Last time, I wrote about the physical and environmental reasons why most people's bodies tend to stay at or around a particular weight, popularly known as a "set point.''
It also seems to be true that when we try to fight that set point through rigid weight-loss methods, the body rebels by rewarding us with cravings for the foods we're trying to avoid. This usually leads to the familiar yo-yo cycles of dieting and splurging that play havoc with our weight and health.
If all that's true, how do you readjust your set point if yours is too high for good health?
The two best ways to accomplish this goal are to increase metabolism and decrease feelings of deprivation. Here are steps you can take:
Respond to hunger quickly: When we try to control our weight by ignoring hunger signals, we lose balance. Since hunger is a signal that the body needs something, ignoring the signal will only increase the intensity of that signal.
Many people make this simple mistake and then wonder why they get so ravenously hungry that they lose control. Mild hunger that might have been sated with a cup of yogurt and a glass of water suddenly grows into a beast that demands a milkshake.
Preventing undereating or overeating by having meals and snacks on a regular schedule helps the body stay at its natural set point. In addition, eating more frequent, smaller meals seems to raise metabolism.
Get moving: Another way to raise metabolism is brisk, sustained movement of at least 30 minutes a day, preferably more. Metabolism goes up while you're moving and even for a time afterward. That's why weight management experts say aerobic exercise should be just as automatic a habit as brushing your teeth.
Build muscle: Women wonder why men generally lose fat faster than they do. One reason is that men have more muscle mass, and muscle means you burn more calories, even at rest. Strong muscles keep you leaner throughout life — and no, women, you won't bulk up. To the contrary, a bonus of having strong muscles is that you can eat a few more calories without gaining fat. That spells a lower set point.
Avoid rigid dieting: Starving yourself leads to physical and psychological deprivation. Psychological deprivation leads to preoccupation and obsession with food and — just what you don't want — increased eating. Most bingeing and compulsive eating behaviors are linked to this type of dieting. In addition, when you eat drastically less than your body needs, it slows down metabolism to preserve energy stores. That means you burn less fat and may even raise your set point.
Include nutritious treats: It's unrealistic to expect to go through life never having treats in order to manage weight. Consider it a psychological need that we all have. This isn't to say that we need most fattening treats in vast quantities. Experiment and find nutritious treats that you find tasty and satisfying, and learn to include them in your life in a balanced way. You'll avoid deprivation as well as bingeing.
Respond to cravings early: You'll find you are satisfied with a smaller portion of whatever you are craving if you address the desire quickly, without letting it become a preoccupation. We see this in people with eating disorders as they recover. When we feed ourselves properly, we experience fewer cravings. So listening to the body's cravings and looking for healthy ways to satisfy those needs can mean fewer cravings, less eating and a lower set point.
Think of your body as your partner. Listen to what it is telling you about its needs, and respond by choosing the right behaviors each day.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Psychological Barriers to Weight Management."