I hope you’re doing well.
Fear that weight gain will happen or might never stop is one of the top reasons people go back and forth with recovery from diet trauma and disordered eating recovery efforts all the time.
It’s an understandable question to ask as we were all taught weight gain is the worst thing ever, but remembering it comes from a non-connected with how our body’s actually function space and it lacks the big picture of our life and how bodies change and grow; the fear of it actually doesn’t match up to how bodies work.
This is going to be a long post. I am writing to you as if we and I are in session and you might be asking me these questions. Your job here is to read this post once, then read again and answer the questions for yourself. Finally, this is all done in service to help you settle your fears that if your weight changes, it is for a reason, that you aren’t doing anything wrong and that if you need more clarification, you know you can reach to me.
Our Amazing Bodies
So let’s talk a little bit more 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 be adult mature 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 be totally filled out into it in that mature kind of way that men typically are, let’s say after 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 restricting and this has weight suppressed you, gaining would be normal. 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 set point at different ages or times, let’s dive a little bit more into that.
Just for a quick refresher, set-point theory (Google Janet Polivy who did some research with this and food habituation for more detailed reading) suggests our bodies are more like thermostats than cars that just use fuel in, fuel out. This means, that our bodies will defend a genetic weight range easily with a varied diet and eating most of the time with hunger and fullness and having a least some movement. So basically, if we do daily life stuff with a few walks in there and eat most of the time from hunger and fullness our weights will be in a stable weight range, depending on the season of life (puberty, midlife, older years, etc.)
Recognize it’s a theory and it’s not fully understood yet, but we do know (if you check out this chart pg. 77) that there are at least 108 factors that can impact our weight but in current time, in our diet culture we tend to only focus on two. You guessed it.
How Trauma Affects Set Point
It’s our intake and our level of exercise. But what we know to be true regardless if you did or didn’t understand the complex hormonal cascades that have to happen depending on diet trauma, chronic or access to safe movement, etc., we recognize that basic things like sleep and stress impact our functioning and behaviors as well as where we are in our cycle and post-pregnancy, which we’ll speak about in a second. What we weigh is complex and we cannot control it strictly through trying to not eat; our body is wired to survive, and I so glad it is programmed to do so.
Let’s get to some things we all have experienced.
For example, we’ve probably all experienced it that we grew out before we grew up during puberty. We didn’t really get to a more mature adult weight and shape until probably our early twenties. And then through our twenties and thirties, we do typically have some level of stability unless we are in a period of restrictive eating or we are in a period of unattuned eating to our body signals, whether that’s binge eating, emotional eating, chronic dieting, and then rebound, whatever happens, to be happening for you.
Basically, baring metabolic or chronic disease issues that might change setpoint due to certain medications, our bodies are MADE to change whether it’s menopause, pregnancy and puberty. And we forget that each time those shifts happen, that’s probably going to shift our set point or even our shape at some level. And so those are things that no matter how much you try to control your food, we can’t necessarily change.
The Role of Genetics
Before you feel deflated feeling that this is not really that helpful, well just keep reading. The truth is 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 who are on the average size, who have smaller tops and wider hips and oh I’m staying relatively standard size except for Aunt so-and-so who I’m pretty sure had emotional eating issues. But for the most part, none of them really gained too much weight until they got into their late forties, early fifties when they went through menopause, and they tend to kind of get a little thicker but would never be considered with medical labels of obese or anything.” Let’s say that’s your example.
So if you’re reading this right now and thinking, “Okay, so what are you asking me to do?” What I’m asking you to do is think about what the genetic blueprint of your family minus is if you know that certain people were chronic dieters, had an eating disorder, secret eaters, etc.
How did they age, essentially? Then you add this information to your history with food “Well how long, if at all yet, has my eating stabilized? “ Are you still within the first, let’s say year of having gone off a diet or having been in recovery from an eating disorder?”
If you’re not at that 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 gives you kind of a sense of like, “Well where am I going if I eat normally?” And it’s like, well first you must let your body get fully nourished and have food stability and security.
So, then it’s a matter of time of like “How’s my body going to settle? What is that going to look like?” That’s probably going to have a lot to do with, again, your level of body-regulated eating and it’s also going to have to do with how long your body has been weight suppressed or how much you have been trying to fix binging with restricting or not. Or how much binge or emotional eating has been happening and how much has that pushed up your set point? And if your body is protecting you from the trauma of feeling overwhelmed by lack of nourishment. And if that has happened, how willing are we to have compassion that we did the best we could to survive doing the things we thought we should do to fit in or avoid criticism?
Let’s talk more about the setpoint discussion……
Can Set Point Be Changed?
What can decrease setpoint? The only thing I know of is use methamphetamine. I wouldn’t recommend doing methamphetamines to have a lower set point by like you know, five pounds or 20 pounds. It’s definitely not worth the exchange.
On the other hand, the life experiences that can increase your body’s thermostat to weigh more than maybe what it would have weighed without dieting is unattuned eating with highly palatable foods, which means that I’m not intuitively eating, let’s say ice cream.
Pregnancy can increase set-point in some people and the amount of time and experiences 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 are going to take those medications.
I hope this gives you some transparent information and some tools to sit down and go like, “Okay, what’s the puzzle of where my weight actually might go with normalized eating?” And the truth is if you’ve never had a chance to have a stable adult weight with attuned eating, kind of look at the big picture like I mentioned earlier.
Who do I take after in my family? Were they normal eaters? How much untreated stress and trauma did they have? If they had eating issues and you are actively working toward attuned eating, even if you resemble them, you do not have the same life experiences and behaviors, so you will not look exactly like them. I know for example, in my family, I take after my dad’s side, most people are short and wiry and some people are short and round and the person I most take after is short and round, however, she also emotionally ate. So, I kind of fall somewhere in between, likely she would have too if not for spending most of her adult life as a crash dieter and closet eater with PTSD symptoms.
There is Hope
Bottom line this post is really a reference point to help you calm some of the fear that your body does want to stabilize, there is no evidence that your weight will go up forever with attuned eating, that there are things out of our control that can change set point and that the most effective way to teach your body to not think there is a famine is to eat regularly, enough, work on nervous system regulation, bring self-compassion to this one awesome body that has taken you this far and hedge bets with a variety of foods and movement that help you feel vital if it is possible.
I know weight worries and talk are scary. It makes us think we must run from non-diet work and recovery sometimes. But I think if we get deeper into what we think controlling our weight is going to get us and what happens and what we miss in life if we do go back, we can stay more in the here and now of moving forward towards more lasting peace. I am here to help so please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope this post was helpful to you. If it was, please share across your social and I look forward to talking to you real soon. Till next time. Bye for now!
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