Recently I have been getting a ton of questions about how to find the body's natural or set point weight. This is a topic that usually generates a lot of anxiety and resistance, so bare with me.
A few days ago I started reading (yes, another recovery book), "8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder" written by Gwen Schubert. In chapter five there is a very helpful section about learning how to accept your body's natural weight. One of the keys of this chapter is the idea that in order to reach a place where one feels fully recovered, weight loss can no longer be a goal. Period. Schubert explains;
"Just as you are learning that your body can be trusted to give you accurate signals about hunger and fullness, you must also learn to trust that your natural weight is predetermined by your genetics and not your desire. Many of our clients have a hard time accepting their weight, not because they are overweight, but because they are not the weight they would like to be. If you are engaging in eating disordered behaviors to maintain your weight, you really can't know your natural weight (p. 113)."
Schubert then lists a few indicators of natural weight physically, psychologically, and socially, which I thought would be helpful for many of you.
"Physical Indicators of a Natural Weight Range:
-Weight range is maintained without engaging in eating disordered behaviors (for example, restricting, binging, purging, or compulsive exercise).
-Having regular menstruation every month and normal hormone levels (as age appropriate).
-Normal blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature.
-Normal blood chemistry values such as electrolytes, white and red blood counts, ext.
-Normal bone density for age.
-Normal levels of energy (not exhausted, shaky, or agitated all day).
-Normal or at least some sex drive.
-Ability to concentrate and focus (reading, movies, work, school).
-Normal social life with authentic, in-person relationships.
-Decrease in or cessation of obsessive thoughts or food cravings or urges to binge.
-Can choose freely what to eat both when alone and with others.
-Can eat at restaurants, at friend's houses, at parties, and on vacations.
-Do not have to eat according to certain rituals.
-No erratic mood swings (p. 114)."
Of course, however, it is important to keep in mind that there are different degrees and levels associated with each of these factors. Also, I hate the word "normal" because what is normal for me is often completely different from what is normal for another person. Maybe we should switch out the word "normal" for the word "healthy" on the list of indicators. When we reach our body's natural weight, we find a HEALTHY blood pressure, blood chemistry, bone density, energy levels, ext., rather than NORMAL.
With the social and psychological factors, recovery brings different stages of each of the highlighted points. Just because I might not be completely comfortable eating in restaurants, at a friends house, or at parties, for example, does not mean my body is not at it's natural weight. With time and lots of practice I will eventually drop my fears surrounding those situations, but it's a process.
Take what you want from the list of indicators above, but the bottom line according to Schubert is:
"Our bodies react negatively to being under or over our natural weight in spite of what we want or how we feel about it. It might be hard to believe, but even a few pounds below (or above) normal can cause abnormal physical and psychological changes (p. 116)."
Sure, letting go of my desired weight is still something I struggle with occasionally, but in my mind it sure beats hanging on to unhealthy physical and social side effects. This is such a complex topic not only because eating disorder patients are typically scared to death of their natural weight, but also because finding one's natural weight can feel like an impossible equation. Each of us has a completely different body type and therefore, different natural or set point weights.
Learning to trust your body again after years of neglect is a long, tedious process. The best advice I can give about how to find the body's natural weight is to give up weight loss as a goal, find out what is considered healthy (physically and psychologically) for your body, and learn to trust the process.