Before guilt sets in about the number on the scale, consider that you may not actually be overweight

By Jennifer Goldberg

4 reasons you don

It seems like everybody wants to lose weight these days—and there are plenty of articles, programs and reality shows to tell us how to do it. While it's true that almost 60 percent of Canadians are at increased risk of developing health problems because they are overweight or obese, you might not be one of them. Here are four signs you don't actually need to lose any weight.

1. You don't know why you're dieting

"When my patients come to me and say they need to lose weight, my first question is: Why?" says Dr. Arya Sharma, chair for Cardiovascular Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta. This is a good question to ask yourself if you're in constant diet mode. Do you need to lose weight to deal with an issue such as diabetes or high blood pressure? If so, your doctor should help you determine how much weight loss is necessary to improve your health. However, if the reason you're dieting is to fit into a smaller dress, it's important to realize that you're not losing weight in order to be healthy, says Sharma.

If you've lost track of why you're dieting (and for many women it's a habit), ask your doctor to help you determine if your weight is on target from a health perspective. That way you'll be focused on maintaining a healthy body weight rather than dieting without reason.

2. You're reaching for an unattainable goal

Like it or not, we can't all be runway-model thin—whether you're shaped like Naomi Campbell or Oprah Winfrey (both gorgeous women, by the way) is largely determined by your genetics. "If I take two people who have different genes and I put them in a controlled room and feed them the exact same amount of calories, one can gain weight and the other could maintain his weight. That is genetic," says Sharma.

There are thousands of genes that control everything from the way your metabolism works to your appetite, sense of satiety and even where the fat gets stored in your body. So no matter how much you focus on shedding pounds, "there's no guarantee that you'll ever be a size zero," says Sharma.

Even if you were very thin in your youth, it's unrealistic to try to diet your way into your favourite jeans from high school. "A good way to tell that you don't need to lose weight is if you're trying to get back to a size you were in your teens or early twenties," says Jessica Begg, a registered dietitian based in Vancouver.  "From adolescence to your early twenties you should be gaining a couple of pounds every year." So hand those acid-wash Levis over to your daughter and focus on maintaining a healthy weight for your age and body type.

3. You're dieting to boost your self-esteem

According to the Canadian Women's Health Network, almost 90 percent of Canadian women and girls are unhappy with the way they look. But we didn't really need to tell you that, did we? Most of us have heard that little niggling voice in the back of our minds tell us that we're too fat. However, it's important to make the distinction between needing to lose weight for health reasons and wanting to lose weight to silence your inner critic.

"A weight issue is totally different from a body-image issue,” says Sharma. "'Am I at a healthy body weight?' is an easy question to answer. But 'Am I at a beautiful body weight?' is dictated by the culture and that's not about healthy weight. That's about meeting the appearance that's dictated by the fashion industry."

Take a hard look at what drives you to keep dieting. Do you feel accomplished when your doctor gives you a clean bill of health or when your weight drops down another digit? "If you're mostly concerned with the numbers on the scale, I can tell you that you are mostly dealing with an appearance issue and less with a health issue," says Sharma.

If the amount of weight you lose is directly tied to how beautiful you feel, it may be time to speak to a healthcare professional about your eating habits. "When we're talking about eating disorders, it usually starts with people who want to lose a little bit of weight and then it gets out of control. It's almost always triggered by a seemingly innocuous diet," says Begg.

4. You're living a healthy lifestyle

With so much emphasis put on dropping pounds, we can sometimes forget that weight loss isn't the only reason to live a healthy lifestyle. "If you're eating [well] and exercising every day, you can still be healthy," says Sharma. "Most people gain weight throughout their lives and they don't have a weight issue. There's a large range of weights that people can be at and be quite healthy."

It's easy to become frustrated when you feel like you're doing everything "right" but the number on the scale still won't budge. However, a number doesn't dictate how healthy you are. "If you don't have any family risk [for disease] and you've been at this same weight for years, then it doesn't make sense for you to aim for a weight that you have never been," says Begg.  So don't give up on eating well and working out if you don't see a drastic drop in your weight—try putting that pesky scale in the closet for a while instead.

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Web exclusive: October 2009

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