Will I keep gaining weight forever if I live in food freedom? Weight set point theory explained.

In short, the answer is nooooooo you will not keep gaining weight forever, in fact, you may not gain any weight, you may lose weight or you may stay the same weight when you give up dieting. Let’s take a deep dive into this, shall we…?

!Caution! Contains multiple #truthbombs that may freak you the fuck out…

Set point weight

When you are eating intuitively AND have a healthy relationship with food (physically and mentally) – which means being relaxed around food without trying to control anything – you will eventually arrive at your unique set point weight.

This is the unique bodyweight that you maintain effortlessly when eating “normally” (aka not dieting and bingeing).  

Everyone’s set point weight is different and maybe higher, lower, or the same as your current weight, depending on where you currently are in your “yo-yo” dieting cycle.

This weight may or may not line up with the vision of your dream body you’ve most likely been chasing for however many years – due to unrealistic beauty ideals – but it will be the body that you can sustain effortlessly without dieting, binging, or obsessing about food.

Our bodies are not machines, we are living human animals and so even “normal eaters” – those rare few humans (are they human?) who have never dieted before – may naturally fluctuate around their set point by 5-10lbs due to a million different reasons. A dieter (or someone struggling with diet mentality) may fluctuate more severely depending on where you currently are in your personal yo-yo cycle.

To use myself as an example, my lowest weight in the diet-binge cycle was 2 stone lighter than I am now (I’m not going to include my weight when I was anorexic.) So I was about 2 stone less than my current natural set point weight (that is the weight that I now naturally maintain without effort); and at my highest weight in the diet-binge cycle, I was about 7lbs heavier than my current natural set point weight.

When I chose to stop dieting for real, I happened to be about 7lbs below my current set point weight, and therefore I gained about 7lbs when I healed my relationship with food. That being said, had I stopped dieting at a different point in my weight cycle, that number might be completely different—it all depends on where your weight is now, relative to your natural set point weight. If I had stopped dieting and I had happened to be above my set point weight, I would have lost weight.

**It’s also worth noting that it’s super common for women when they stop dieting, to initially gain weight in the first year or so, and then lose weight over the following couple of years. Everyone’s “end result” is different and the road to our set point is not always a straight line… because recovery from our “food issues” doesn’t usually happen in a straight line either. It usually looks more like this…

How to find your set point weight

And because you’re dying to know…

the only way to find out what your personal set point weight is—is to work towards developing a healthful relationship with food (both physically and mentally) and see what happens.

Don’t try assuming or trying to guess what you *think* it is (or ‘should be’) as that’s a trap that will only keep you in the cycle. Guessing creates expectation which fast-tracks you to self-judgement around food (aka emotional or subconscious restriction) which almost always leads to binge eating, emotional eating and continued yo-yo dieting.

Guessing your set point range is also pointless (I see you!) because your set point range can change over time. In other words, just because you were 9 .7 stone when you first started dieting, doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily go back to that pre-dieting weight after years of restriction. Some factors that may affect your set point over time include things like age, pregnancy/child-birth, hormones, and diet history.

I personally have no clue as to how much I weighed as an adult before I started dieting because I started dieting at the age of 9 and never stopped until I was 30. So the weight that I’m currently at – which is my set point – is clearly my natural set point weight. Would it be lighter if I had never dieted? Probably, as dieting causes your set point weight to rise.

Dieting increases your set point

Yep, dieting can push up your set point weight range over time because restriction that leads to temporary weight loss, can also lead to permanent changes in your metabolism in the other direction. This is likely why dieting is the number one risk factor for increased weight over time. 

Ultimately, you will likely always bounce around your set point weight over time, because your body is constantly fighting to get there, and it’s a lot stronger than your willpower (for literally 95% of people hence the phrase, “diets don’t work”). Most people are not capable of “changing” their set point weight, or dieting below it for very long before they inevitably rebound. In other words, your set point weight is your only “sustainable” weight unless you want to keep restricting forever

Given this information and multiple truth bombs (I did warn you) the real question is, do you want to embrace your set point weight, stop diet-binge cycling, and eat relatively “normally?”

OR do you want to keep trying to suppress it against all odds, by refusing to believe the science, continue dieting/trying to control your food and weight and therefore will continue to experience more dramatic swings around it (in both directions), with a likelihood of pushing your weight up further and further over time? Not to mention losing your shit and spending all your energy doing so.

I personally chose to cut my losses on attempts at weight suppression and because of that, I stopped bingeing over time and stopped the obsession with food and my body. I am now completely relaxed around food, enjoy life to the fullest and I’ve built my own business with the extra brain capacity that I discovered when I stopped dieting and obsessing over my body.

Most people are not capable of maintaining weights below their set point for very long (hence: binge eating) and the few who are “capable,” will most likely experience physical and mental health consequences due to suppressing their natural size.

In other words, the weight you arrive at when you’re eating intuitively is probably the healthiest weight YOU can be.

What determines your set point weight?

Your set point weight is largely determined by your genetics genetically determined, although it may be affected by environmental, biological and other factors, most of which are outside of our conscious control.  

Setpoint theory states that the human body tries to maintain its weight within a preferred range. Many people stay within a more or less small range of body weight throughout their adult life. Some people’s systems may keep them lean while young but allow them to gain weight after middle age.

Essentially, each one of us has a biological blueprint, and with that, a set point, the range where our bodies thrive and do not fight against any subtle change. Many people have a hard time accepting this, as our society wants us to believe that everyone is capable of achieving and maintaining a thin body.

You lose weight. Then, you gain it back. This is a common experience for many people who try to lose weight. In fact, research shows that those who lose weight often regain the weight — plus more.

We have a genetically pre-determined body weight range that changes over the course of our lives. These changes are due to the metabolism shifts that happen with age thanks to hormones, the way we digest food, your gut microbiome and many other factors. Think about it: the weight where you felt most comfortable in high school is probably different from the weight where you feel most comfortable in your 20s, 40s, 60s, and beyond.

Your biology will fight back

Your body will defend your set point weight. If it senses a famine, it will adjust accordingly by being more efficient. So if you’re dieting and eating less than usual, your body may conserve energy by slowing down your metabolism or turn up your drive to eat, causing hunger. The brain doesn’t make the distinction between intentional under-fueling as in a diet versus a famine.

If your body likes where it is weight-wise, it will resist changing. Similarly, if you overeat, you’re likely to have more energy and move around more. Research has shown that non-exercise activities like walking and fidgeting increase when people eat more food than they need including the body using 69% of the excess energy as heat. The degree to which this happens varies from person to person.

How big of a range is our weight set range?

Everyone is different. And, there is no way to truly know where your body wants to be, until you get out of the yo-yo up and down, and let your body settle where it wants to.

Some intuitive eating “experts” promise that you’ll lose weight once you start listening to your body. That’s a totally irresponsible promise in my experience because you cannot account for what someone’s weight needs to do, especially after years of dieting, yo-yoing, disordered eating, or a more restrictive eating disorder. Especially in a culture where so many of us are actually chronically undereating, and that’s the reason why we are bingeing in the first place. Promising weight loss is assuming that everyone is inherently overeating, and also not understanding weight set range theory and the healing role of weight gain after restriction.

Some people start allowing food, normalize their eating quickly, and do end up losing weight.

But in my experience, after years of off and on dieting, more people end up gaining weight, at least for a time, if not permanently.

The thing that will be different from dieting is that you won’t be struggling to stay where you end up because your body will want to maintain the weight range that it wants to maintain.

We all have genetic weight set ranges that are governed by the hypothalamus.

And our body works pretty hard to stay within that range. Why isn’t this more common knowledge? I do not fucking know. But the consequence of people assuming that our weight is a simple matter of calories in vs calories out, means that so many people in larger bodies, who have been dieting their whole lives, and who barely eat, and should probably be diagnosed with anorexia, are not only not diagnosed, but they’re encouraged to keep starving themselves. You know, for their health. And happiness.

So, how big is our weight set range? It’s different for every person. Scientists say it’s about 10-20 lbs, but I’ve seen that for some people it can be a bigger range than that, especially when you are constantly dieting.

That’s also why and how different people yo-yo within different ranges. Some people yo-yo 15 lbs. Some people yo-yo 50 lbs. Some people yo-yo between 120 and 140 lbs their whole life. Some people yo-yo between 200 and 260 lbs. Everyone is different. But no matter what you do, you’re probably not going to become someone who settles at 140 lbs, if you tend to yo-yo between 200 and 260 lbs, and vice versa.

When you go below the weight where your hypothalamus feels safe, just like a thermostat, your hypothalamus eventually slows your metabolism way down and fixates you on food in order to help you gain back to a place where it feels safer and healthier. And, one of the things that can actually mess with this homeostasis, and make you go above your original weight set range, besides endocrine or other health issues, is restriction. Dieting. 

Dieting can raise your set point because your body wants to make sure you have enough stores if the diet/famine comes back. So, just know that if you want to settle somewhere safe and stable, dieting and restricting is not the way to do that.

Also, the expectation and hope that intuitive eating will eventually lower your weight set range again is not something that anyone can promise either.

How long is it going to take to normalize????

Again, there is no simple answer. It depends on so many factors:

How long have you been dieting?

How resistant are you to actually going through this process?

How long does it take you to fully stop dieting and restricting?

How long does it take you to stop trying to micromanage your hunger and your weight?

Did you have an eating disorder for years?

How dedicated are you to uncovering your sneaky subconscious beliefs?

I tend to notice that people are able to do the bulk of the stabilization by going through the “Physical Part” then the Emotional and Mental parts take longer. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone will stabilize in that same amount of time, especially if they are someone who was very restrictive for a long time.

If you want a number (I know you do) it can take on average between 1-3 years to be fully at your set point weight. If you manage to get rid of the dieting mentality pretty quickly, it can take less time.

How will I know that I’ve settled in my weight set range?

I think the most important thing to note is that overthinking your weight range stabilization is kind of like its own form of resistance. It’s a false sense of control because you can’t control it no matter how much you overthink it. So, in a way, it’s counter-intuitive to even discuss, because there is nothing to be done about it anyway, except the practical issue of clothes. Which is a very annoying and practical issue that can’t be ignored. I understand that buying new clothes can suck, but that doesn’t change that it still needs to be done.

This is how you can tell you’re close to your stable weight:

Once you feel pretty calm around food, and stop gaining or losing weight but instead stay around a certain weight for more than a few months, you can probably guess your body is settling in a safe place for you.

But here is something else, you will still fluctuate within your range. That’s normal. It’s human. And ranges can change for lots of hormonal and metabolic reasons throughout your life. So, counting on a body that finally never changes at all is going to end up disappointing you because bodies change and age. Change is the only thing that we can count on, so the hoping change won’t happen to you is only going to up breaking your heart.

In conclusion… eating normally and listening to your appetite is going to end up being way more stable than our experience when we were going from diet to diet chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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