Setpoint Struggles, Weight Angst, and Disappointment

Since I wrote a few days ago about my interest in taking a new look at the old setpoint theory in relation to my own body image journey, I’ve had a few conversations going on in the background.

One person wrote to give me some facts on weight loss over the long term in case I didn’t already know them, and ask me to not perpetuate the myth that there is a trick to losing weight, and to please resist the seduction of the myth of easy weight loss. I was pretty stunned at that response to be honest, because I didn’t think that was what I’d said, and I was pretty sure that wasn’t my motivation.

But in responding to that person’s concerns, and others, I’ve done some really deep thinking to articulate the evolving shift in my awareness, so I thought I’d spell it out in more detail – sorry for the long post – so you can decide if you still want to get my news and blog updates, or if you want to kick me goodbye 🙂 I’m happy with either choice to be honest, because while I really care about and value the opinions and support of my nearly 4000 followers, if this isn’t the right place for you, then it isn’t, and I wish you all the best on your journey.

I know my followers are women who have been walking towards the edge of the mainstream for years, and have spotted me over here a bit further out on the edge where it’s not only okay to love your body just the way it is today, but also to honour and nurture it, learn about it what really wants and needs, listen to it, and support it while it returns to end-of-dieting balance and health on all levels. It takes a while.

My Epiphany

As I said to Andrea in one of these ongoing email conversations, I have realised over the past few months that my love-your-body-anyway message isn’t reaching as far as I would hope. I’ve been very focussed on this work for five years now, and while I know with all the certainty that’s possible in this world that I have helped hundreds of women, possibly nudging into the thousands, to take a new look at their body and give themselves some compassion, that all my time and energy and passion for the love-your-body-anyway message is like whispering into a hurricane.

That hurricane is the now $60 billion PLUS weight loss industry – in the US alone. While there are probably thousands of body image activists now, and more all the time, even combined we are still only a quiet dissenting voice in the hurricane. Yes it’s growing louder and it’s got a long way to go.

So what I’ve realised is that if we are to achived the cultural mind shift we need so that our daughters do not grow up hating their bodies, restricting their food, purging their food, chewing and then spitting their food, choosing to go under the knife to add or subtract from their bodies, and other abmormal behaviours, because they see and feel their own value is their ‘hotness’ above everything else, and become less than they dreamed they might be before their bodies became their focus, and they end up as a sad medicated statistic…. then we need to speak differently to the mainstream of our population. (Yes this stuff gets me really steamed up, I want to stop the pain!)

I can already hear some people saying “Oh so you want to trick people, just like the rest of the weight loss industry”.

No.

I want to speak to people where they are, and then offer them the possibility of stepping onto a different path, one which ultimately leads to them loving their bodies.

What we’re saying right now is “diets don’t work, accept that, and just love your body anyway”. In other words we are telling people they’re wrong, and not surprisingly they don’t like being told they’re wrong. So they walk back to what’s familiar.

We are the fourth generation of dieters, our daughters the fifth, our grandchildren the sixth. That’s a LOT of cultural ‘knowing’ that thin=healthy and eat less + move more = lose weight. Test it yourself, try having a conversation with someone who is a dieter about loving their body anyway. My experience is that mostly they cannot understand it, with the best will in the world it just doesn’t make sense to them because it challenges too many assumptions.

The answer is education.

So, in just the same way we learned to read by learning the letters of the alphabet and then put them together to make words, I think the only way to reach into that diet-addicted mainstream culture is to reach in with an understandable message, and support them while they learn a new language, way of thinking, and behaving towards their amazing bodies regardless of size or shape.

And to me, setpoint is a way to reach them. Because many of the people who find themselves here are not struggling with losing weight, but with increasing it. Or looking for an answer to absolutely loathing their breasts, their lips, or some other body part that causes them unbelievable anguish. Weight is a part of body image, but it’s neither the largest (pardon :)) nor the only part.

But it’s the part that setpoint deals with, and it’s the part that serial dieters understand from their own experience. And I have a theory that it’s also a part that needs to be healed from all the years of calorie restriction. Healed – so it can find the balance it was meant to have – not tricked.

So, that’s what my setpoint experiment is about, it’s the final step in my own healing journey, and as a healer, it feels true, it feels right for me and my body. It’s an experiment to see what happens.

It’s also a major challenge to me as a positive body image advocate, to be flexible, to step along a bit from my end of the the diet -vs- antidiet spectrum and reach out to people who are closer to the middle than they are to my end.

It doesn’t mean I suddenly think that we all have to lose weight lest we be damned to ill health and an early grave, or be a particular size, spend hours in the gym, only eat low fat or low carb or whatever. Those lies are still lies.

It does still mean that I support the right of women to treat their bodies any way they want to, and encourage them to choose compassion and great self care and real nutrition and loving kindness towards themselves and other women, and let go of cruel judgements and unnatural behaviour.

And I’m sorry if you’re disappointed in me, I am completely at peace with that.

What do you think? Does any of this make sense to anyone other than me? Please comment and let me know….

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29 Comments

  1. Stacy Ryan on March 8, 2011 at 1:26 am

    I want to hear about your experiment! Keep the blog posts coming!

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 2:50 am

      Thanks Stacy, more tomorrow, thanks for your interest 🙂

  2. Ellen on March 8, 2011 at 1:55 am

    I love your blogs and I believe there is something to the set point theory. Please continue on this path. I’ve never had the tenacity to stay on a diet so never have been on one. It doesn’t mean that I have not gained weight from 20 years old to 53 years old. I haven’t always been happy with the changes in my body but I wasn’t entirely happy with it when I was 20! Your insights have helped me make peace with the way things are. You are definitely not a disappointment!

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 2:50 am

      Ellen, thank you, I totally appreciate your opinion. Accepting is step 1 to healing – I learned that from my car accident, also that control i9s a fallacy 🙂 Working with the old bod is the only way forward. Thanks for your support 🙂

  3. Janine Lattimore on March 8, 2011 at 1:59 am

    I believe that we actually have setpoints or comfort zones around a lot of things eg income level, body size, romantic relationships . . .

    I beleive that they are formed by a combination of physical and psychological factors.

    And I beleive that it is possible, though not necessarily easy, to re-set them.

    I also believe that the first step in change is accepting things as they currently are ie dropping your resistance.

    Look forward to hearing how you get on.

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 2:48 am

      Janine, YES! And somehow it’s okay for us to talk about the money set point, the relationship setpoint, but the weight one seems to be unpopular/unwelcome or something similar, and yet so many people have this experience. And I think that’s why it’s only now, years after starting this body-accepting journey, that I’m willing to take a look at it for myself. I think there’s something important to learn here – not a trick or a self-con, but something really important. Thanks for your support and interest 🙂

  4. beth on March 8, 2011 at 2:26 am

    I believe that until we come to love and accept ourselves as we are we cannot grow. If we are continually berating ourselves for all that we deem to be imperfect we get stuck in a vicious cycle of self loathing from which no good can come. This in affect causes one of those artificial set points or plateaus which can lead to despair and depression and feelings of low self worth. It is only when we reach deep within to that still small voice that we can begin to see ourselves with new eyes and speak to ourselves with kind,loving words of encouragement leading ourselves back into the light of growth, hope and determination to be all that we can be. May we all strive to hear that voice and reach for newer, stronger “setpoints” and plateaus that will become the vistas of our futures. Keep me posted on your journey into tomorrow

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 2:43 am

      Beth, that’s a great point. I’m also looking into how we use diets to avoid emotions, the same way we use food to avoid emotions. Thanks for sharing this important point of view, very aligned with mine 🙂

  5. Vernice Dowe on March 8, 2011 at 2:42 am

    I would like to keep getting emails from you as you explore the setpoint theory and I have experienced this. One of the problems I have is that if I eat a lot or not much my weight stays the same unless I really dig in and do the drastic calorie cut and then it never lasts. More weight gain is the eventual result when I strictly diet cuz I can’t keep it up forever…

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 4:37 am

      Vernice, yes, that’s the exact experience of so many people – thanks for sharing yours too, I’ll do an update soon!

  6. Valeria on March 8, 2011 at 3:14 am

    It made sense to me the first way you wrote it. If someone is not interested, there are plenty of other places to get stories and advice.

    I’m interested in what YOU are up to, and I’ll form my own opinion of how it pertains to my lifestyle in my own time.

    Whether I agree with you are not is not your job to try to affect. You can only do this for you and as we are all different, your results will be only a model for other interested people to consider.

    So, Go ahead with your experiment and let’s see what it brings you. Thanks for being your own guinea pig and letting us watch! LOL

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 4:32 am

      @Valeria, thanks 🙂 I see my place in the world as one of sharing ideas with as many people as possible, and contributing to the consiousness shift we’re in the midst of – and yes, then people make up their own minds. I’ll update soon… thanks for your interest 🙂

      • Valeria on March 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm

        @Sandy,
        I’m also interested because of the way you worded the first message. that many aren’t worried about losing weight, it’s about those events in life that cause us to gain weight . . . that doesn’t leave. It’s the gain, then the loss +5lb that stays that is the problem, and why does it stay? and what’s going on to tell my body that this new high weight 5lb+ is the new norm instead of that new low weight 15lb- I had for a whole year before. Why one and not the other, and what might I have done to trigger a new set point in one instance and not the other.
        Yeah, I wanna know, cause while 5lb extra is not so much to be ‘worried’ about, it can add up and I’d rather subtract or stay the same.

        • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm

          @Valeria, I don’t think you’ve done anything consciously, certainly. Your body’s decided to be that weight… this will be interesting, I’ll post in the next couple of days, I know I keep saying that but I’ve been a bit flat out with offline stuff… (Just off to a talk about the Women’s Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, so interesting!) But, it’s not something you’ve done consciously, it’s body-level stuff – it will be interesting to me to see what emerges from this experiment, and what that means for others….

  7. Lenore on March 8, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Hi Sandy,
    Who could argue with the honesty and integrity you display in all that you do and offer. Each person perceives information through their own map of the world and will ‘take a stand’or form an opinion based on that, including their own personal agenda.

    It’s those still caught up in the diet industry hype that need to hear your message – so of course you need to communicate in language they understand, so they get to hear the message that will bring the peace with their bodies.

    I think you’re doing an amazing job of ensuring their really is a body revolution, so many women now and into the future will be grateful.

    Lenore

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 4:29 am

      Lenore, thank you, I so appreciate your support. Yes, the language we use is so important and I know mine needs to change slightly – better late than never 🙂

  8. Lorraine on March 8, 2011 at 6:37 am

    Many thanks for your input Sandy I love reading your info. Keep it coming. I have been on a journey over the last year and changing little by little over that time and I can honestly say because of eating more healthy foods I am feeling so much more comfortable in my body, no more dieting for me 🙂

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 10:48 pm

      @Lorraine, Thanks for sharing your experience of those little changes – over a year or so they add up to a whole new life eh? 🙂 and WAY TO GO on ditching dieting! woooooooooo!!

  9. Karen on March 8, 2011 at 11:21 am

    So many things play into weight:

    * Genetics (build, set-point)
    * What, how, and when we eat
    * Quality and quantity of sleep
    * Conditions such as PCOS (very common, very commonly undiagnosed)- for women, particularly, hormonal changes are clearly factoring in
    * Shiftwork (breaking the circadian rhythm)
    * Too much exposure to blue-spectrum light (computer screens, TV, blue-spectrum light bulbs) at night
    * Self-image
    * Stress levels (low level chronic stress = greater weight gain) – directly linked to social inequality and assaults on our dignity

    I notice very often that those who believe that the simple formula of calories in + exercise = slim = healthy are the same people who position weight as an issue of morality; those who see complex factors at work tend to a more nuanced acceptance of diversity in form + concern for overall individual and social health.

    Indeed, it mirrors our general attitudes: the more cut and dried we believe things to be, the more judgemental (and unhappy) we seem to be. It’s almost like effective communication of ideas subverts fear-based thinking…! 😉

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 9:31 pm

      Karen, yes! I think most people know that there is something else going on with their weight, and yet they will still try another diet because there’s not enough info out there about the complexity of this. Or, we all just love magic bullets and don’t want the pain of doing it slowly 🙂

      Karen have you seen the happiness project? I’m wondering about bringing some of those principles into this body work, would be an interesting thing to play with I think….

      And, in yesterday’s paper there was interesting new research into the light frequency of screens, well worth investigating for anyone who is struggling with insomnia. Karen do you have a website?

      • Karen on March 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm

        @Sandy, I think even those who are aware that there’s rarely a “silver bullet” for anything are inclined to hope for one. We just have to gently remind ourselves that it’s OK to want short term gratification, and find ways to do that which are helpful and adaptive. After all, our brains are set up for both short and long term thinking.

        The Happiness Project is pretty fascinating stuff, and I really appreciate her non-judgemental and pragmatic approach. When you talk about bringing those principles into play, do you mean in terms of the set of “commandments” she adheres to, test driving ideas and reporting on them, or something else? The way she formats is certainly very engaging.

        Do I have a website with information on light therapy resources, or do I just have a website? Sorry if I’m being dense 🙂

  10. Hi hopes on March 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Hi Sandy,
    I will confess that I am not an absolutely regular follower of your blog, but I have dipped in and out enough to know that you are about loving yourself and valuing yourself and your body. I’m sorry that you’ve had a lot of negative feedback recently. I also follow the FLYlady (Finally Loving Yourself) and Pam Young who has the Inner Kiddies web site. Pam has recently put a book out, called the The Mouth Trap. Her book is about getting in touch with your innerself (your little princess) and taking care of this part of yourself as a tool to losing weight. Her outlook is similar to yours and I would recommend you investigate this in your quest for feeling good about yourself. I hope you’ll give this a serious look. Best wishes!

    • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      @Hi hopes, I’d not heard of her book, sounds great 🙂 Thanks for sharing. The negative feedback hasn’t been a lot, actually, when I look at the total amount of it – it just surprised me because I don’t think that looking at setpoint is controversial. Goes to show 🙂 Thanks for commenting Hope 🙂

      • Hi hopes on March 8, 2011 at 10:30 pm

        @Sandy, I think that perhaps people are just worried that you are going to be struggling and not accepting yourself again. I have learned about what is good for my body from diets where I eliminated gluten, caffeine and learned about the importance of flax and soya for hormone balancing. I’ve heard of set points before and I worry that focusing on them may make me feel stuck or unable to control myself. I think it will be interesting to see if you think the theory is right. I have an aunt who puts people on a radical diet and then gives them injections to re-set their thyroid (I think). It’s a little too expensive and invasive to appeal to me. The Woman to Woman website (US) has a lot of info about body changes in menopause and peri menopause. I have about 7kg that I have accumulated and been unable to shift in the last 5-7 years, but I’m going to use Pam Young’s method to get this moved. I really think that the majority of my weight issues are in my mind. :-). I like the way you try things out, so that we can learn from your experinces too.

        • Sandy on March 8, 2011 at 10:52 pm

          @Hi hopes, heh, yes I take your point. I can certainly say that I have no doubts at all of my worth and my self, and I am in *awe* of my body – so no struggles around that here, I promise 🙂 For me, my body’s saying ‘yes’ to do some setpoint work – I’ll be combining it with EFT, writing the processes today – so I’m doing both from day 1.

          Oh my god that hormone injection routine sounds horrendous!

          You know, after menopause our fat cells make estrogen, not as much as our ovaries, but enough to keep us healthy – and that’s why we have more fat cells after menopause. Again, not something that people talk about much….

  11. Brenda on March 9, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Sandy,

    I really want to hear more about your thoughts and experiences with this experiment. To me it is just another way to examine our bodies and examine the way they are designed to work. It’s educational and smart. I AM learning to love my body at age 46. I no longer expect to look the same as I did in my 20’s and 30’s and I’ve set realistic goals for my health. But I chose not to accept my body in a way that allows me every excuse not to do what is best for it. Analyzing our body’s response to our habits and choices actually provides me with incredible freedom in the options I find to be positive. Again, I encourage you to move forward in this endeavor.

    • Sandy on March 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm

      Brenda, good on you for doing what it takes to learn to love your body, I think we do it at whatever age we do it. With so much information – misinformation – out there about what is healthy, I agree it’s important to educate ourselves about what our OWN body wants and needs, as part of learning to love it. Thanks for your support 🙂

  12. Julia on March 10, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Sandy, I value the perspective that you give to the healthy body image shift that we are building in the world. I’d like to add one thing. The body is remarkably forgiving & has the ability to regenerate & heal from trauma caused by smoking, surgery & years of unhealthy habits. We may/may not each have a set point, but we can definitely use lifestyle factors (habits, diet, exercise) to positively impact body weight. How far we choose to take exercise & nutrition is a personal choice, and that is where myself, a fitness professional, & we as promoters of healthy body image, can make a difference in people’s lives. We don’t have to become obsessive. We need to educate others about the grey area (I’d like to call it pink) in which there is choice & fulfillment – not right/wrong.

    • Sandy on March 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm

      Julia, you’re so right – our bodies are amazingly forgiving of the hate and abuse we give it daily! Once we turn around and become more gentle on ourselves, there’s a real blossoming…

      Pink area – love it 🙂

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