How to Find and Keep Your Healthy Weight

You've seen the ads: "Lose 20 pounds in 30 days!," "Eat whatever you want and lose weight." If you haven't already figured it out, fad diets and nutritional gimmicks are not the way to achieve a healthy weight and keep it for the long haul.

Running is a great calorie-burner--depending on your weight, you expend roughly 100 calories per mile--but many women start running to lose weight and get frustrated when the pounds don't melt away. That's because exercise alone doesn't lead to successful weight loss. It's better to aim for a lean, healthy body through a combination of fitness training and smart eating habits. Here's the complete guide to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, without the gimmicks.

Find Your Healthy Weight

Before starting to lose weight, make sure you really need to. Dr. Carol Otis, author of The Athletic Women's Survival Guide and a sports medicine physician, stresses there isn't a perfect formula to determine a woman's correct weight, because every body is so unique.

"No tables exist for listing the weight you should be, and there's no specific number on the scale you should aim for," she says. "Your age, height, hormonal status and the thickness of your bones, as well as your body type--factors that are genetically predetermined and not under your control--affect your weight, including the ease at which you lose body fat and build muscle."

Be honest about what you hope losing weight will do for you. Don't assume your performance will automatically improve, especially if your body fat is already at a reasonable level.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, no additional benefits to sport performance occur when body fat drops below 16 percent for women under age 55 (20 percent for those over 55), but health risks such as eating disorders, osteopenia and other health problems related to poor energy and nutrient intake increase.

Most female runners reach and maintain a leaner weight only after they develop a more positive body image. Disordered eating (erratic eating habits such as "forgetting" to eat, being compulsive about only eating nonfat foods or eliminating entire groups of foods) driven by body dissatisfaction is an indication you struggle with respecting your body.

A Ball State University and Arizona State University study found as many as 72 percent of female athletes do not eat enough to sustain them, taking in 1,500 calories or fewer when they likely need 2,700 to 3,000 calories a day.

"The scale is either a tool or a weapon," says Emily Edison, a sports dietitian and certified fitness trainer in Seattle who works with the University of Washington's NCAA women's cross country team. "Use it, if at all, only as an occasional check, and not to measure self worth."  

To find the weight that's healthiest for you, first assess your daily caloric needs. Based on your exercise level, the following formulas (for both women and men) give a ballpark estimate. The moderately active to very active range means you consistently train or work out at moderate or higher intensity five to six days per week. Most active females should use the lower-to-mid ranges:

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