weight battle

Your body wants to be an ideal weight


Remember how I told you that we’re actually designed to not be able to gain or lose weight? (In an article I wrote a couple of years back called: Curb Hedonic Eating?) In it I talked about how we’re meant to maintain the ideal weight for our unique selves at all times. Our body literally acts to defend a comfortable weight.

Here are a couple of interesting experiments/studies that illustrate this cool phenomenon:

Minnesota Starvation Experiment

This was an infamous study undertaken during World War II.

Here there were grave concerns — quite literally — that there would be a severe shortage of food to feed everyone.

Healthy young men who weren’t ‘down’ with fighting volunteered to go on a semi-starvation diet for six months in order to play their part in the war efforts.

Their diets were reduced to 50% of their normal caloric intake, and as expected their weight, metabolic rate, and activity all plummeted.

However, what was not expected was that these men become obsessed with food as their bodies were intent on restoring their former weight! Food would consume their dreams at night, and during the day they would read recipe books and collect cooking utensils.

Once the six month study was over, the men were allowed to eat as much as they wanted to satisfy their hunger. The volunteers would often gorge on 10,000 calories per day – for weeks – until they returned to their pre-starvation weight. At this point, they no longer felt ravenous.

And on the flip-side:

The Vermont Prison Overfeeding Study

Here the researchers wanted to investigate what would happen to fat cells if we increased our weight by 15-25%.

(How did they get people to agree to what would effectively be the human equivalent of a ‘Foie Gras’ diet? They bribed inmates with an early parole to volunteer themselves to be ‘force fed’.)

As this study progressed the researchers found that they actually needed to ramp up the daily caloric intake beyond previous expectation as the inmate’s pesky basal metabolic rates were skyrocketing to burn off this extra ‘grub’. This was to the point where they had to feed them around 10,000 calories per day!

When the study was complete, like the Minnesota volunteers, the inmates were also instructed to eat however they wanted to satisfy hunger. As you can imagine, they had little interest in food, and over the next few weeks they dropped so much body fat that they weighed less than when they started.

What's the actual point of this?

We have a set-point for body weight which is under unconscious homeostatic control. This set-point ‘resides’ in our hypothalamus (in our brain). It gets told what to do via various neuropeptides released by our fat cells, and intestinal cells — that get told what to do by the food you eat.

When we eat a hedonic diet we block our satiety signals, and literally injure our hypothalamus.  This turns our set-point up really high. Therefore our new ‘normal’ weight becomes over-weight. Not ideal!

So when we try to ‘diet’, our body defends this amplified weight, essentially plunging us into severe starvation mode. This makes us not want to move about much, and all we do is think about food, and feel hungry. Our body literally becomes obsessed with returning us to our pre-diet weight.

Lisa Fitzgibbon, Naturopath, discusses how to lower body weight set point in her blog: LISA SAID SO

Make an appointment with Lisa

Lisa Fitzgibbon is a degree qualified (2006), experienced and registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist. She runs her own private practice – OOMPH in Grey Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand.

Lisa has been involved in the Natural Health industry for 16 years. She draws on her professional training and experience, as well as her own personal experience to bring you realistic, holistic health advice.

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