Fact: I used to really want to be a size “blank.”
Like really really.
It didn’t matter to me that my original weight was perfectly healthy. It didn’t matter that it was easy to maintain. I still wanted to be thinner.
There were times when I would do everything in my power to reach that smaller size I’d idealized in my mind—restrict my eating, overdo it at the gym, obsess over every morsel of food I ate.
And what did it get me? Eventually, exactly what I wanted: I reached my dream size.
But guess how long I stayed at a size “blank”?
I think it was about two months. Two very short months. I blinked my eyes and was right back at the weight where I started.
Of course this frustrated me; I had worked hard, hadn’t I? I had followed the rules, right? I was keeping my body tightly under control, exercising every ounce of willpower I could muster, wasn’t I?
Then I learned about set point, which gave me a whole new perspective on my weight.
What is Set Point?
“Set point” is the idea that when we fight against our bodies, trying to make them succumb to our wishes, our bodies don’t just sit back and passively let themselves be controlled. No, our bodies fight back. They know the weight where they are most comfortable, and they will work to stay there.
When we lower our weight too much by dieting or increase it too much by overeating, of course our body size responds to that. But our bodies will also let us know that they aren’t happy at the extremes.
When I was under my set point, I was always tired and cranky, constantly craving the decadent foods I wouldn’t allow my taste buds to touch. My body was pushing me to gain the weight back.
When I was over my set point from eating emotionally, I continuously felt bloated and uncomfortable because my body was urging me to tune back into its signals.
It makes perfect sense why it’s so difficult to maintain a weight that’s too far from our set points. Our bodies keep saying,”Listen to ME! I won’t let you do this! I will make you feel miserable until you pay attention to my needs!”
In the end, I had to turn inward and ask myself why I wanted to be a size “blank” so badly in the first place, when it was obvious my body was more comfortable elsewhere. I had to choose between being a size that was more “fashionable”—and yet made me feel miserable—and a size that was less model-like but a whole lot healthier for me personally.
I had to decide if my body and its set point were going to be my enemy or my ally. I chose the latter. Tweet this!
Do you think our bodies have a “set point” for weight?
image via lockstockb on sxc.hu
30 responses to “The [Totally Logical] Reason I Can’t Keep the Weight Off”
I absolutely think the set point theory is true! I’d come to that conclusion about myself long before I read about it, just from observing the impact that diet and exercise had on my body. The closer I was the set point, the less a change in either had on my size. Luckily it’s a size that I’m comfortable/happy with!
Between 2008 and 2009, I lost about 145 pounds, going from an estimated start weight of 282 down to 137. That ended up being too low for my frame—especially, as my husband pointed out, considering that loose skin made up a chunk of what was left. During the two years or so that I was able to maintain around that level, I was hungry all the time and my blood cell levels fell low enough that I spent most of 2010 under the care of a hematologist who ran every test known to medicine to figure out the cause—only to conclude that it was my body’s reaction to the extreme weight loss. Oh, and my period went missing for 4 months and came back irregular—not good when you’re trying to get pregnant!
By early 2012, I had gained back about 12 pounds. Part of me felt guilty about the gain, feeling I’d let down the people who were so proud of my success, but intellectually, I know I was healthier for it. (A few people have since commented that they were concerned that I’d gotten “too skinny.”) Perhaps not coincidentally, I finally conceived that spring.
Now, my little guy is 17 months old, and I’ve settled into the 151–155 range. I work out 5–6 mornings per week (setting the alarm for no later than 4:30 a.m. to get it done and cleaned up before the little guy is up!) and my diet is about 80% good stuff, 20% less-than-ideal stuff. Truth be told, I could shift that to 90%-10% and maybe lose about 5 pounds, but I have no goal to get all the way back down to 137. My life has a lot more balance now than it did when I was trying to maintain a weight that, while the charts put it smack in the middle of the healthy range for my height, it was too low for me.
Thank you so much for sharing your story! It illustrates the point I was hoping to make in this post wonderfully. I’m so glad to hear that you are at a place where you feel TRULY healthy and balanced.
Yes, I have heard this before! I was some show about dieting (don’t ask me the name or network it was on) and they were saying when we diet we basically are putting our bodies in shock, which is why so many are unsuccessful. Moderation is key. Thanks for sharing!
I probably do. It was the same from HS through Susanna at the start.
Post Susanna I’ve been about 5-7 over (still bf at 16 months) and that will continue through this baby.
I’ve got a strong feeling I’ll return to that point post G (baby underway), as it feels like my body is in store fat to produce and provide now. When that time is done, the need for it is gone.
I hadn’t heard of this Katie but it totally makes sense! Some weight ranges just aren’t healthy for our body types, even if other people can manage to do just that. That really explains why some people who weigh more than us can actually be healthier—it’s because for their body, that weight is optimal, whereas for us, it’s not.
I’m trying to think of where I fall in this spectrum, and I think I can still probably stand to lose more weight. It’s not just a number either (“I used to weigh X before I had kids!”). Like you said, I feel bloated and my clothes don’t feel good.
Still, it’s a good idea to keep in mind should I actually lose this weight. I wouldn’t want to keep losing and losing and end up miserable.
The funny thing is that even when I was at my “optimal” weight, it’s not like I felt that all was perfect all of a sudden. We’ll always have imperfections, so it’s almost unnecessary to strive for that perfect weight or body image. It doesn’t exist.
I’m pretty happy with where I am, minus a few pounds lol. Even though pregnancy (especially with twins) did damage to my belly especially, I can’t hate it, and I’ve accepted it, and know it’ll go back to normal eventually!
Thanks for shedding some useful theories with weight gain or loss!
Thanks for sharing your insight, Nina! I especially love your point about the “perfect” weight not equaling the perfect body or perfect life. We’ll be happiest when we stop striving for perfection in the first place.
I think genes play a part in what weight you’ll be if you’re not paying much attention. From my husband’s Celiac I’m learning about food intolerances and fat storage. Once he eliminated his problem foods, he lost 40 lbs and kept it off without any effort at all. So if you feel your body is holding onto more weight than it should, an elimination diet may be in order to zero in on foods that may be causing discomfort or fat storage.
That’s awesome and a perfect example of how maintaining our body’s ideal weight doesn’t have to be such a struggle all the time.
Oh I think you are probably right. I could probably stand to lose a few pounds but no one would look at me and say that, because I hide it well. There are things I should probably eliminate from my diet and it would make a difference, but I think it would be hard, because I like food a little too much. But as I said, it’s not a big issue for me either.
I think so many of us have forgotten to listen to our bodies at all! Good for you or pointing it out so nicely!
I do think so – I remember learning about it in Psychology class, of all places. When we go under our “set point”, we get hungry and cranky. When we go over, we don’t have as big of an appetite.
And that’s in a perfect world, before the brain takes over and makes you eat when you’re not hungry, or not eat!
Absolutely! If not a number, certainly a range of five pounds or so. Unfortunately so many people (especially women), get stuck on a size or an unrealistic number. The media just perpetuates that, and it takes a lot of strength to not buy into it.
I like the concept of the ‘set point’ because our bodies are all different, and there’s no point in becoming something we are just not comfortable with. It takes a lot of work to be a smaller size, and sometimes it can get too stressful.
Right now, I am definitely above my set point, and I know it. I also know that if I would just buckle down (and put down the Swedish Fish) I could get back to where I need to be…which, you are right, is not where I want to be, but being where I want to be was not right either! Great post!-Ashley
Yeah, I’ve heard about weight set points, which is also why drastic diets don’t work over the long haul. I think that lasting weight loss also won’t occur if your body is feeling like it’s lacking for calories/nutrients. Slow and gradual- that’s the only way you can “trick” your body to shrink. Either that or move away to an island where you’re forced to live on only pineapple. Nom nom…
I struggled my whole life with my weight, but high cholesterol coupled with rampant heart disease in my family ultimately pushed me to a healthier lifestyle. It’s been a long struggle, but accepting that a proper diet and regular exercise are crucial for my well being finally has made me comfortable in my own skin.
This is such excellent wisdom!! I soooo wish more women would simply HONOR their bodies and not force them to be something they are not… and yes oh yes- most of that sheer determination stems from something ‘inside’ and THAT is what needs attention.
Ditto to the genes as the determinant of the healthiest weight, and ditto to elimination diets. I recently (ca. 2 mo.) started eating carb-free and it has made a big difference in how I feel. It did help me lose a couple of pounds, but more importantly, I feel a sense of balance in my body, have more energy, and have lost the constant drippy nose I’ve had for the past couple of decades (probably due to some gluten intolerance).
It’s really important that we remember the ‘perfect’ weight will change according to the latest aesthetic standards (gorgeous, sexy women in the 50’s weighed more and were curvier), the latest in scientific revelations, and the age at which we accept that a range of body types are all equally lovely.
Whenever women talk about weight, we MUST talk about media’s unrealistic portrayals of both health and beauty.
And then there’s age….. what looks/feels good at one time of life isn’t always going to be true. Post baby life is a good example. Recently I lost a lot of weight and was approaching my average weight from ca. 20 years ago. People constantly told me I was too, too thin. Now I’ve reached what must be my set point bcz my body simply doesn’t want to go below it, no matter how much I exercise, how little I eat, or how healthy my diet is.
The right weight is the one at which you have energy and feel comfortable. The rest of the struggle is usually about meeting false, air-brushed media standards.
Thanks for another great post, Katie.
I do believe we have a set weight. I haven’t fluctuated a whole lot over the years, but there’s always a certain spot that just feels right. I think more women need to honor this and stop stressing about being a specific number (though this is hard with all the media images around us).
I definitely believe we have a set point. I was at the same weight for years and years without really ever paying attention. I ate what I wanted, exercise was something I did for fun – like walks, and I didn’t worry about the scale. Of course kids changed that. I am still 13 lbs from where I was pre-kids and have started trying to eat healthier and exercise more to get back down to that set point that seemed to work so well for me.
My comment is that my set point weight is higher than BMI charts would say is “normal.” But back when I was 17, I lost a ton of weight in a week. Like 20 pounds. My ribs stuck out and I just looked way too skinny. Turns out I was an undiagnosed type 1 diabetic.
Funny thing is, that weight was right smack-dab in the middle of what the BMI charts say I should weigh. It wasn’t healthy for me. So right now I am working on trying to get back to that set point and just be happy with it.
Thank you for sharing your experience! It proves that we can’t judge ourselves and our bodies by any single chart or number; in the end, what’s healthy for each of us is different. Accepting that is the first step to making peace with our bodies, I think.
I most certainly do believe our bodies have a “set point” otherwise known as an ideal weight. I totally understand what you are saying too. When I am uncomfortable, gassy, and feeling bloated it is because my body knows I am not doing all I need to do to keep it at its ideal weight. I can tell when I am at my set point because I have energy, feel “normal” in my clothes which is a comfortable size 8 and feel strong.
Thanks for posting this and stopping by our WOW Link Up. #wowlinkup
My set point is around 147-150 pounds. I can’t get pass that but that’s okay. I think as an older woman, IMO, one looks better facially with more body fat. Stopping by our WOW Link Up. #wowlinkup
I tweeted your post but I could tag you. Do you have a Twitter account?
I do! It’s @KatieMarkeyMcL. Thanks so much for sharing the post!
I’m learning the less I obsess over food and weight the less I want to eat and the more I like being active. I am learning it’s about being healthy not skinny.
I have learned this as well.
When I was obsessing over food and exercise I was always dwelling on my next meal or snack. I never felt satisfied.
Now that I have relaxed and started to respect my body I’m no longer permanently hungry and I enjoy my work-out. I do it because it’s addicting, and it makes me feel good now- when before I was doing it because “Oh my god if I don’t movemovemove I’ll be fat!”
I still want the body I had before (I was literally this post. I obtained my ‘perfect’ body, and I lost it after a short while) but I also appreciate and like the body I have now. Which is a step in the right direction.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Tori! We obviously have a lot in common. It can be such a struggle to give up the image of that “perfect” body, but in the end it’s so much more important to show ourselves some love and acceptance—and NOT be obsessed with food and exercise, because that’s no way to live!