One of the most fascinating, and often frustrating, topics of discussion with my clients is the idea of your body’s “weight set point”. Simply put (and over simplifying a VERY complicated idea) your body’s set point is a weight range* in which you will stay, without much effort, and in the absence of extreme behaviors. Basically, it’s your “normal” body weight. Now, this might NOT be the weight you WANT to be, but alas, it is the weight range your body likes and works very hard to maintain.
Why is weight set point important to understand?? Because A LOT of people talk about “health” as a way to manipulate their weight (in one way or another), and the fact of the matter is: dramatically changing your weight is nearly impossible (in the long run). The reason why? Weight set point.
*Weight set point is a RANGE. About 10-15% of your body weight is the amount you can vary. For a 150lb woman this means she could vary by 15-22lbs at any given time based on a million different things, but will still considered within her natural weight set point.
Ever hear a relatively thin woman complain that she can’t lose that “last 5-10 pounds”? Yeah, it’s because that would push her out of her weight set point range, and that is VERY hard to do. Same is true for people that want to bulk up. If you have ever known anyone who wants to get bigger, it is also VERY hard.
Your body’s only job is to stay alive (and reproduce, but that’s a whole other topic). She or he is an expert at preventing you from starving to death. SO, when we deprive our bodies of food (or over exercise or are chronically stressed) they store fat. It’s that simple, and most of us would fundamentally agree with this idea. But what a lot of people struggle to accept is that the more you restrict, the higher your weight set point may creep up. Yes, you read that right. The more you diet, the fatter you will most likely become. (Read more here: why diets don't work)
So what to do with this information? What does “in the absence of extreme behaviors” actually mean?? Here are some examples of possible extreme behaviors, from your body’s perspective:
-under-eating (i.e. restricting calories)
-using caffeine, nicotine, or energy drinks to suppress your natural appetite
-ignoring hunger signals, aka “white knuckling it”
-drinking excessive amounts of water
-using laxatives, colon cleanses, diuretics, etc.
-excessive exercise. Aka anything that hurts, leaves you feeling drained and fatigued (not energized) and more importantly, you don’t enjoy or do for any other reason but to lose weight
-eliminating entire food groups (this CAN be done for ethical or intolerance reasons, but should not be combined with calorie restriction)
-skipping meals (i.e. fasting) or setting strict time frames for eating
The activities listed above would generally be recognized as “dieting” behaviors, but other lifestyle choices can affect your body’s fat storage mechanisms just as dramatically:
-not moving enough. Being sedentary, sitting all day, and avoiding natural movement (walking, stretching, lifting, climbing stairs, etc.…. this is NOT natural, we are meant to move!)
-overeating, especially calorically dense foods. Processed, fast food, and sugar dense foods are particularly hard on our bodies. Some people may recognize this as BINGE
-drinking the majority of calories: soda, juices, or using short term meal replacement shakes for weight loss
-force feeding certain food groups (Paleo, Whole30, type meals plans may encourage this… ignoring your body’s natural signals and focusing on macronutrients instead)
-skipping meals and then naturally overeating at the next meal
-eating while driving, watching TV, running from errand to errand, etc.
-not cooking or preparing the majority of your meals. Eating in restaurants a lot.
-under sleeping (for most people that is less than 7 hours of good quality sleep)
-not chewing enough
-excessive alcohol consumption
-EXCESSIVE STRESS, work, home, family, social or environmental stressors
Working on tuning into your body’s wants and needs is the best (and only proven) way to avoid this crazy-making cycle. Recognizing IF you are within your natural weight set point, and what you can do avoid pushing it up, is a critical part of becoming an empowered and healthy individual.