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Finding my Set Point

Sunday, January 06, 2013

In my first post, I talked a bit about HAES, which stands for Health at Every Size. This is basically my philosophy when it comes to my physical health, and by extension my mental health as it relates to my body.

HAES means that no matter what weight you are, there are things you can do to improve your health. It also means that if you do improve your health, but don't lose any weight, it's OK. Improving your blood sugar, or cholesterol, or blood pressure, is still meaningful even if you don't lose the pounds. Increasing your cardiovascular fitness is still going to improve your health -- including your heart health -- even if you remain fat.

The other thing about HAES is that it recognizes that the weight your body "wants" to be, the weight that is most healthy for you, isn't necessarily a weight that society considers acceptable or healthy. Everyone's body has a "set point", a weight which you body would naturally gravitate to if you let it. It's the weight at which your body performs the best, but it's not necessarily a weight that puts you in the "thin" category. Your set point might be a weight where you're carrying 20 pounds, or 30, or 50 more than that. What happens then? You can spend the rest of your life off and on diets, fighting with your body, or you can accept what you body wants and work on being healthy at your set point.

So that's a set point. And let me say, I have absolutely no idea what my set point is. I was put on my first diet when I was eight years old. My mother was riddled with food issues and insecurities, and she passed them along to me with great skill and enthusiasm, so I was always self-conscious about my body.

The thing is though, I wasn't fat, and I didn't actually start getting fat until five years later. By then I was so messed up about food that my relationship with it became extremely unhealthy. I went from binge eating to compulsive overeating, to ridiculous crash diets, starting at 13, and didn't stop for well over 20 years.

What this means is, I have no freaking clue what weight my body "wants" to be, because I've spent the last quarter-century trying to force it to do what I wanted it to do.

Another interesting thing about the set point is that very often, constant rounds of yo-yo dieting increases it. This happens because by dieting, you're fighting for control over the set point. Your body wants a particular set point, but by dieting you're trying to force your body to reconsider and choose a lower one. Thing is, one way or another your body will always win that argument. And by trying to force your body to accept a lower weight than what it considers optimal, you're messing with the metabolic mechanism that decides what's optimal in the first place. That can cause your set point to increase, and that's why, when you stop dieting and gain the weight back, you end up gaining more than you lost.

So, just imagine how badly 25 years of that has confused my body. I fully accept and expect that my set point is going to be higher, perhaps much higher, than what is considered socially acceptable for a 5-foot-nothing woman. Even when I achieve my goals of improved physical and mental health, it's more than likely that I'm still going to be fat.

And that's fine by me.
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