Hey y'all! Today we're chatting about weight, which is something that I think the intuitive eating community generally avoids talking about, and for good reason. We live in such a weight-obsessed culture that it's actually really difficult to tease out a conversation about food and nutrition that doesn't involve/circle around weight. The difference between this mindset and an intuitive eating/health at every size approach is that with IE, weight may be discussed in the respect that it has, in the past, been a factor in making health decisions. It's not used as an indicator of progress. Instead, we use things like feelings towards food, respecting cravings, and honoring hunger/fullness levels. And I think that's just about the best thing ever, because -repeat after me- weight does not determine your value as a person.
But I also think it's fair to address a huge concern of many people when they abandon diet culture in favor of an intuitive eating approach, which is: will I gain weight? This may also be phrased as a more exclamatory statement like, "But if I eat whatever I want, I'm sure to gain weight uncontrollably!" So, will you gain weight as you begin to eat more intuitively?
The answer is...maybe. And once again, while weight isn't a focus or goal of IE (nor should it be a factor in food choices), your body may not be at a weight that is natural and easy to maintain, meaning that as you explore food freedom and options, your weight may move up or down towards that set range of natural weight.
WHAT IS SET RANGE WEIGHT?
I like to explain set range weight as a thermostat: your body has a certain range of weights (scientists estimate 10-20 pounds) that your body can maintain easily if you're eating enough and moving your body and, most importantly of all - not trying to micromanage. A thermostat regulates temperature and turns the heat on/off to keep the room at that temperature - so if sunlight pours in and makes the room warmer, the heat will shut off. And if you leave the door open too long when you come in, the room will cool down and the heat will turn on to compensate. The body does the same thing for several mechanisms in your body - like temperature, calcium balance, and yes - your weight. Your metabolic rate actually slows/speeds up a little to adapt to your intake, and if you undereat, your body will send you more ghrelin (hunger hormone), less leptin (fullness hormone) and some food cravings to coax you to eat more.
HOW SET RANGE WEIGHT CHANGES
Here's the thing about changing your set range weight: it can be done, but only in an upward direction as a result of dieting. Basically, your body views dieting as starvation. It doesn't know that you're underfeeding it intentionally - it just knows that you're underfeeding it. Going back to the thermostat reference/graphic above: your body still has that set range weight, but as a protective mechanism, the top of the range is much more flexible. So under a certain amount of variation in intake, your body will maintain that range - but with prolonged dieting and chronic underfeeding, the top of the range bumps higher. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a lot of sense - during refeeding after starvation (dieting) your body creates extra energy stores as more backup in case of more famine. I like the cork analogy in the video below:
OUR BODIES DON'T WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT
Similarly to the concept of set point weight only being able to increase rather than decrease, our bodies just don't want to lose weight. The bottom of the "thermostat" is much more rigid than the top, which helps keep us safe in times of scarce food supply. Once again, thinking of this from an evolutionary perspective is helpful when you can consider weight as energy stores and sustenance. Our bodies don't want to give up energy stores because to do so would compromise our chance of survival. They don't know that when we diet or restrict energy intake, we are surrounded by food sources like restaurants, kitchens, and grocery stores. Dieting makes our bodies feel unsafe, because they're not being provided with their basic needs. Intuitive eating can help us establish trust with our bodies again and help heal some of the damage that dieting does (both physically and mentally).
FINDING YOUR SET RANGE WEIGHT
Finding your set range weight can be complicated if you have a history of attempting to control or modulate your weight. The damage done to our internal regulatory systems during dieting can continue to affect weight even after the damage ceases, but with time and self-care, set range weight can be discovered.
As I mentioned earlier, set range weight may be above or below your current weight when beginning to eat intuitively, meaning that you may lose or gain as time passes. However, there's a certain paradox when it comes to finding your set range weight: you have to stop prioritizing weight, chasing it, and trying to modify it.
Your set range weight is the weight you reach when...
- You're not dieting or restricting
- You're moving your body in a joyful, life-enhancing way
- You're providing your body with its energy and pleasure needs through food that nourishes your body and soul
- Your brainspace and energy are directed towards living our your life and not obsessing over your weight
And I absolutely hate any focus on numbers but I think in this instance it's important to mention again that your set range is about 10-20 pounds. 10-20 pounds!!! So for reference, your set range weight can actually fluctuate quite bit.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Your weight should not be difficult to maintain, nor should it be one of your priorities. Things like your hobbies, interest, friends, family, cravings, fun movement, and personal growth are much more important than your weight. The bottom line is this:
- Your weight shouldn't fluctuate easily and you shouldn't gain just by looking at a food. This is a sign of metabolic disturbance and an indication you aren't nourishing your body adequately.
- The weight you settle into doesn't matter and there are much more important aspects of health. For starters, I highly recommend throwing your scale in the garbage and reading this post about how to have a more positive doctor's appointment.
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