When I published Ravenous five years ago, I wanted to document my journey of losing weight and making peace with my body. I examined the difference between real and processed food, I visited farms,I cooked with a Zen chef. I did a 4 a.m. yoga practice given to me by an Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher. I was trying to figure out why the simple notion of “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied”, was so difficult.
I’ve learned through experience the truth of the neuroscience behind why diets fail. In a recent New York Times article, neuroscientist Sandra Aamot writes that everyone of us has a set point of a certain weight range. If you go below it, your body burns fewer calories, increases the production of hunger hormones, and finds eating more rewarding, and leads to long term weight gain. “The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you, whether or not your doctor agrees.”
It’s true. I now comfortably weigh 25 pounds less than when I began writing Ravenous. I am healthier, my knees no longer hurt, I feel lighter inside and out. I’ve learned through observation which behaviors make it more likely I will stay in my set point range, and which won’t. Eating real food (especially lots of veggies), ditching processed food, drinking enough water, moving my body, spending time in nature — all these help keep my weight in my set range. Eating sugar doesn’t. It throws my hunger cues off wack.
And never underestimate the power of gratitude. I give thanks for the body I have, which is a great thing because it’s the only one I’ve got. No more waiting to reach a perfect weight in order to live an imagined perfect life. As the saying goes, “Be here now.” In fact, it’s through trying to stay present that I’ve managed to keep my weight in a reasonable range. What helps me do this is yoga and meditation. Which is what Aamot discovered in the course of her research: “[We need to] relearn how to eat only as much as the brain’s weight-regulation system commands. Relative to chronic dieters, people who eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full are less likely to become overweight, maintain more stable weights over time and spend less time thinking about food. Mindful eating also helps people with eating disorders like binge eating learn to eat normally.”
“Depending on the individual’s set point, mindful eating may reduce weight or it may not. Either way, it’s a powerful tool to maintain weight stability, without deprivation. I finally gave up dieting six years ago, and I’m much happier. I redirected the energy I used to spend on dieting to establishing daily habits of exercise and meditation. I also enjoy food more while worrying about it less, now that it no longer comes with a side order of shame.”
Amen to that. A healthier body matters because you need vitality to live a good life — one that is beyond obsession with food, a size, or a number. Life is bigger than that. Time time to live it.