“What if I keep gaining weight forever?”
It’s an understandable question to ask during recovery, given we were all taught weight gain is the worst thing ever. Fear that weight gain will happen or might never stop is one of the top reasons people bounce in and out of recovery from diet trauma and disordered eating all the time.
This is going to be a long post, so you might like to get your favorite drink or a snack and settle in. I wanted to write it as if you and I are in session together and you might be asking me these questions. I invite you to read through this post once, then read it again and answer the questions for yourself.
This is all shared in service to help you settle your fears that if your weight changes during recovery, it is for a reason, and that you aren’t doing anything wrong.
Disclaimer: This piece doesn’t address the very real issue of internalized weight bias that occurs with eating disorders and is an entry-level recovery informational piece only.
Bodies are meant to change
Let’s talk about how bodies change over time.
For example, babies don’t tend to, no matter how much they eat, be adult size when they’re toddlers.
And children don’t tend to have a mature adult body proportions even if, let’s say you have a sixth-grader who is six foot tall. Even if they’re six-foot-tall, they just don’t have a mature adult body yet. They won’t totally fill out into it in that mature adult kind of way that men typically are, until around 25 years old.
All this being said, we are not going to grow without noticing it and there will always be a reason if we do.
If you are reading this and coming off a length of time of restriction that has caused weight suppression, know that gaining would be normal. And eating more food for a while would be normal.
Understanding Set Point
This brings me to the very often talked about, but not fully understood topic of what decreases or increases our set point at different ages or times.
For a quick refresher, Set-Point Theory suggests our bodies are more like thermostats than the car ‘fuel in, fuel out’ analogy. This means that our bodies will easily defend a genetic weight range with a varied diet, and eating that is mostly guided by hunger and fullness and some movement.
So basically, if we do that daily life stuff of feeding ourselves and moving our body, our weight tends to sit in a stable weight range (note: not a single number), depending on the season of life (puberty, midlife, older years, etc.)
Please recognize this is a theory and one that is not fully understood yet. What we do know is that there are at least 108 factors that can impact our weight (content warning: link mentions the O word).
But in our diet culture, we tend to only focus on two factors. You guessed it – what we eat and exercise. This misses all of the nuance and complexity of being a human.
For more detailed reading, Google Janet Polivy who did some research on set point and food habituation.
How trauma affects Set Point
Trauma and how it impacts us is a topic I will be talking about more in future posts.
But for now, there is emerging evidence (Veronique Mead is a great resource to see more) that our bodies can be impacted, up or down weight-wise, based on whether we are chronically in a flight/fight/freeze/please survival state.
We know the body will adjust to survive threats whether we like it or not, and the best thing we can do is get into some co-regulatory “safe enough” relationship to process our responses so that our bodies can heal and find some homeostasis.
You cannot diet or “healthy eat” to create this safety. For some beginning tools, please make sure you get the “Stop Bashing Your Body” and “In Your Skin” guides at www.tracybrownrd.com/free-gifts
The role of genetics
If we take a second to map out the potential genetic plan that we have, regardless of our dieting history, we might discover that; “Oh, I tend to take after the tall women in my family.”, or; “Everyone in my family has brown hair.”
If our family history can give us clues about characteristics like height, eye color and hair color, it can also give us clues about our weight and how that may change over time.
So, I invite you to get curious about what the genetic blueprint of your family is. But make sure you take into consideration any family members that you know were/are chronic dieters, had/have an eating disorder, were/are secret eaters, etc. remembering that these things can impact weight and set point as mentioned earlier.
Then add this information to your history with food, dieting and weight. How long, if at all, has your eating been stabilized? Are you still within the first year of having gone off a diet or having been in recovery from an eating disorder?
If you’re not at that one-year mark yet, you likely aren’t at any kind of stable place whether you weigh more than you thought you would or less than you thought you would. But it can help give you a sense of; “This is probably where I’m going if I nourish my body consistently and adequately.”
Can our Set Point be changed?
The life experiences that can increase your body’s weight range thermostat higher than maybe what it would have been without dieting, is unattuned eating with highly palatable foods.
Pregnancy can also increase set-point in some people, as can the number of times we weight cycle (i.e. the experience of weight loss and weight regain).
And then there are some medications like psychotropic drugs for mood stabilization and drugs to help suppress the immune system that sometimes can increase our set point as well, but they may also save your life. So, the exchange is, of course, we will take those medications.
There is hope
I hope this gives you some transparent information and some tools to sit down and reflect; “Okay, what are all the pieces of the puzzle that inform where my weight might go with normalized eating?”
Bottom line is, that there are things out of our control that can change our set point but in recovery, our bodies are truly just wanting to find a place to stabilize. They don’t have a secret agenda to keep gaining weight forever.
The most effective way to teach your body to not think there is a famine (which your body interprets as a threat to its genetic weight range), is to eat regularly, eat enough, work on nervous system regulation and bring self-compassion to this one awesome body that has taken you this far.
I know weight worries and talk are scary. It makes us think we must run from non-diet work and recovery. But if we get deeper into what we think controlling our weight is going to get us, and what we miss in life if we do go back, we can stay more in the here and now and keep moving forward towards more lasting peace.
I am here to help so please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: If you are looking for more support,
1) Enjoy these free case studies with tips on how to have freedom from food and weight worries: http://bit.ly/2IfVZp2bodypeace
2) Introduce yourself here: https://www.tracybrownrd.com/get-started. I love hearing from people about where you’ve come from and what your dreams are for full freedom from weight and food worries.
3). Check out this video where I talk more into unburdening the parts of yourself that get hyper-vigilant or empty about health and weight