The sun comes out and bikini body images are everywhere. These images are often created to increase our body dissatisfaction and drive revenue for the diet industry (see our vlog Are You Watching Bulimic Porn?). Unfortunately, they often succeed in their quest and we focus incessantly on eating less, working out more and become obsessed with the numbers on the scale. But are we wasting our precious time and energy trying to change our natural set point weight?
The truth is, our bodies are pretty clever, and left to their own devices, they won’t let us get too fat or too thin. Each of us has a weight range that we are genetically predisposed to maintain (see our other blog Unhappy With Your Body? Don’t Buck Your Biology). This is our ‘set point’ weight range.
This set point weight range is where our bodies perform at their best. Our wise bodies know exactly what to do and will always try to return us to our natural set point.
Pretty cool, eh?
So, how does set point weight happen? And why?
Well, our bodies have natural regulatory mechanisms that can sense when we are going above or below our set point. Just as we get thirsty when we our bodies need more fluid, and we sweat when our bodies get too hot, our bodies don’t like it when we go out of our biologically ideal weight range and will fight to keep it there.
For instance, if you diet to a point that you fall below your natural set point weight range, your body will say, ‘Whoa…this is not good…I need to get back to where I was!’. It does this by slowing your metabolic rate down, so you burn fewer calories. It will also increase the feelings of hunger and thoughts about food.
This is why so many people stop losing weight after the first couple of weeks of a diet. It’s not that they have no discipline. In fact, their bodies know better and are telling them to stop messing with nature!
Alternatively, if you eat a bit more than you need to stay in your set point range, your body won’t like that either. It will respond by increasing your body temperature, thus speeding up your metabolism to burn off that extra energy!
This is fantastic news, because if you’re eating a relatively healthy diet and exercising moderately, you don’t have to worry at all about a bit of weight gain or loss. It is most certainly short lived, as your body will always try to return you to your optimal weight.
So, how can we accept our set point range and resist the pressure to buy into the dieting hype?
Look at factors that influence your body shape.
Look at your family genetics. Does your body have the same features as other members of your family? Your family genes offer important clues about what your healthy set point range is.
Look at the stage of your life. Are you having hormonal fluctuations? As a woman, are you going through puberty, pregnancy, peri-menopause or the menopause, which will affect your weight? As a man, your testosterone can peak and dip through life, which can affect your weight too.
Are you on medications that affect your weight? Some medications affect the storage of fat in our bodies. This could also change your set point weight while you are taking them. Accept that to be healthy, you must accept a change in your body too.
Focus on your health and not numbers.
By focusing on your nutritional needs and not what the scales say, you can help your body find its natural weight. Look at how many fruits, vegetables and whole foods your body needs. How often should you be moving to stay healthy? These are a good start to encourage a healthier body, rather than focusing on numbers on a scale. Live a life of moderation.
Dress in clothes that flatter your body and your shape. Wear clothes that feel comfortable and don’t make you feel self-conscious.
Listen to your body.
Take care to keep track of what feels good. Instead of thinking about “dieting”, think about eating more intuitively and nutritiously. Eat your favourite healthy foods. Find an exercise that you enjoy. Rest when you need to. Drink more water to hydrate your body.
If you have been eating restrictively, or you’ve been overeating for a long period, it can take up to a year for your body to find its natural set point range.
Accepting that your body must find this natural weight range means engaging in healthy eating and moderate exercise. This can sometimes take a long time – it’s no quick fix.
So, you see, there is absolutely no reason to listen to the hype and change your body in anticipation of baring flesh in the summer sun.
Armed with science and a healthy dose of body acceptance, you can go on holiday and relax. Isn’t that what a holiday is for?
Don’t worry about gaining a bit of weight on holiday. It’s normal. Once you are home and in your normal routine, your body will settle back to your normal set point weight range without much effort at all.
The biggest challenge for us all is to learn to love and accept who we are through this journey.
- To accept what our genes make us and to make peace with our natural set point weight range.
- To ignore society’s message of “thinness equals happiness” which it doesn’t.
- To understand that the diet industry is just that – an industry there to make money.
- To learn what your body WANTS and NEEDS to eat to be happy and healthy.
- To balance your mental health with your body’s health.
Making some simple shifts in how you honour your body is the first step to your success.
Embrace your unique set point weight and enjoy the summer!