It’s not uncommon to step on the scale and wonder whether you’re at a healthy weight.

However, it’s important to understand that your overall health cannot be measured by body weight alone (1).

At the same time, your body weight can affect your health in many ways. For example, having underweight or overweight may increase your risk of illness and decrease your mental health and overall quality of life (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Although keeping your body weight within a healthy range isn’t the only tool for optimal health and wellness, it’s a very important one. All the same, you may be unsure what a “healthy” weight means for you.

This article explains what maintaining a healthy body weight means and provides tips for safe weight loss and weight gain.

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Weight fluctuates with body size, so there’s no “ideal” body weight for all people. Everyone has a different body frame, body fat distribution, and height, all of which determine your healthiest weight range.

Part of your body weight is body fat. Research shows that keeping your body fat at a healthy level helps decrease disease risk, since high levels of body fat are linked to chronic low grade inflammation (8, 9).

This type of inflammation is associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other health conditions (8, 9).

However, having very low body fat levels can also be harmful and may increase your risk of disease and early death (8).

Although opinions on what constitutes a healthy body fat percentage vary greatly, experts have determined that adults should strive to keep body fat levels within a general percentage range.

Studies suggest that women ages 21–39 with body weight in the “normal” range should have a body fat percentage of 21–32%, while men of the same age should have a body fat percentage of 8–20% (8).

A study in adults ages 45–64 established body fat percentage cutoff points of 25.8% for men and 37.1% for women. Body fat percentages higher than these were found to significantly increase heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes (9).

Keep in mind that ideal body fat percentages vary based on ethnicity, sex, and age.

Waist circumference is also a helpful tool for assessing body fat levels. To reduce chronic disease risk, it’s recommended that women keep their waist circumference under 31.4 inches (80 cm) and men under 35.4 inches (90 cm) (10).

Body weight is just one piece of a large puzzle

You should consider several factors when determining an ideal body weight range.

It’s important to remember that what you may think is a “perfect” or “goal” weight might not be realistic or healthy for your body type.

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.

Your best body weight range is one that promotes optimal physical and mental health. At a healthy body weight, you should feel strong, energized, and confident.

Staying within a healthy range may also reduce risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar, as well as reduce your risk for weight-related complications such as sleep apnea (11).

If you’re unsure what a healthy weight looks like for you, consult a registered dietitian. They can give you a realistic weight range based on factors such as your age, height, body type, and health goals.

Keep in mind that the body weight range at which you feel best physically and mentally might not be anywhere near the weight you think you should be.

We’re exposed to unrealistic beauty and body image standards daily through social media, television, magazine ads, and other aspects of culture. These may lead to body comparison and unhealthy weight and body goals.

If you find yourself frequently comparing your body to others’ and fixating on your shape and body weight, consider working with a therapist or registered dietitian to develop a healthier relationship with your body.

Remember, your body weight is just one health indicator. Your diet, mental health, muscle mass, blood sugar levels, and blood lipid levels are just a few of the many other factors that affect your overall health and disease risk.

Summary

There is no “ideal” body weight for all people. Everyone has a different body frame, body fat distribution, and height, all of which determine an individual’s healthiest weight range.

Although it has significant flaws and limitations, body mass index (BMI) is the most common tool used to assess body weight.

It uses your height and weight to give you a health classification.

Even though this might seem like a reliable way to assess body weight, this tool has notable issues and shouldn’t be the only diagnostic tool used to determine your health or body fat levels.

This is because the BMI doesn’t distinguish between body fat and muscle mass, nor does it account for fat distribution. As such, a person who has a high amount of muscle mass may be misclassified as overweight or obese despite having healthy body fat levels (12).

Plus, a person who carries a large amount of body fat around their midsection may be at a high risk of multiple chronic diseases but still categorized as having a healthy BMI because of their total body weight and height (13).

Despite its limitations, BMI is currently the best way to track body weight at the population level. It’s also a reliable predictor of chronic disease and mortality risk related to both underweight and overweight status (14, 15, 16, 17).

In short, BMI is a useful tool but shouldn’t be used on its own. Instead, it should be combined with blood tests and measures of waist circumference, body fat percentage, and waist-to-hip ratio to assess a person’s health.

What is a ‘healthy’ weight based on BMI?

BMI has been shown to be an accurate predictor of disease risk and may help assess body weight and disease risk, especially when used alongside other diagnostic tools.

Still, you may want to know what’s considered a “healthy” weight range based on BMI.

You can enter your height and weight on the NIH website to calculate your BMI, which will be represented as a number value. That value then determines your BMI class (18).

The following chart shows the different BMI classifications, including severely underweight, underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese (19):

BMI rangeClassification
less than 16.5severely underweight
16.5–18.4underweight
18.5–24.9normal weight
25.0–29.9overweight
30.0–34.9obese class I
35.0–39.9obese class II
40 or greaterobese class III

Keep in mind that BMI doesn’t account for sex, body frame, age, ethnicity, bone mass, muscle mass, fat mass, or fat distribution.

Although it’s helpful to know where you fall on the BMI chart, remember that it’s just one measure of health and body weight. Being categorized as overweight or underweight according to BMI does not necessarily mean you’re at an “unhealthy” weight.

Nonetheless, experts still recommend trying to keep your BMI within the “normal” range.

Summary

Everyone has a different healthy body weight range based on height, muscle mass, age, body fat, ethnicity, and other factors. You can use BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and other tools to learn whether you’re currently at a healthy weight.

Whether you need to lose or gain weight to protect against disease and promote all-around wellness, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to reach your goals.

To adjust your weight in a sustainable way that doesn’t put your health at risk, it’s best to avoid extreme methods such as “cleanses,” extreme calorie restriction, unnecessary supplements, and dirty bulking.

Tips for healthy weight loss

Weight loss is complicated, and what’s best for one person may not be right for another. However, these tips can help most people lose weight in a safe, healthy manner:

  • Respect your body and be realistic. When you decide to lose weight, it’s important to be realistic about your weight and body composition goals. Try not to compare yourself to others, and focus on overall health rather than body size or weight.
  • Eat nutrient-dense, whole foods. Anyone can benefit from a diet rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, fish, and eggs. These foods are packed with nutrients your body needs for optimal health.
  • Cut back on ultra-processed foods and drinks. Try to reduce your intake of ultra-processed foods and beverages such as soda, sugary coffee drinks, sweet baked goods, sugary cereals, white bread, salty packaged snacks, and fast food.
  • Increase your activity levels. Exercising daily can help you lose body fat, improve heart health, and gain muscle mass. If you’re currently inactive, set a goal to walk a few thousand steps per day, and then increase your daily steps every few weeks (20, 21).
  • Choose protein- and fiber-rich foods. Eating sources of fiber and protein with every meal or snack can help you feel full. For example, pair an apple with natural peanut butter for a snack or a fish fillet with broccoli and a baked potato for dinner (22).
  • Say no to unhealthy weight loss methods. Very low calorie diets, most weight loss cleanses, and extreme, unsustainable workout routines aren’t necessary for weight loss and may even jeopardize your health (23).
  • Consider working with a professional. If you don’t know where to start, consult a registered dietitian to help you create a healthy, sustainable weight loss plan based on your needs. Also, a certified personal trainer can help you reach your fitness goals.

Healthy ways to gain weight

If you’re currently classified as underweight and are interested in putting on muscle mass and/or body fat, several safe, evidence-based methods exist to gain weight.

Keep in mind that these tips aren’t appropriate for people with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

Here are a few tips for healthy weight gain:

  • Choose high calorie, high protein foods. If you’re trying to gain weight, eating more foods high in calories — such as full-fat yogurt, natural nut butters, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, eggs, and fatty fish — can boost your calorie intake.
  • Consider a weight gainer or protein supplement. Weight gainer supplements are designed to help people gain weight, as they’re high in calories, carbs, and protein. You can also use regular protein powder to make high calorie protein shakes.
  • Add snacks. Eating snacks high in calories and protein throughout the day can promote weight gain. Consider trail mix, nut butter with a banana, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and full-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Exercise to build muscle mass. If you’re eating enough calories, exercising can help you put on muscle mass. Consider working with a certified personal trainer to create a workout routine designed to build muscle (25).

If you’re losing weight and can’t seem to gain weight or maintain your body weight even when you’re eating adequate calories, talk with a healthcare professional to make sure your weight loss isn’t the result of an underlying medical condition.

Summary

Whether you want to maintain, lose, or gain weight, there are healthy ways to reach your goals. If you’re not sure where to start, consider working with a registered dietitian and/or a certified personal trainer.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is important for disease prevention, quality of life, mental health, body image, mobility, and more.

However, everyone has a different healthy body weight and body fat percentage range that depends on factors such as height, sex, muscle mass, age, ethnicity, and other factors.

Whether you’d like to lose, gain, or maintain weight, it’s important to do so in a sustainable way that supports your overall health.

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