You’ve tried all the diets out there, but those final five pounds… argh! They’re always the hardest to lose. Scientists have figured out the answer to this frustration, and it has nothing to do with how much you’re exercising or what you’re eating—it’s all about your goal weight. Chances are, it isn’t realistic.
Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center studied this specific issue and found there is indeed a “set point” that regulates human body weight, which is unique to every person based on DNA, inherited traits (e.g. “apple” vs. “pear” body type) and lifestyle. This set-point weight is ideal for you, and your body will always fight to stay at that number on the scale.
“Many women set their ideal weight unrealistically low,” Michelle May, MD, RD, founder of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training and author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, told Women’s Health. And when we aim too low, reaching (and maintaining) that dream number will require significant exercise and food restriction, which is why it’s so difficult.
So how do you know you’ve found your set point?
Your weight is generally consistent. The number you get the majority of the time is likely your ideal weight (not counting normal fluctuations from food and water consumption).
You feel healthy. When you hit your set-point weight, your body functions better. You feel healthier, your immunity is stronger (so you rarely get sick), your blood pressure is normal and you get great scores on your annual checkup!
You’ve got lots of energy. Your body works most efficiently at your set-point weight. On the other hand, people tire easily when they weigh too little or too much—or when they’re cutting too many calories to lose weight.
You love working out. When you’re at your healthiest weight, exercise is a way of life. You love pushing your body to achieve athletic goals—to walk, run or bike extra miles. The achievement is the goal, not the calorie burn.
You eat to fuel your body. You follow your body’s hunger signals and stop eating when you’re full. Overeating happens sometimes, but not often. You know when to stop.
You enjoy eating. You’ve learned to love healthy foods, but you give into cravings once in awhile. A slice of strawberry cheesecake or tiramisu, why not?
So give yourself a break and let loose of the compulsion to lose those last five pounds. Studies show that too much focus on having a “weight problem” is counter-productive, leading to more stress, anxiety and overeating. Sheer willpower isn’t the answer either, as resisting that doughnut only makes you crave it more. Instead, set goals that are more realistic and develop a lifestyle aimed at creating a healthy body. Eat nutritious foods, exercise that you enjoy and indulge in that occasional treat—and your body will naturally change to its best form. Carpe diem!