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Homeostasis and set-point weight. What are they and why do I always feel like I’m living in these crazy states lately?
Homeostasis and weight loss.
So, what is homeostasis in terms of weight loss?
I like to think of homeostasis in weight loss as “weight loss purgatory”. Am I in weight loss heaven or am I in weight loss hell? I did good things so I should be losing weight, right? But I’m not, so why am I gaining weight and falling into weight loss hell?
Let’s break it down.
As defined by the Encylopedia Brittanica, Homeostasis is any self-regulating process by which biological systems tend to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are optimal for survival. If homeostasis is successful, life continues; if unsuccessful, disaster or death ensues. The stability attained is actually a dynamic equilibrium, in which continuous change occurs yet relatively uniform conditions prevail.
When it comes to weight loss, homeostasis is our body making adjustments to the changes we’ve made to lose weight (calorie restriction, increased workouts, and even intermittent fasting) in an attempt to regain, as stated above, its equilibrium. We see this adjustment occur when we stop losing weight (even though we may have several more pounds to lose). In a nutshell, it’s the dreaded weight loss plateau.
At its core, our body wants to maintain a certain balance, a certain level of peace, an equilibrium. And, for a time, our body will be OK with the changes that we’ve made, changes that have indeed resulted in weight loss. However, at a certain point, it will adjust its own processes to adapt to the changes we’ve made to lose that weight in order to achieve that balance, that equilibrium. It will recognize that peace and balance are being disrupted (weight loss) and will adjust accordingly (slowing your metabolism), all in an attempt to save our life.
Homeostasis is homeostasis is homeostasis is homeostasis.
Weather you’re counting calories, working out more or even intermittent fasting, you will experience homeostasis.
Why, because nothing in life is ever THAT easy, am I right?
But, but, intermittent fasting and all its benefits? Isn’t that what this blog is mostly about?
Sure! But, our bodies don’t know that we’re intermittent fasting. I mean, our little cells and microbes aren’t sitting around chatting over a beer one day saying “Oh crap, this chick is intermittent fasting! Welp, no need to implement any necessary processes to save her life. She’s got this!!”.
Nope. Our bodies do what our bodies do no matter WHAT you do to lose weight.
So, as you enjoy successfully losing weight with your 16/8 fasting schedule, and as your cells are working diligently to help you lose weight, one of them might stop, look around and say “Holy shit. This chick has lost a lot of weight! I think there’s a famine happening here and she’s dying! EVERYONE STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW! WE NEED TO SAVE A LIFE!!!”
And, just like that, you’ve hit your plateau.
I know, it’s 2020, and food is not scarce, but our bodies just don’t care, because homeostasis is homeostasis no matter how you look at it.
Counting calories, increasing your workouts, intermittent fasting. If you don’t keep your body on its toes, your body will start making assumptions about what’s really going on and will start implementing processes to halt your progress.
Thanks homeostasis! You’re just awesome!
So, how do we trick our good ole body and restart that weight loss?
We change things up! That’s how!
Making the change.
While consistency is great, it might not be so great to keep the same day to day protocols (fasting, food, exercise) when it comes to losing weight. Sometimes, if not all the time, that consistency will catch up with you and hit you right in the eyeball. Change is a good thing. For your mind AND your body.
Making the change with intermittent fasting
I’ve linked to my full weight loss story below, but I’ll outline my IF weight loss a bit for you here.
When I started IF I started with a 16/8 schedule. That means that I would clean fast (water, black coffee, mineral water) for 16 hours a day and would enjoy an 8 hour eating window. During this time I also enjoyed spin classes on my Peloton. In a few short months, I dropped 15 pounds. Excellent, right?
Soon after that 15 pound loss, I plateaued. That plateau lasted several months. It became pretty clear that my body had adapted to my 16/8 schedule and my weight loss would not get back on track until I made a few small adjustments to my day. At that time, I decided to lengthen my fasting window.
Enter my new fasting schedule of 18/6. It’s only two hours longer than my 16/8, but the adjustment was just what I needed to get my body losing weight again. As with my 16/8 schedule, I enjoyed my spin classes on my Peloton and eventually dropped another 15 pounds.
At that point, it seemed like everything was in order. I was losing weight again and I was feeling really good about my 18/6 schedule. My fasts felt good. I enjoyed all my food. It was lovely, until it stopped. Again.
While I had lost 30 pounds total, I still had about 20-25 more to go when I stalled. And I’m STILL stalled. So, what do I do? How do I get this perimenopausal 45 year old body back on track to shed those dang pounds?
A new set of rules.
That second stall happened a few weeks into the stay at home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My usual daily schedule shifted from getting up, working out, getting the kids out of the house to working from home, teaching kids from home and stress eating a lot of processed foods. I actually gained back about 8 pounds due to that stressful time.
While I think my 18/6 schedule was working well for me in terms of weight loss, when I really observed what was going on during the beginning stages of the stay at home order to determine why I stalled and why I gained weight, it was pretty easy to spot.
Stress and stress eating processed foods.
Store bought muffins, bagels, sausage, bacon, chips, cookies my daughter made every freaking day. I mean, I was HOME! I could now enjoy some of my favorite cooked meals throughout my ENTIRE EATING WINDOW. Stress eating was bliss! Until, one day, I opted out of my yoga pants to try on my jeans to “see where I was”.
Oh boy. Not good. Jeans with NO stretch DO NOT LIE!
So, what now?
Now I make changes. I’m still sitting at 157 (I’ll talk about that in a minute), but with a few small changes I hope to see some progress in the coming weeks.
What’s the change?
My first order of business is to randomly alternate my fasting schedule between an 18/6 and a 20/4. This will allow a few additional hours of clean fasting a few days a week to help change things up just a bit. The reality is that I wasn’t too consistent with my 18/6 schedule when the stay at home order hit, so I’m hoping that this “random” consistency will pay off.
Next, I’m going to refocus on eating whole foods again. This doesn’t mean that I’m eating raw foods and the like, just that I will focus on cooking more meals with actual food as opposed to eating processed junk. I was doing really well for a while, but… the stay at home order.
Last, I’m going to continue to workout on my Peloton and with the Peloton App. There was a time when I used to rely on my workouts to help see the scale move, but recently, I’ve been thinking of my workouts as a way to simply help with my internal systems for health and longevity. My workouts are an afterthought to weight loss and I use them, not as a tool to lose weight, but as a tool to maintain health and well being.
What can you do?
There are many ways to jump off that plateau. Since I’m not a fan of calorie counting any more (and you should not be either) I’m going to focus on how you can break that plateau with intermittent fasting and food choices.
- Change your IF routine. If you’re been enjoying a short fasting window, say 16/8, do what I did and shift to an 18/6 fasting schedule. Or, maybe throw a few extended fasts into your week. (Check out alternate day fasting or the 5:2 plan). Maybe try a 24 hour fast 1-2 times a week. In all cases, switch it up!
- Watch what you eat. Even though we IFers say that you can eat whatever you want in your window, and that may work for a while, keep in mind that your body is watching. Those poor food choices may be halting your progress. Look at what you’re eating. Look at how much you’re eating.
Check out IF schedules defined to find a new schedule that might work to help you break your plateau!!
Extremes are bad!
We all know this. We all know this. We all know THIS!
Extremes are bad.
Fasting for DAYS without medical supervision. BAD.
Severely restricting what you eat during your eating window. BAD.
Working out intensely for hours. BAD.
Extremes taken in an effort to lose weight WILL NOT END WELL!
MORE is not always better. Take a look at the Biggest Loser participants. Dr. Jason Fung talks about the Biggest Loser study at great length in his book, The Obesity Code. By participating in the show, most “losers” not only gained back all the weight (and more), but their body has been forever altered because of the extremes that they endured on the show, and not for the better. Key processes that aid in weight loss have been halted by their body, and weight gain was the result. They are struggling.
Extremes are not sustainable and ALWAYS end badly.
Set point weight.
Before I end this post, I want to talk a little about set point weight.
Set point weight is a theory that our bodies get used to and really like a certain weight that we are at and it will do whatever it can to maintain that weight.
For example, I’ve been hovering at 157 for a long time. Like, it seems like forever. I’ve made changes, I’ve adjusted my fasting schedule, I’ve adjusted what I’m eating and drinking, and no matter what I do, my body will find a way to get me to 157.
When I look at my Happy Scale App, the number on the scale is always about the same, 157ish. There have been a few days when my weight has dipped to about 156/155, but the very next day, I’m back up to 157. And, there was really no reason for my weight to go up. I didn’t eat a lot the day before and I didn’t have any alcohol, it just went up when, in theory, it should be going down.
It appears that 157 might be my body’s new “happy place”? Now, it’s not MY new happy place, but it seems like my body really likes this number and it is doing everything it can to stay here.
Thanks again body!
So, what does this mean? Am I destined to be 157 forever?
No. Not even a little bit.
I like to think about the set-point weight as a branch that’s hard to break. You hold up the branch, you use all your might, you bend it and bend it and bend it, and after much work, and maybe a few sweat beads, the branch finds its breaking point and finally snaps in half.
That’s the same idea when it comes to set-point weight. Your body hangs on to that weight with all its might, but after so many positive adjustments to your fasting schedule, what you eat and maybe some exercise, your body finally gives in (finds it’s breaking point) and loses a bunch of weight.
People in the IF community call this the “whoosh”. Out of nowhere, your body “whooshes” and loses several pounds at once. (I’m really looking forward to a whoosh! Body, please whoosh!!!)
Side note: I just came back from a two-week vacation and during that vacation, I very intermittently intermittent fasted. And, while I didn’t eat the world while I was away, I did indulge in lots of ice cream and martinis on the daily. When I got home, I told myself, “Do not weigh yourself. Do not weigh yourself. Do not weigh yourself.” But, why listen to me? So, against every grain in my being, I decided to weigh myself. Can you guess what I weighed? Yeah…157. OMG!!!! Why body, WHY?????
To me, homeostasis and set-point weight are very closely related. While set point weight is really just a theory, I feel there is some validity to it (I mean, 157!). Maybe it’s the same as homeostasis? Maybe not. But both processes can cause a setback, make us feel like we’re failing on our journeys, and cause us to throw in the towel.
Knowing and moving forward.
The more you know, right? Now that you know that these processes exist, and that they could be the reason for a stall, we can better assess what might be going on and make changes that will have a positive result.
- Are you interested in intermittent fasting but don’t know how to get started? Read my 5 Easy Steps to Start Intermittent Fasting post and get started today!
- Is it safe to workout while intermittent fasting? Check out my Is working out while intermittent fasting safe? to find out!
- Sometime si just like to share random tips that make big impacts. Read up on my 2 Budget Tips – Never Go Over Budget Again!
Disclaimer: The information in this email is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the stuckassdown blog.