iStock_000004068393_SmallYou may have heard that excess weight is linked to many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. This is true, and it explains why many doctors recommend weight loss to help their patients stay healthy.

But does weight really boil down to a number on a scale? Or is it just one measure of how healthy we are?

There is indeed some correlation between obesity and disease. But other factors, such as diet, sleep, stress, and exercise demonstrate an even stronger relationship with health. We even know that yo-yo dieting is associated with inflammation, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), and even premature death from heart disease. That might suggest that periods of fast weight loss followed by regain of the weight are actually less healthy than healthfully maintaining a higher weight!

So how does weight fit into all of this? It’s just a number on a scale, after all. The reason weight appears to carry a correlation with health is likely because weight changes as we eat healthier foods and exercise more. In other words, both weight and health are the end results of a healthy lifestyle. It’s not that the number itself actually influences your long-term health status. It’s the diet, exercise, and even regular sleep patterns and stress reduction that prevent disease.

This should come as good news to those who work hard at weight loss, yet are discouraged by the number on the scale. If you know that you are eating nutritious foods, you’re exercising regularly, you’re getting eight hours of sleep each night and otherwise taking care of yourself, then rest assured that you are making huge strides toward improved health.

Yes, if you do these things consistently, the number on the scale will probably change. But allow yourself to focus on long-term health rather than getting hung up on achieving a specific number.