I have been a fan of the show The Biggest Loser since it started. I am fascinated by the participants and learning their stories of how they became morbidly obese. Watching their behavioral and emotional breakthroughs often would bring me to tears, and watching their workouts would motivate me to go to the gym. That being said, I always knew it didn’t add up. As much as it is theoretically true that weight is simply calories in vs calories out, I also know that is not true and stress hormones play a large role in metabolism and weight.
When all the press came out regarding how many participants have gained the weight back, I felt immense compassion for the struggles these individuals have gone through and how frustrating it must be. I also felt confirmation in my biochemistry knowledge that there is no quick fix. Your body is not going to want to stay in a situation where you are extremely limiting your calories and killing yourself at the gym. The body will always find a way to avoid that.
What came of this media blitz was a beautiful and poignant piece from Sandra Aamodt. She discusses in a variety of ways the stressful impact dieting has on the body, metabolism and brain. Aamodt is a neuroscientist so her point of view is specific, but validates much of what I believe in.
Every question, concern, scenario, confusion of mine with regards to nutrition, health and weight often leads me back to one word – stress.
Aamodt writes: WHY would dieting lead to weight gain? First, dieting is stressful. Calorie restriction produces stress hormones, which act on fat cells to increase the amount of abdominal fat. Such fat is associated with medical problems like diabetes and heart disease, regardless of overall weight.
Many of you are probably surprised to hear that our metabolism can resist weight loss. Even though weight loss can be viewed as a good thing. Yes, in many ways it is healthy to get leaner, fitter, and more energetic, but our bodies often see it as a trauma. Aamodt describes the impact this stress can have on the body and emphasizes that everybody has a “set point.” When we try to live in a weight that is outside that set point, the body will rebound to get back to that weight, often leading to extreme excess weight gain and a damaged metabolism.
Do we all have a set point? This is not proven or 100% conclusive, but there is strong evidence to suggest that we all have a range that our bodies like to live in. Many of us have remained in 10 pound range for a majority of our lives, so it seems reasonable that range could be our set point.
However, how much work goes into that set point? A woman commented to Aamodt’s article that if diets don’t work, and we all have a set point, that it “gives the impression that changing what you eat will not do you any good, so might as well give up and just stay unhealthy.”
If you are eating unhealthily, not in a regular exercise program and not taking care of yourself, then your current weight is likely not your set point weight. Your set point is based on you taking care of yourself.
So if you eat whole real foods, lots of vegetables, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, sleep, say no most of the time to sweets and treats, but say yes to them from time to time, have found some moderation in your life and have remained in the same 10-pound range, then it is likely you are living in your set point range and those last 5-7 pounds you have been wanting to get rid of for the last 10-20 years, are likely not coming off.
If you follow an extremely restrictive diet, do not get a lot of calories, do not let yourself have a splurge, get an excessive amount of exercise in per week, you may be putting your body in a stressed state and your metabolism has been altered due to this. It is this stress that caused the weight regain in The Biggest Loser participants.
If you do not eat well, rarely exercise, overeat often and you know you are overweight, losing some weight would likely be in your favor. But be sure to make the process slow and steady rather than extreme and fast, so you can learn what your real set point is.
Sadly, there is no quick fix. Starving yourself for the short term and then hoping you can go back to your old gluttonous ways is not going to work out in your favor.
Moderation and mindfulness are essential in finding your set point. Taking care of yourself, being good to yourself, being kind to yourself are all part of the process.
It ain’t sexy. It ain’t crazy cool. But I gotta tell you, it feels so damn good when you let go of dieting. Find confidence and joy that you have created a routine that works for you.