Can’t lose those last few pounds? It might be because you don’t need to.
We won’t sugarcoat the reality of weight loss: It can be a long and difficult journey. And those last five to 10 pounds tend to be particularly stubborn. But sometimes, those last few pounds aren’t a problem at all.
“Your body is going to fight to keep you at the weight that’s right for you—even if it isn’t your goal weight,” says Dawn Lerman, a nutritionist and author of My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes.
In other words, the real problem may be that your goal weight is a bit too low. Research suggests that every person’s body is designed to hold its weight in different places and that we all have a “body-inherent weight,” or set point, controlled primarily by our genes. To maintain a weight or size that’s not inherent or natural for you is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of unhealthy restriction, Lerman says.
Still, it’s easy to become preoccupied with weighing what you did in college or on your wedding day. But your body does and should change throughout the decades, Lerman says. “What was a healthy weight for you at 20, or even 40, might not be right for you anymore.”
This doesn’t mean that everyone who has trouble losing weight doesn’t actually need to. Weight loss plateaus do happen, and your doctor can help you determine the best plan in those cases. But once your body settles into a healthy weight, it won’t shed those extra few pounds simply because you want to be a size two or four again, Lerman says.
So how do you know when your body has found its sweet spot? Here are four telltale signs you’re there, regardless of the number on the scale.
1. Your Energy Level Is Stable
It’s natural to not feel as energetic as you did in your 20s, but the healthier your weight, the healthier your energy levels, says Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. That’s because when you’re at a healthy weight, your body works as efficiently as possible.
“If you’re feeling sluggish, it’s an indication that you weigh too much, too little, or that you aren’t nourishing yourself with enough whole foods and calories,” Lerman says. Energy levels are hard to measure quantitatively, but when you’re at the right weight, you’ll be able to feel it, she says.
2. You Eat When You’re Hungry—and Until You’re Full
Your body is pretty great at telling you what it needs—if you pay attention. “If you listen to your body and let your internal hunger cues guide your eating, you’ll find a healthy weight and stay there,” Lerman says.
Not sure you can trust your hunger cues? Consider this: When you’ve stopped losing weight and your healthy meals are triggering the return of hunger three to five hours after you eat, you’ll probably have to cut back to keep losing. If by doing so, you feel hungry sooner than three hours after a meal, it means you’re not eating enough, which can trigger a downshift in your metabolism and the loss of muscle. The bottom line: When you’ve hit the point where you really can’t eat less without feeling lousy and the scale has stopped moving, you’re at the finish line.
If you struggle with emotional eating or withhold food when you’re hungry out of fear of gaining weight, you might benefit from talking with a registered dietitian or therapist who can help you learn to listen to and trust your body’s hunger cues.
3. Your Doctor Is Happy with Your Health
Weight alone doesn’t determine health, Fear says. So it’s important to look at the full picture. “Numbers like cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar will help indicate if you have any weight-related health issues,” Lerman says.
If your doctor says those numbers are where they should be, you can go to bed knowing that you’re managing your risk for obesity-related conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes.
Other weight-related topics to discuss with your doc: your bone and muscle health, which become more important with age. Strong bones and muscles help you function better every day, stay independent longer, and prevent falls and injuries. That means strength training is essential and shouldn’t be sacrificed in an effort to drop more pounds.
4. Ramping Up Your Weight Loss Efforts Would Hurt Your Quality of Life
If you’ve been diligent about exercising regularly, eating well, and sleeping enough and the scale still isn’t budging, you might have to do something more extreme to hit your weight loss goals, Lerman says.
As previously mentioned, that could leave you feeling drained or mess with your metabolism, but it may also cost you some of life’s greatest pleasures. And that’s a sign the plan you’re on isn’t a good or sustainable one, Lerman says.
Think about it: Would life five pounds lighter really be so great if you couldn’t dine out with friends or share your favorite meals with your family?