. which would bring me to around 130 (give or take a few pounds either way).

Thanks again for being such an inspiration!

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Bionic Librarian • January 12, 2009 at 7:45 am

@Cindy – I remember that about Weight Watchers. When I was 13 Mom dragged me to WW (don’t even get me started on that!) I was 5’2.5″ and 162. Woman checked the chart and declared my goal weight between 95-107! OMG and I truly have a larger frame. Even my Mother balked at that and pointed out that I had a heavier build. The woman stood her ground and said no I should at least get to 107 and that at 102 I would look ‘really good’… Was it any wonder I then tried purging, compulsive exercising and semi-starving myself? Years later I got down to 163 (5’4″ and 23 years old) and Mom commented that I shouldn’t loose any more weight! I am trying to get to a healthy weight again but the damn BMI frustrates – they say 145 max and I just don’t know if it’s realistic so instead I focus on how exercise, eating right and some weight loss (25 pounds – at 208 now) has helped my PCOS.

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TiredOfWorkingOut • February 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Just stumbling upon this post. For those who have lost a LOT of weight, all that loose skin translates to extra pounds on the scale. So, if you weigh 140 but have 10 lbs of loose skin from losing, say, 200 lbs, you may really weigh 130.

I’m talking from experience, btw.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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