So, how do find YOUR natural healthy weight?
If your desire is to find a natural healthy weight for you - rather than conform to any externally-influenced or media ideals - then what does your natural weight really look like, and how do you get there?
It comes down to set-point theory, a hypothesis that the body has a biologically pre-determined set-point weight that it works to maintain. Body weight may drift naturally around 10% of this point - so set-point range has a bit of give in it.
An interaction of hormones, brain activity and genetics act as a body weight thermostat to maintain our set-point by altering our hormones and metabolism. If weight goes too far above the thermostat, the body works to bring it down and vice versa.
When we restrict calorie intake quickly (as diet-industry and short-term diets tend to do) and the body perceives weight going down too rapidly, or even the threat of weight going down… it tends to react in some very interesting ways.
If fat levels fall below the set-point, the body’s metabolism slows to save energy and preserve the fat we have. This is because the human body doesn’t understand dieting. It doesn’t comprehend that food is around us; for all it knows, it’s in a time of severe famine. Consider that the fear of food-scarcity is one of the most primal fears a person can experience.
What’s more hunger increases….This is because we begin to produce more ghrelin, aka ‘hunger’ hormone. We produce more of the chemical neuropeptide-y, and we also produce less leptin, or ‘fullness’ hormone.
In very restrictive, long-term yoyo dieters, leptin levels can become virtually untraceable. Meaning, the drive to eat is high, and the body may not produce ‘fullness’ signals until long after the body’s weight has returned to a normal level.
Can I change my set-point?
Yes and no. Not in the short term. A few short-lived diets won’t change your set-point although one could alter your weight for a while. Remember your body is always striving to restore balance or homeostasis.
However, long-term lifestyle changes of nine months or more) can alter the set-point – either positively or negatively. Age, life events, pregnancy, hormones may all be influencing factors.
Paradoxically, the long-term effects of yoyo dieting or weight cycling are weight gain and increased waist circumference. This is because the body starts to adapt to cycles of restrictive dieting by suppressing metabolism and thereby increasing set-point weight.
However, the good news is that some case studies suggest that given enough time and complete cessation of restrictive behaviours, the body may be able to return to an original set-point weight.
A note on age: your body weight will change - it’s meant to change as we get older! It is unrealistic for a 40-year-old to strive for the body they had when they were 20. Also of note is that fat is shown to be protective in epidemiological studies. And participants with higher body fat tend to have greater longevity and decreased risk of dying from chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and kidney disease.
How do I find my natural healthy weight?
It may surprise you that it has nothing to do with the numbers on the scales or your BMI. There is no way to calculate your exact set-point weight, but we can think of it in terms of the behaviours that you engage in when you’re nourishing yourself well for your personal needs – body, mind and spirit.
You’re likely at your set-point weight when you’re:
· Not restricting food groups
· Not bingeing
· Regularly moving your body for fun and joy
· Getting enough sleep
· Managing stress
· Not using food to pacify negative emotions
· Spending time with people you like being around
· Eating in accordance with hunger and fullness (most of the time)
· Eating food that makes you feel good
If you’re struggling with both your weight and other niggling health complaints, there may be some hidden factors at play around hormone balance, toxicity, or perhaps nutritional deficiencies. The same behaviours above will likely help address these too and help support positive health outcomes. And, with the right expertise, personalised nutritional therapy may help you approach more complex or chronic health problems as a priority.
I hope this helps build understanding of why short-lived weight-loss focussed diets are only a ‘plaster’, and it’s primarily your relationship with food and your body that is so key to maintaining a healthy body and getting the outcomes you really desire for the long-term.