Monday, May 20, 2013

Finding Your Body's Natural Weight

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.

Psychological and Social Indicators of a Natural Weight Range:
-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. 



  1. I like the idea of replacing "normal" with "healthy". My friend always tells me that "normal is just a setting on a washing machine". Everybody's "normal" is different and each one is just as healthy as the other.

    I also agree that the psychological factors and social factors may not be in the same time frame for a person's mind to be in full recovery, but over time the both mind and body will once again be synchronised.

    Thank you for posting this dear <3 Although I rarely comment, each daily post you write brings such light and hope in my own recovery journey.

    1. I agree that those two points are really important and I love the washing machine analogy! Sending lots of love & keep up the good work in your own recovery! <3

  2. Thank you so much again! I really like these indicators. I think when people go into Ed treatment center, some part of them is taken care of by them. What people need to do is really to let go and trust the process. I have been trying to recover from the other program, and sometimes, I start to doubt the process. Because I have been afraid of reaching to my goal weight which I don't even know, this post gave me so much hope and encouragement. Thank you... xoxo

    1. I thought of you when I wrote this post :) I think a lot of patients go through what you are experiencing and they "get their feet wet" in recovery (or trusting the process), but then start to get scared and can't totally "jump in the water." Haha sorry for the analogy, but it's okay to feel the way you do. <3

  3. i REALLY need to find the time to read more!!! in the meantime tho, i will just keep coming to you for insight and experience... you truly are a fountain of knowledge! :)

    1. Hahahaha fountain of knowledge? More like nerdy bookworm. ;) But thank you <3
      (And I will be emailing you today!)

  4. I think this is really useful info. I think a lot of people with EDs, no matter what they weigh, are in denial about what their body's natural set range is. Just because someone doesn't or no longer meets criteria for anorexia does not mean they they are at their set weight. So much of set range is beyond our control, too - influenced by genetics, age, gender, having children (or not) body frame, and personal history. I think one way RCC calculates this (to my knowledge/understanding of how this is done) is looking at what weight percentiles you were in growing up or what was typical before eating disorder symptoms started. For me it was first crushingly disappointing and then eventually a relief when my therapist told me my "perfectly reasonable" personal ideal was way too low to be maintained realistically for me.

    I think a lot of doctors and sadly even therapists are clueless to the concept of weight set range. Most women are encouraged and congratulated for losing weight unless or until they reach emaciation, because of the idea that it's always healthier and better to be thinner, no matter what the cost.

    I'm seriously just rambling beyond anything useful at this point, but I just wish more people believed in this - even my non-eating disordered family and friends seem to beat themselves up over their weight so badly. It is so sad to see people strive for something that their body wasn't programmed for.

    Anyway, good post, and great selected quotes about what it feels like to be at set weight. :)

  5. Hey Lindsay,
    I did not find this to be rambling beyond anything useful at all, so don't worry. :)

    Yes, RCC does use the pediatric charts, which I think is somewhat effective but what about the patients who do not have pediatric charts? Or those who have been at an unhealthy weight through adolescence due the the ED and have no idea where their body should be naturally? It's such a difficult topic to completely understand. I also agree that a lot of professionals are clueless when it comes to the concept of set point.

    I think the most important thing is to keep in mind how different everyone is. Like you, I also freaked out when I found out my set point, but I really do feel the negative effects if I am just a few pounds below it. It's crazy how that works. Thanks for the comment! :)

  6. This has been really helpful for me. My set weight is fairly large. Not in the overweight range, but around a BMI of 22.2
    Coming from being underweight to here has been crazy. At first my team told me that it would be best if I maintained a BMI of 19, so I worked my butt off to keep it there, wondering why I couldn't kick my ED behaviors.
    I got a new therapist, and came to a respected ED clinic, and she explained the whole "set weight point" idea, gave me a meal plan. Then I went cold turkey on weighing myself, just followed a healthy meal plan and slowly added in exercise. What I came out with was my "set weight point" and I have never been happier.
    and the mood swings are actually true. Anyone with an ED has crazy moods, but mine is generally MUCH more stable and happier than it was :)

    1. Yes! What a perfect example this is! Just because the (stupid) BMI says 18.5 and above is healthy does NOT mean that a BMI on the lower end of the healthy will work for everyone. I'm glad you were able to get a new therapist, stop weighing yourself, and finally reach a weigh that is appropriate for you body.

      My BMI is very close to yours and I was pretty freaked out too, but accepting that weight sure beats all of the negative side effects that come along with still being underweight. Thanks so much for this comment! :)

  7. Thanks for such a sane definition of healthy weight. From my experience I can say that you're spot on. Four years ago, I went through a "major depression," complete with mood swings etc. The doctors threw a lot of drugs and diagnoses at me. What they didn't know is that I'd been exercising compulsively, spending two hours at the gym six days a week. Now my food and exercise habits are healthy. My mood is fine, I don't obsess about food, I have a regular social life, and I can work. I'm also off all the drugs. Trying to fit some ideal just isn't worth it.

    1. It's amazing how much our weight and food intake can affect our well being as a whole. I'm kind if shocked your doctors didn't pick up on your disorder. Many professionals are quick to throw pills and medication at us as a way to fix the problem, but that doesn't work either. I'm glad you are back on the right track and feeling better!

  8. please answer... i haven't seen a dr. yet but my mom had me start 3,000-4,000 calories.. honestly because of bingeing i've been closer to 4,000 every day. my lw was 85lb 5'5 a month ago. i feel as though i'm already weight restored but don't have a dr. appt until january 14th... WHEN do i stop eating this many calories & drop to maintenance levels?!

  9. This is helpful. I have in mind an 'ideal' weight - another 5lbs lighter. Yet where I am now, my hunger and appetite seem genuine and wont let me slip any lower. I feel this is my body's preferred weight. If I eat less and/or exercise more my appetite is so strong! So now it is a job for the mind to accept where I am and celebrate that my body is communicating with me and that I am now healthy and well. Thanks!