Does the idea of eating whatever you’re craving, whenever you’re hungry seem too good to be true? It used to for me, anyway. I felt like I was constantly at war with both my stomach and the scale, as I was never satisfied with either. I spent insane amounts of time and energy trying to avoid my favorite foods so I could avoid gaining weight, but it never seemed to be enough.
Fast forward to today, when I eat all my favorite foods whenever I want them, and easily maintain my weight in a 5(ish) pound range. Sure, sometimes my pants feel a little more snug than usual, but instead of freaking out like I used to, I relax and trust that my body will even itself out. It always does.
That’s because I’ve settled into my body’s weight set point, which is a five-to-ten-pound range that my body naturally wants to be in. You have one, too. Weight set point is genetically determined, and it takes huge amounts of effort to maintain a lower weight. It takes equally drastic circumstances to cause us to be at a weight above our set point range too. Contrary to what the dieting industry has taught us, our bodies want to stay alive, and they are working to help us not only survive but thrive. They don’t have a secret, evil agenda to ruin our body image or make us sick. Quite the opposite is true.
Are You at Your Weight Set Point?
Well, a sure sign that you’re not is if you feel like you gain weight just by looking at food. In other words, if eating outside of your normal routine causes you to noticeably gain weight, that’s not normal. Likewise, if skipping a workout (or even skimping on a usual workout routine) makes you gain weight, or if you feel like you’re constantly yo-yo-ing between different sizes, or if you feel neurotic around food, exercise, and your body, you’re probably not at your weight set point.
The reason you might not be at your set point could be a number of different things. Here are the top 5 most common reasons the women I work with tend to be at a weight outside of their body’s set point.
1. A disordered relationship with food
Dieting, binge eating, skipping meals, overeating…all of these things can affect our metabolism, especially when we’re in a pattern of doing them regularly. I struggled with an eating disorder in my teenage years, and even after I was supposedly at a healthy weight, my eating habits weren’t healthy, and I was trying to force myself into a body shape and size that wasn’t meant for me. I wasted so much time and energy with my diet efforts, only to wind up binge eating in the evenings. I never felt worse about my body than I did then.
Disordered eating usually leads us to a weight that isn’t right for us. While overeating and binge eating maybe are a little more straightforward, undereating leads to weight gain, too. Restricting our diets causes enormous amounts of health problems, and so our bodies compensate by easily putting on fat when we eat above and beyond the usual. Restrictive eating can also trigger binge eating episodes, or even alter our hormones to make us more likely to gain weight. Read more about how undereating leads to weight gain, here. In other instances, undereating can lead to a body weight that is below a person’s set point. When it comes to disordered eating, the scale can tip either way. (Yet another reason life is better without a scale!)
If you’re struggling in your relationship with food, I’d love to help you. I’ve coached countless other women through the same process I used to learn to eat intuitively and heal body image struggles. Learn more about my intuitive eating services here.
2. Too much exercise
Exercise sometimes leads to weight loss, but sometimes it doesn’t. After a period of over-exercising, our bodies eventually start to break down, sometimes shutting off entire bodily systems leading to health problems, infertility, and weight gain. Exercise can be healthy, but too much can create a stress response in our bodies. Over time, high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) lead to weight gain in many of the same ways that undereating does.
When I work with women who are trying to find their body’s weight set point, one of the first things we do is cut down on exercise. Many of us are actually working out too much, but because of the pressure from the media, it seems like we’re not doing nearly enough. This paradox is so sad, and also so very harmful to women’s health. When I was healing my relationship with food, I took about a two year break from exercise. Doing this gave my body the space it needed to rest and recover, and allowed me to tune into my hunger signals. I actually lost weight by exercising less. Just like disordered eating, too much exercise can also lead to a weight that is below a person’s set point. Again, this is extremely individualized, and yet another reason why overexercising is harmful.
3. Hormonal Imbalances
“Hormones” refers to so much more than PMS. They are the chemical messengers that travel through our blood, telling our organs what to do and when. They regulate everything from appetite, to metabolism, to fertility, and more. Hormonal imbalances are the driving force behind everything from diabetes, to metabolic syndrome, to PCOS, to painful periods, to digestive disorders…and everything in between. Diet culture likes to feed us the lie that we need to go on a special diet to heal hormonal imbalances, but often time extreme dieting (especially gimmicky weight loss diets) actually make those imbalances worse. Instead, the best thing that you can do is work with a naturally-minded healthcare practitioner to jump-start the body’s natural ability to regulate hormones, reduce stress, and heal your relationship with food and exercise. Nutrition is an important fact with hormonal conditions, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be crazy or extreme to be effective.
When hormones are out of balance, weight is often out of balance, too. We can’t settle into our body’s genetically determined shape and size if our blood chemistry is off. Hormonal health is a necessary precursor to maintaining our body’s weight set point.
If you’re concerned that you might be struggling with a hormonal imbalance, or have been diagnosed with one and want to learn more about natural options, I’d love to talk to you about it. Learn more about my natural health services here.
4. Thyroid Problems
The thyroid produces hormones, so theoretically “thyroid problems” could fall into #3. But, I put this issue in its own category because it’s so common, and because thyroid hormone imbalances drastically affect all the other hormonal mechanisms in the body. A person may have issues with numerous bodily systems, but they all might point back to the thyroid.
Hypothyroidism is the term for low levels of thyroid hormones in the body. When we don’t have enough thyroid hormone, metabolism is one of the first bodily processes to be affected. Thyroid hormone regulates metabolism and energy needs, and when there isn’t enough, weight gain is one of the telltale signs. Other symptoms can include blood sugar control problems, high cholesterol, constipation, infertility, and more. Ironically, most doctors prescribe weight-loss diets for patients, not realizing they’re suffering from hypothyroidism. The dieting only makes it worse.
Because hypothyroidism drives weight gain, in order to reach your body’s weight set point, your thyroid needs to be functioning properly. In addition to being common, hypothyroidism is also pretty complicated, as there are quite a few different reasons someone might be struggling with hypothyroidism and subsequent weight gain. (I’ll be writing a post on some of these reasons soon.)
Hyperthyroidism is another condition of thyroid dysfunction in which the body produces too much thyroid hormone, leading to weight loss, cardiovascular disease, infertility, skin changes, and more. Neither hyperthyroidism nor hypothyroidism is healthy, and both put a person’s health in danger.
5. Allergies or autoimmune disease
The common denominator between allergies and autoimmunity (and certain hormone imbalances) is inflammation. Whenever we react to an allergen, or when an autoimmune condition flares up, our bodies release a series of chemical messengers to trigger an inflammatory immune response. This inflammation creates swelling, elevates cortisol, and slows down the metabolism.
When a person is struggling with widespread inflammation, our bodies do what they can to conserve energy so that they have more resources available for a strong immune response. Unfortunately for those struggling with allergies and autoimmunity, the immune response isn’t necessary, and is actually harmful. When a person with an autoimmune disease or several allergies is able to treat their condition, the inflammation resolves, and they often lose weight. Other patients end up gaining weight because the resolution of inflammation triggers hormonal changes, allowing them to get back to a healthy place.
Depending on where the immune system response is focused, the autoimmune attack may make it difficult for a person to absorb the nutrients in their food, leading to severe and harmful weight loss. Neither situation–weight gain or weight loss– means the person is healthy, and neither situation allows a person to find their weight set point.
Regardless of the reason you might be above or below your weight set point and struggling to have a healthy relationship with your body, there is hope. You don’t need to keep battling against yourself. It’s possible to get to the bottom of your symptoms, settle into your body’s natural shape and size, and learn to love the skin you’re in!