The last time that I participated in an organized weight loss program was about thirty years ago, but I remember the experience as if it was yesterday. “What number do you want as your goal weight?” asked the receptionist at my first visit. I chose a number that I had weighed after my divorce when I was too miserable to eat and very skinny, by the way.
Has this ever happened to you? You go on a diet or a program and expect to lose x amount of pounds and weigh ____ (fill in the blank). You choose a number that you weighed when you were in the fifth grade or when you were twenty years old, with little consideration of how realistic that number is today. And then at some point on your weight loss journey you stop losing weight and you think the problem is you and your lack of will power. Yes?
Set Point theory says that our inability to lose that last ten, twenty or more pounds may not be about our lack of self-control but about our body’s way of finding its natural weight. Set Point theory is the weight your body comfortably settles at when you’re eating in response to hunger, stopping when full, and engaging in some degree of regular, physical activity. So two women could be the same height, eat about the same amount of food and weigh different amounts.
Linda Bacon, a nutrition and weight regulation physiologist, in her book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, says that Set Point is a force that pulls us back to a comfortable range for our bodies when we veer away. Dieting does exactly the opposite. It intentionally pulls us away from our body’s comfortable range. And… through dieting, when we override our signals of hunger and fullness again and again and again, this natural system becomes broken. (Does this explain why every time I stopped dieting I landed at just about the same size and weight I’m at now?)
The goal, therefore, is to find your healthy weight! According to Linda Matz, LCSW, in her article “Recipe for Life” in the January/ February edition of Psychotherapy Networker, and contrary to what we hear from much of the medical community, “people who diet are eight times as likely to develop eating disorders, score higher on measurements of stress and depression compared to nondieter and experience greater health risks such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes as a result of weight cycling.” So dieting can be damaging to our physical and mental health? According to some of the latest research, yes!
Am I giving us permission to throw away our knowledge of healthy eating and to consume a diet high in sugars, fats, and salts? Absolutely not! What I am saying is that we were born knowing how to eat. Babies cry when they are hungry and turn away from the breast or bottle when they’ve had enough. Can we get back to that early, attuned awareness of how to feed ourselves?
Attuned eating doesn’t mean eating whatever you want, whenever you want, and as much as you want. It guides you and me to eat what the body is hungry for, when it’s hungry, choosing from a wide variety of nutritious foods. Attuned eating allows us to reestablish a natural, anxiety-free relationship with food. And when we do and we sprinkle in some regular exercise, we’ll find ourselves at our set point, at our natural weight. Sounds good to me!
Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 15 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women
who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with food and with their bodies. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ileneleshinsky.com.