Looking in the Mirror

Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander
7 min readApr 12, 2020

A Guide on How to Set Realistic Weight Loss Goals and Find Your Ideal Body Image

Do you look in the mirror and wish for the body of a bikini supermodel? Do you try fad diets and the latest “fat-burning” exercises for months without success? Are you tired of looking in the mirror and feeling disappointed with your body? Many women feel like they have no control over their bodies. We all want to look like those smiling women on the cover of fitness magazines but many of us don’t have a clue how to get there.

Here is the solution: It’s not about fad diets or hours on the treadmill. We can all love to “look in the mirror” by following a few techniques to set weight loss goals, maintain weight, and visualize your body image.

“Most successful weight loss usually involves taking a long look at ourselves, making decisions to change the way we feel about ourselves and our eating habits, and discovering what success really means to us as individuals.” — 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet

The Dreaded Scale

Most women dread the scale and will do anything to avoid stepping up and seeing that number appear. The scale is just one of the tools used to make sure your body metrics are moving in the right direction. It is not an accurate portrayal of day-to-day weight because women, especially during certain times of our cycle, can fluctuate by several pounds each day. Women retain more water during menstruation, which always results in a weight gain on the scale. The scale should only be used along with body measurements to track long-term progress. Once you reach your goal, the scale can then be used to make sure you are staying on track.

For example, my scale weight on average is around 128. On days that I do a long run my weight drops, due to fluid loss, to about 126. During certain times of my cycle, I weigh almost 130. The takeaway is — scale weight is just one small part of the picture. Don’t get hung up on it.

How to Calculate your Body Fat Percentage

The best way to track your weight loss progress is through your body fat percentage. Body fat percentage is the most accurate portrayal of a healthy body. I like to use the U.S. Army method to calculate body fat, which requires women to measure their hips, neck, waist, and weight. Remember this is your starting point and a metric to use to make sure you are moving in the right direction.

What is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

The body needs a certain amount of fat to complete many physiological processes. This is known as essential body fat. In women, it ranges from 10 to 14%. Women in ripped or competition shape can range between 9 to 12 % body fat. Very lean percentages are 16% or less, lean is 16 to 20% and fair or good is 21 to 25%.

9–12%: Ripped

10–14%: Essential Body Fat

Less than 16%: Very Lean

16–20%: Lean

21–25%: Fair/Good

Realistic Body Images

A Body fat percentage of less than 16% may seem like an excellent goal to have, but maintaining that level of fitness is extremely difficult and time-consuming. Most women who are in the ripped or competition shape do so only when they are competing. Most go back to a range of 18 to 20% during the off-season. MMA fighter Ronda Rousey writes in her book about the challenges of staying in competition shape:

“Virtually no athlete competes in a division that is actually their weight. Most athletes walk around considerably heavier than competition weight in daily life. In the UFC, I fight at 135 pounds, and for about four hours a year, I weight 135 pounds. My actual weight is closer to 150.” — Ronda Rousey

The image of the perfect 14% body is unrealistic and is not sustainable. It can even lead to health problems in the long term. Women who less than 13% can have disrupted menstrual cycles, low blood iron levels and a decrease in bone density.

A realistic body fat goal to maintain for life is around 18%. This is where the average athlete stays during the off-season. This is also where most women will feel healthy while also being happy with the way their bodies look. Get the supermodel image out of your head and shoot for a healthier you, not the woman on the magazine cover.

Realistic weight loss goals

Realistic weight loss per week is about 1 to 2% of your body weight. Anything more than that and you risk losing muscle mass along with fat. While losing the fat, you should also be building muscle in the gym. Weight lifting builds muscle, which in turn will burn fat. Weight loss fad diets, diet pills, and cutting out one macronutrient may help you drop a few pounds in the short run, but is not sustainable. It may take a year for you to meet your first goal, but remember it took you years to get you to where you are now. Once you reach that goal, then set another one. Don’t rush the change. Let your body rebuild itself into the body you have always wanted to have.

In the book 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet, the Barnett sisters outline 5 essential steps to losing weight and making those weight loss goals a reality.

  1. Find a support system- Join a gym or running group, get a personal trainer or even get your whole family involved. Find someone to give you encouragement and support for the rest of your life.
  2. Load up on self-esteem- “Hating yourself doesn’t help and lack of self-esteem can wreck your chance at weight loss. Accept yourself as you are and not as you wish you were.”
  3. Find a less fattening form of comfort- Don’t use food for comfort or something to turn to during times of stress. Instead, try adding fun fitness classes to your schedule and rely on a hard workout to get rid of all the stress from the day. I love lifting weights after work in the afternoon. By the end of the workout, my stress is left lying somewhere on the bench.
  4. Discover something you love and stick with it- Try all forms of exercise and stick with the one that motivates you to keep on doing it.
  5. Try gradual change instead of cold turkey- Set realistic goals each week and stay positive whether you meet them or not.

Keeping the weight off

Commit to your new lifestyle and realize that it is a lifelong commitment and not just a temporary fix. Many dieters make the mistake of believing that once they lose the weight then they can just go back to eating whatever they want. In most cases, this leads to gaining the weight back. You may even end up weighing more than when you started.

“The first lesson we learned about keeping the weight off was to actively invest in our weight maintenance on a daily basis. You can’t just lose weight and forget about it.” — 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet

You must actively invest in maintaining your new healthy weight. I recommend making a meal plan and sticking to it. Put the plan on your fridge so that you know what you are eating every single day. Put real thought into your meal plan and make sure you are committed to eating the foods on your plan. If you hate carrots, don’t put carrots on the plan. We are talking realistic and sustainable here.

I recommend following the 6 Golden Gateways to Successful Maintenance by the Barnett sisters. These are great tips on how to maintain a healthy weight.

  1. Make yourself a priority- You may have a whole family that depends on you, but you must make your health a priority. Your family will thank you for it when you feel better about your health and body.
  2. It’s okay to slip up a little- Don’t beat yourself up over little slips. Just pick yourself up and start again.
  3. Long term success isn’t automatic- You must prepare, execute, and review your nutrition plan and exercise daily/weekly/monthly to stay successful at change.
  4. Move it or lose it- Stay active even when you’re not exercising. Don’t just come home and be a couch potato. Aim for 10,000 steps per day, play some games with the kids outdoors before dinner or take a weekly bike ride with the family.
  5. Forget the head games- Don’t doubt yourself or let others sabotage your plans/goals.
  6. Lifelong success is not just wishful thinking- Lifelong success takes planning, organization, determination, and follow-through.

“Learning how to maintain your commitment to a new lifestyle…is a process of getting to know yourself, emotionally and psychologically as well as physically.” -3 Fat Chicks on a Diet

Take a good look in the mirror, make a decision to change, and execute that decision; it’s just that easy.

“Everyone wants to be healthy, but very few people choose to be healthy. It takes more than desire or a dream to get healthy…it takes a decision. You won’t change until you choose to change. You don’t get healthy by accident. It’s intentional. It’s a choice. It’s a lifetime of choices, but it begins with a decision.” — The Daniel Plan

References

  1. Suzanne, Jennifer and Amy Barnett, 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet: Because We’re all in it Together. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006
  2. Muth, Natalie Digate, Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals. F.A Davis Company: Philadelphia, PA, 2015
  3. Venuto, Tom, Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle. Harmony Books: New York, 2013
  4. Ronda Rousey, Maria Burns Ortiz. My Fight/Your Fight. Regan arts: New York, New York, 2015
  5. Rick Warren D.Min, Daniel Amen MD, Mark Hyman MD. The Daniel Plan: 40 days to a Healthier Life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013

Originally published at https://pharmd-fitness.com.

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Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander

Pharmacist.Personal Trainer.Lift heavy, skip the run.Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.