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Why is dieting so miserable?

It all has to do with the set point theory. I hate to break it to you (and my former self), but it turns out – we have much less control over our body size than the diet and fitness industry would like us to believe.

Ever heard of homeostasis? The human body keeps many things within a small window, like body temperature, blood pH, blood sugar, and our weight!

What’s my set point weight?

At present, we don’t have the ability to determine an individual’s set point – bugger! It evolves throughout our lifecycle, and research estimates that most of us like to have a set point range within a window of 10-20 pounds.

While we are unable to calculate our true set point, you can use this set of questions from Linda Bacon’s book, Health At Every Size to determine if you’re at, below, or above your set point.

A variety of factors affect our Set Point, but it’s primarily determined by genetics. Gene expressions can be turned on or off based on environment – so environmental factors also play a role.

Put simply, the theory postulates that if we eat less than we need, the body will slow down its metabolism to prevent/minimize weight loss. Likewise – when we eat more than we need, our bodies rev up the metabolism to prevent weight gain.

While the physiological response to weight gain is generally more flexible, the body’s resistance to weight loss is steadfast. These mechanisms worked in our favor once upon a time when famine could be lurking around the corner. Not so much in our current, food abundant and thin-obsessed society.

What makes losing weight so darn hard?

The body’s biological response goes beyond changing its metabolism. It can actually alter hormones to increase appetite while decreasing satiety cues. And it can alter taste buds to make a wider range of foods more appealing (hello trefoils binge! AKA the worst girl scout cookie, amiright?!).

At some point, if a dieter is able to push through these mechanisms, the body can actually stop producing hunger cues, viewing them as a waste of precious energy. In its effort to conserve all energy, you usually start to feel pretty run down and lousy. Exercise will feel like even more of a challenge, your brain might have trouble focusing, you may feel a decline in your sex drive, and even lose your period. Basically your body wants to shut down everything that’s not essential to living.

Slowly, the weight might start creeping back on. AND THEN. We usually blame ourselves for breaking the diet, calling ourselves a failure for eating the trefoil. So we think, if only I buckle down and try harder, have more self-discipline. Again and again and again –Einstein’s definition of insanity, anyone?!

Then how are other people losing weight?

Research (and NBC's The Biggest Loser) has shown that restricting calorie intake and increasing physical activity can help us lose weight – initially. However, no diet or exercise program has been proven successful (for the vast majority) in maintaining intentional weight loss for longer than 2 years despite ongoing compliance to rigid rules and food plans.

The vast majority of people who lose weight intentionally through diet and restriction end up gaining back the weight. And up to two-thirds of people actually end up gaining more weight than they had lost. Dieting is one of the biggest predictors for future weight gain.

So if you’re not a unicorn, the pursuit for sustainable weight loss is a miserable, lifelong process with no happy ending.

But what else is there?!

The good news is that weight is not a good indicator of health. Instead of focusing on changing our weight, it’s important to consider changing our behaviors and beliefs around health. We may be above, below, or at our set point weight (see Linda Bacon's excellent questions). And, through intuitive eating, body positivity, and a Health At Every Size approach, you can start reconnecting with your body’s true needs and actually begin to cultivate good health.

Watch out for my next post to find out how to get started!

512-650-8853  |  Austin TX

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