Where should my weight goal be?
Why does my body keep on gaining when I want it to stop?
Why have I reached a plateau?
If you were perfectly in tune with our bodies you would be able to eat when hungry, stop when full, even decide what to eat whilst thinking about the signals your body was sending out. This would likely result in your weight remaining relatively stable. Why?
The theory is that the body has a genetically determined weight set point. This is the point where the body functions best. It will work to gain/lose weight back to this point. So with small losses and gains of weight your body will adapt it’s metabolism to bring your weight back.
If you constantly ignore the bodies hunger/fullness signals you can override this system and push the body into a new “settling point”. Your body will work to get back towards it’s set point but external factors may mean this is not possible so it compromises. This can explain why you find it easy to gain/lose a little weight below your normal weight but then have to make bigger changes to alter your weight further. It also shows why a WEIGHT BAND is needed and not a single figure.
Looking at the research on weight restoration after people have been at a low weight you find it takes time for them to get back to their healthy weight bands. For example simulation using the data from the Minnesota starvation study show it took over a year for the men’s bodies to resettle back to within 5% of their original body fat.
In my practice of eating disorders I see similar results. Getting the body to regain weight back to it’s former set point is not as easy as you would imagine. There can be phases of regular weight gain and then plateau periods. It can take a few months for weight maintenance to be established. Almost as if the body is testing to make sure it is safe for it to settle into it’s groove again. Following a pattern of either bingeing and restricting or eating more and then compensating another day will make it harder for the body to normalise itself. Mindful eating, a regular pattern of meals and listening to your body’s signals is the key.
When you lose weight, below the set-point, your metabolism decreases. Your body uses less energy for jobs such as digesting food. Your overall energy expenditure decreases and your resting energy expenditure decreases. So you use less calories than you were using. As you start to weight restore your metabolism will at some point start to increase alongside this. This can result in a weight plateau, but it can also help you justify eating more.
How do your work out your set-point?
This is the tricky bit. There is no direct way to measure it and it can change over time. For some women pregnancy will change the set point. Ageing can have an affect. Medications and illness too.
What we do know is it isn’t likely to be dead on a BMI of 20. BMI is a guide and a range it isn’t definitive. So you may have to continue gaining past BMI of 20 and listen to your physical health signals. Your energy levels, your menstrual cycle, your bone health, the condition of your hair and nails, your blood results. Ignore the numbers on the scales and think about your body as a whole.
General tips: look back over your weight history. If you have had a stable period when you ate normally and were moderately active then your weight at this time will be a huge clue.
Look at the weight of siblings and parents. If you are female think about the weight when your menstrual cycle was occurring regularly, this is a huge clue.
Remember, the body wants stability and to feel safe. So give it a routine and listen to what it is asking you for.
If you need any advice then do get in touch for a Skype or face to face consultation.
CCI: set point theory http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/set%20point%20theory.pdf
Mirror-Mirror : Set Point Theory: http://www.mirror-mirror.org/set.htm
Muller, JM et al (2010). Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight? F1000 Med Rep. 2010; 2: 59. Accessed via PubMed.