When I have a topic that I've explained quite a few times over email with clients, I like to write a blog post about it for reference! :)
I GENUINELY think that this information, if you don’t already know it, can be truly beneficial for every person, so hang tight and utilize this information to your advantage. That’s why I find such beauty in the science of nutrition, exercise, and neuroscience because it allows potential to own your life and understand that the choices and decisions that you make are based on that knowledge.
There’s typically two emotions to this information, and honestly, I’ve realized that for now in my journey, keeping my opinions to a minimum is best, so I just want to share the information.
1) Intuitive Eaters: Your hypothalamus and your biology are fighting against you to lose weight. You can’t control that, therefore it’s best to accept your current set point weight, cut your losses, enjoy life and food, and just REST. Stop dieting because you can’t control what it’s going to do anyway.
If you are in this camp, I recommend the books: Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size
2) Biohackers: What can we do to make this process easier to be able to fight this biological, evolutionary process because in times of scarcity, it was beneficial, but now that we are in the land of plenty and sedentary lifestyles, we can form high set point weights (aka we have gained
weight) and now for our health, we want to lose weight, so how do we do that efficiently?
If you are in this camp, I recommend the podcast: HVMN Performance / Bulletproof Podcast
Now, let’s dive into what I’m even talking about. Your hypothalamus is a bean shape in your brain that determines many of the process of your autonomic nervous system, which is inclusive of your metabolic rate, heart rate, body temperature, sex drive, thyroid function, hormone function, and so many other things. It’s really quite simple what the hypothalamus does when you are trying to lose weight.
When you lower your caloric intake, your body sees this as a problem. You have entered a place where food is scarce and so the body does what it does best – survive. In order to survive when food was scarce, all it knows to do is conserve energy. The hypothalamus will conserve energy, slow your metabolic rate, lower your body temperature, and adjusts your leptin and ghrelin to where you are hungrier and have more cravings. THANKS A LOT RIGHT?
We all have a set point weight range that is typically a 10-20 pound range dependent on our relationship with food. Our body’s fight for homeostasis so it will fight to maintain this in both directions. This is one of the reasons that reverse dieting works well when you start to increase food because the more food that you put into the furnace, your body will increase your core temperature, speed up your metabolism, and try to regulate you to your set point range. When you are trying to lose weight, it fights in the opposite direction. When you get to the lower end of your set point range, that’s when your body will plateau typically during a weight loss journey. This is typically when people give up, but if you hang in there, don’t do anything crazy and just continue a sustainable caloric deficit, then your body will continue to lose.
Here’s what happens A LOT. When you reach the lower end of your hypothalamic set point range, your cravings can become very intense. If you are someone with a binge eating type disorder which is a combination of neurotransmitter shifts, environmental triggers, and psychological restriction based on cultural ideals, then the first thing that you do when these cravings hit, you might binge eat, or you might fight the binge but you just overeat. Your body is PRIMED for weight gain due to the lower metabolic rate due to the conservation from the calorie deficit (scarcity) and then you bounce IMMEDIATELY back to the middle of your set point range. You do this for years and years and years and over time, if you keep yourself in a chronic dieting phase, you can really get your calories low while still not getting anywhere with your weight. It’s a maddening cycle.
If you have this form of relationship with food, then this is when I really recommend entering a reverse diet phase or start working towards intuitive eating. If you are someone who GENUINELY feels like they have a healthy relationship with food (and sometimes you can lie to yourself but you KNOW better so you need to be diligent and genuine in evaluating yourself) then that would be the only time that I recommend continuing to try to diet. I don’t think that trying to be healthier is inherently bad, but just being careful not to be overcome by the thin ideal and what you feel you are “supposed” to do.
The science is definitely compelling, and it’s all about utilizing it to the best of your ability to help you in whatever way is best for you.