I’ve been kicking around the idea of posting about the set point theory. It is a body of research that I was introduced to me while I was working with a therapist during the height of my eating disorder in college. I later learned more about this concept while completing my psychology undergrad at UWGB. The theory proposes that our bodies have a predetermined range of weight that it will work to maintain or defend using hormones, behavior changes, and other physiological mechanisms. For example, if an individual eats less and exercises more the body and brain will react slowing one’s metabolism. Subsequently, if an individual eats more and exercises less, metabolism will speed up. The body attempts to compensate for changes that occur, but can only keep up for so long before the set point will be overridden, especially regarding drastic changes. The more extreme the measures the more alarms that go off in the body to remain with in the set point range compromising the health of the individual.
Societal pressures to be thin are powerful. Our media culture promotes specific body compositions and tuning out that chatter feels at times impossible. Dieting culture today is more crazy than ever, especially with the New Year and the expectations of resolutions. Concealed as a fresh start many, including myself, feel compelled to make radical changes in their lives. The danger especially for myself is the desire for immediate results. With my past history of disordered eating I dive full force in and love the structure of drastic measures of the latest fad diets. There are consequences for using unhealthy methods that can be both physically and mentally damaging. The set point theory suggests that the body will go into a protective mode when changes are made. This can make it difficult to lose weight especially if the goal is outside of the individuals set point range or the means by which the goal is being attempted is too aggressive.
That is the physiological side of things, but it does not cover the psychological side. When you are motivated to make a change and dive in with wild expectations the time in which it takes to achieve the change may not align. It can leave you feeling defeated. If you have gained the weight over a few months the set point theory asserts that it will likely take you a similar amount of time to lose the weight. Yep, that’s just not how many of us want to see things roll out. We want instant gratification. My eating disorder began with an innocent goal or so I thought! Looking back it was unrealistic. I began by reducing my caloric intake and working out for a week. I felt great and jumped on the scale to check my progress only to find NOTHING had changed. Disappointed I reduced my caloric intake even more and continued to work out. I began to suffer the impacts of my body fighting back to combat these changes. Instead of waiting seven days I needed feedback immediately so I weighed in three days after slashing my calorie intake but, still no movement. Frustration set in full force and the cycle of starving, weighing myself, and disappointment built to exponential proportions. What I did not understand was my body’s desperate fight to hold on to the weight I had been functioning at for several years. Let’s just say this cycle of insanity did not end well. I was torturing my body and losing the ability to stay in control…my eating disorder took over.
Individuals can lose or gain wait in a manner that will achieve optimal health, but the set point theory suggests that there may be challenges along the way. So, losing weight is not impossible and that is actually why I wanted to write this piece. My therapist introduced the concept of set point to me as a means of trying to help me stop being so tough on myself and better understand how my actions impacted my body. My expectations were unrealistic and excessive means to achieve them created a dangerous situation that lead me to spiraling out of control. I would not wish that on anyone, EVER! So folks, be kind to yourself, set realistic goals, and above all be patient with your body it may be fighting to hold the weight you have been at for an extended period of time. Please don’t do what I did. I was not honoring my body and stooped to a low I have battled fiercely to rise from and continue to struggle to never return to. Weight loss can be hard and it can take time.
This year I have taken a different approach to heading into the New Year. I truly do not want to fall down the rabbit hole I did last year with resolutions that were disguised as “good for me”. Reflecting on them and being total honest with myself, I realize I created unrealistic goals striving to change my body. I know better, but still did it. The guilt cycle that followed the failure to complete my 2018 resolutions made for a hellish year. Resolutions create too much pressure for me with my past. Admitting that to myself took some soul searching and many conversations with my support system. Instead I have set intentions for myself in 2019 that are not connected to running or how much I weigh. (My declaration of intentions can be found on my Instagram page.)
Psychologist that support the set point theory encourage individuals to work towards accepting their set point and focusing on healthy lifestyle choices. That is easier said than done! This year may end up being a dumpster fire like last year, but I am sure going to try to not let that happen and I hope that everyone’s 2019 is amazing too. So let’s buckle up friends for the ride and remember to show compassion, patience, and kindness not only to others, but also to ourselves!
#BeKind #BeHappy #BeActive
*Please note I am not medical professional or eating disorder expert, these are my opinions and my experience shared to shed a little light on the topic, not create a blue print for your life.