set point theory

Don't Tell Your Friends to Diet

 Many people like to talk about weight loss as if it's a super simple set of directions.

Promoters of the "fewer calories in than out = weight loss" approach don't account for things like plateauing or just, you know, diets not working. They just walk around shaming people for not doing something that seems simple enough. 

We know from set point theory that it's not so easy. 95% of diets don't work over the long term. It's not just a matter of choosing salads over french fries on Wednesdays. 

The worst part is that some of these people are struggling with weight, too. Even when dieting fails us, we still prescribe it for others.

Here's the really really really big problem with this: it lacks empathy

 It dismisses all the pain and discrimination that comes with living in a larger body. Despite body-positive activism, people still believe that larger bodies are somehow inferior.

Instead of taking a moment to acknowledge someone else's struggle, we jump into the solution. This is the definition of lacking empathy. To truly empathize with another human being, we have to be brave enough to imagine ourselves in their situation.

What is it ACTUALLY like to be in a different body? What is it like to try dieting and for it to not work? What if you do all the things people suggest and it doesn't change your body? What if you do work out and eat right? 

If you're thinking about giving diet advice, please remember: 

1) Diets don't work

2) Because diets don't work, your friend may be having a really hard time. 

3) Try to be there for your friend. 

If you're on the receiving end of this: that sucks, dude. You can passive-aggressively post this on social media and hope that they get it next time.

Seriously, though: share it. 

Ted Talk: Why Dieting Doesn't Usually Work

A lot of people don't really believe me when I say that dieting doesn't work. 

Which is why I mention set point theory like erryday 

If you're one of the Debbie Doubters, here's a cool video from Sandra Aamodt. Aamodt is a neuroscientist and science writer. 

She does a kick-ass job of explaining set point theory and why diets don't work. 

Check it out!

Will shame make you thinner?

The short answer to this question is no. 

It feels like shame will make you thinner. It feels like hating our bodies will somehow magically make it look better. 

But, here are 5 reasons that being ashamed of your body doesn't actually work to make you thinner even if that's what you think you should be. 

1. Shame doesn't work to discipline the body. 

To quote Brene Brown, "Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change." 

When we grab at pieces of our body and tell our reflection in the mirror that we are ugly and lazy, we zap the part of ourselves that makes us want to change. 

Shame takes us from thinking we are capable to thinking we are stuck. Worse than that, it makes us believe we are somehow inherently incapable. We ARE bad. It's not just our actions that are bad but our whole being is bad. 

So, if you're so bad, how are you supposed to change? 

2. Shame can't change biology, baby.

You can call yourself mean names all day but shame can't change your set point. 

If you've read my blog, you know that I've mentioned set point theory a gazillion times. And for the gazillionth time, set point theory means that your body has a range mostly determined by genetics and stays within that range regardless of what you want your weight to be. It explains why our weight loss plateaus and slowly creeps back up even if we're doing everything the same. 

So, even if you feel super BAD about how you ate, slept, or exercised today, it's not going to change your set point. 

It turns out you can't hate your way to weight loss. 

3. Shame can affect digestion.

There are neurotransmitters in your gut which means that how you feel can affect how you digest. Your guilt or shame around food can actually activate your "fight or flight" response. According to this article by Marc David of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating: 

"If you're feeling guilty about eating the ice cream or judging yourself for eating it, the hypothalamus will take this negative input and send signals down the sympathetic fibers of the autonomic nervous system. This initiates inhibitory responses in the digestive organs which means you'll be eating your ice cream but not fully metabolizing it."

If you've ever had a lot of guilt after a meal, you might feel like you have an upset stomach. You might feel bloated. You might hold on to that ice cream longer and you might store it. That doesn't sound like an effective strategy for weight loss. 

Notice how your guilt and shame affect the way you feel after eating. 

4. If you feel guilt and shame, it might lead you to eat emotionally. 

To quote the infamous Austin Powers character, Fat Bastard, "I eat because I'm unhappy and I'm unhappy because I eat." 

One wouldn't think such wisdom would come from a Mike Myers film but a lot of times, feeling guilty around foods just leads to more eating of the food that makes us feel guilty.

Listen, I don't even think emotional eating is that bad. Hating yourself, however, will NOT help you stop eating the ice cream that you eat as a coping mechanism.

5. Shame prevents us from listening to our body. 

Shame's worst crime is taking us away from our body's needs. If you are constantly pissed at your body for eating or eating too much or eating carbs when you're supposed to be Paleo, you start to develop a really terrible relationship with your body. You don't trust it. 

And not trusting your body means you don't listen to what it needs. You don't eat when you're hungry. You don't stop when you're full. You don't go for walks when you need them. You don't stop running when you have bad knees. You don't take care of your body because you're mad at her. 

That sucks. 

Your body is this super awesome machine that's completing like I dunno a billion chemical reactions a day. It's what takes you through life. It's what creates life. It's the body that's helped you build your career and your life. If you're able-bodied, it allows you to talk, walk, run, cook, clean, play music, explore, travel, or have sex.

Since you're stuck hanging out in this body, why not love it? Why not appreciate it? Why not take care of it instead of yelling at it like a mean nun at a Catholic school in the 50s? 

Being mean to your body is not actually making you thinner. So, please just stop. 






Is it bad to accept your body?

Is it bad to accept your body?

What if you decided to accept yourself? 

I just recently went to go see Joy in the movie theatres. (SPOILER ALERT) The film was your standard Cinderella story. A young female entrepreneur overcomes the odds and becomes successful and rich and beautiful. It's the story of the American Dream. And, if you live in the United States of America, it's something we've all been taught to believe in. 

I won't unpack that one. John Oliver has already very much unpacked that idea on his popular HBO show. 

I think part of the appeal of the weight loss story is that many people see it as a viable American dream. It seems more realistic. It seems within reach. I mean, planet fitness is only like, what? $10/month?

You just go to the gym and eat vegetables and voila! Perfect body, right? 

If that were true, the diet industry wouldn't be a billion dollar industry.

It's not necessarily weight gain


You know when you've just eaten something and you feel like you've transformed from a human being into a manatee. And not a calming manatee.

It seems like you have a little food baby inside you that is quickly taking over your cells a la Prometheus. And here's the sentence that comes out of your mouth:

"Ugh. I'm fat."

Being uncomfortably full does not mean you've ruined your life, that you're having an alien baby or that you are slowly turning into a large sea mammal. Although that might be pretty cute. Before I found intuitive eating, this uncomfortable feeling of being really, really, really full was synonymous with guilt. But it doesn't have to be.

Here's what it could be instead: 

1. Feeling too full doesn't necessarily mean that you ate "too many" calories. 

Sometimes, you eat rice, drink too much water and the rice expands in your stomach. Sometimes, you're digging into a large helping of Brussels Sprouts and the fiber makes you bloated and gassy. Sometimes, you eat something spicy and the water you drink to wash it down fills you up.Sometimes, if you're voraciously hungry for Grandma's famous holiday recipe and you eat it all without chewing, your stomach reacts badly because it has to do the extra digestion that your mouth and saliva were supposed to do. 

This is why many ayurvedics  recommend that you drink water prior to eating or drink small sips instead of gulping it down. Rice expands in water, fiber fills you up and gulping down a drink instead of chewing your food can cause a back-up in your stomach. According to webMD, soluble fiber increases digestive flora in your intestines which creates more gas in your tummy, too.

If you've filled up on water or fiber, chances are you didn't eat "too many" calories as most fibrous foods and water actually don't have a lot of calories.

2.  Your body likes homeostasis AKA staying the same. 

The main reason people say diets don't work is due to set point theory. This is the idea that your body has a genetic blueprint for what is a healthy weight range for you. That means if you start to fall below that number, you body slows down its metabolism and works really hard to maintain the weight that your DNA is telling it to maintain. Ergo, you keep eating less but you "hit a plateau" in terms of weight loss. 

Really, restriction is what sets you up for weight gain because it slows down your metabolism thinking your body believes it's caught in a famine. So, as long as you're eating regularly leading up to a big meal, your body will likely do the same set-point thing it does to protect you from weight loss and speed up metabolism to accommodate that extra food. 

3. Maybe you needed more food. 

The Ancel-Keys study showed how restricting food can actually lead to a binge. If all you ate in a day was an egg and lite salad, you might be starving by 6 PM. If you go to dinner hungry, you will probably leave super full. 

Eating more at night is really just your body getting its daily calorie intake. Holiday shopping or house cleaning or just being in the hustle and bustle of living your life can distract you from your body's natural hunger signals so you might have some extra calories to make up for when it's time to hit the feast.

4. Overeating once may not lead to permanent weight gain.

I'll admit that the perfectionist inside of me really struggled with writing that last sentence. I was totally there with you, dear reader. I think the question that used to pop into my head was, "What if it does, though?" I have been scare-mongered for years by women's magazines about how the 1-2 pounds that I gain during Christmas will slowly add up over the years.

In fact, your weight fluctuates for lots of reasons on a daily, weekly, monthly and even quarterly basis that may not be even related to the quantity of food you consumed. Your body might simply be doing the work of surviving, adding and subtracting water and other fluids and particles. 

In the past few years, I've practiced intuitive eating and my weight has felt more stable than ever. I can't say for certain because I don't weigh myself much any more. When I do, I find it hasn't changed much. It definitely helps that I don't check very often. ; )

So enjoy the bacon-wrapped dates and jump into the pool of holiday feasts without worrying about turning into a manatee. 


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