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Why I'm inclined to think that most people's weight is relatively unmalleable - Input Junkie
June 11th, 2009
06:36 pm


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Why I'm inclined to think that most people's weight is relatively unmalleable
Personal experience, of course. I've switched to a low glycemic diet (not especially low carb) because I discovered and then stably convinced myself that eating noticeable amounts of refined carbs left me feeling moderately crappy and had bad emotional effects.

More recently, I've been mostly eating until I feel well-nourished and then stopping. Well-nourished is a pleasant feeling in my lower right abdomen. It isn't on the hungry-fed-full-overfed-stuffed continuum which correlates excellently with not feeling hungry for quite a while. Making that change from my previous habit of eating until I felt full enough that eating more was no longer a pleasure was a surprising amount of work--enough that I'm not sure I can call it an easy default, though it seems pretty close to a habit now. It might be enough work that it doesn't count as an easy default, though it wouldn't surprise me if some people (probably not the majority) start out eating that way.

I'm surprised at how much less I eat-- a half pound of cheese (with some bread or salad) hangs round for an unspecified number of meals instead of evaporating in a meal or two. Likewise for a pound of meat.

My weight is the same.

I might be weird that way-- my impression is that there are a lot of people whose weight swings 10 or 20 pounds plus and minus without them doing anything obvious to change their eating or exercise. My weight has never done that.

(11 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:June 11th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
I was the same weight all through high school. Over time, once my skeleton finished developing, I set at a new, different weight - to the point that I would meet a new nurse, and say "I'm gonna weigh about this much", and be right to within five pounds despite usually not having been on a scale since the previous time I was at the doctor's office.

One thing to keep in mind here: I have never tried to actively change my weight, whether for reasons of social pressure or health; partly because I lucked into a physique that does not get a lot of that pressure (I suspect in general I'd be healthier if I weighed 5-10 pounds more than my standard set, honestly; perhaps my pregnancy will shift my set point). It's my understanding that doing so often, certainly to the frequency that is considered mainstream-normal, will frequently disrupt what the body considers its stable points, either destabilising them or moving them around (frequently upwards).

These set points have been fairly stable for me through periods of depression (when I tend to forget to eat on a regular basis) and varieties of diet (from a fairly healthy for Americans but still meat-and-potatoes diet to the more actually-containing-vegetables that I have now), as well as differences in scheduling meals and related habits.

To what extent I'm representative of how bodies react, I don't know; my anecdata appears to largely match yours.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
Popular wisdom claims that there's a strong gender component here, with women being much less inclined to lose weight. I have no data, though.

My weight is reasonably stable now, but it's climbed by a couple of pounds each year for 20 years. But changing country has shifted my weight by 30 lbs twice now - upwards going to the US, downwards living outside it for a few months, so I suspect I wouldn't back up your anecdata.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
It's a messy theory. I can believe that the easy default weight changes in different environments.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC)
My mother, sister, and I were talking today. All of us, our weights fluctuate a good fifteen pounds in a month, just normally. We also don't lose weight when we exercise -- we turn fat into muscle, we lose VOLUME, but our mass remains about the same. All of us Beckers are like that. My grandfather fits into his varsity college sweater, still. Mind you, he was a Big 10 Conference linebacker then, but he still weighs about the same. More of it is fat now than it was then -- but he's still a pretty strong guy, especially for an eighty-mumbledy year old.

On the other hand, the guy who we're hiring us to help with yardwork -- he's retired, but works around the neighborhood for $20/hour doing yardwork. He had a job driving trucks for the City of Melrose until he retired a couple years back; since then, he's lost thirty, forty pounds.

Why? Because he changed from 40 hours/week of driving trucks to 40+ hours/week of physical labor. He doesn't eat any more than he did then, and burns hundreds of thousands of calories more, so his body's reshaped itself to a new set point, in order to work with his NEW lifestyle.

I think people's weights are relatively unmalleable within a lifestyle. I think that people's bodies optimize themselves for whatever they are asked to do most often. If you live a lifestyle in which more muscle mass would be useful, your body will do that. If you don't, it won't.

But if you change your lifestyle, your body will change to match.

It's just . . . for most of us, we're pretty comfortable with our lifestyles. I don't WANT to do physical labor for 40+ hours a week. I MIGHT want to do physical labor for, maybe, FIVE hours a week. If I find myself enjoying that, then my body will change itself to match THAT lifestyle.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC)
I'd concur. Upping my exercise level usually makes me gain weight at first, then it stabilizes (or eventually goes back down, depending on intensity and where it was before). Moving to Europe, I lost weight - more walking. Moving to Asia I've gained - no idea why as I still walk more than I did in the US and I work out as much, but weight gain is very common among expats here. Right now I'd like to be about 3-5 kg lower, but I'm not sweating it becuase I suspect it will happen on its own when I eventually move back to the US.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
I generally agree with you: most people seem to have a weight that their body will settle at. It changes slowly as we age -- e.g., I put on ~40% more body mass in my early 20s, going from a twig to a average-sized person, and have leveled out again; these changes were irrespective of significant variation in how much I ate and exercised.

It seems like some modifications really do affect the 'set' weight. My old housemate, worried that he was gaining 5-10 pounds a year, switched from soda to diet soda; he promptly lost 10 pounds ('promptly' meaning over the next six months or so) and stabilized at a new weight. It was higher than his old, but his physical activity was much lower, too. Having that extra dose of soda calories, which his body somehow wasn't accounting for, was making him put on weight.

Another friend of mine, a bit over 250 at 5'8", decided he wanted to be skinnier. In an astounding display of discipline, he modified his diet and added 5-10 miles of running (I forget the exact amount) to his daily routine. He lost 90 pounds (of which he's regained about 20, ten years on). Ridiculous! But it was a clear case of diet and exercise actually having a huge impact.

On the flip side I have another friend who is a bit over 400lb who cannot seem to remove any weight even when (he claims) not eating at all; and he certainly does a significant amount of exercise, to the point of breaking machines at the local gym. So perhaps personal variation may make the task of gaining and losing weight harder, or impossible without extreme intervention.

I think if you're eating healthier and feeling better as a result, maybe that's a benefit in itself?
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 01:26 am (UTC)
And here I chime in to skew the bell curve.

When I graduated High School I was about 92 pounds, and 5' 4 1/2".

All through college I ate more than was really necessary, both to maintain my new very active lifestyle and to try to gain waight. I left college 103 pounds and 5'5".

I am now over 40 and am slowly edging up to 110 pounds and am 5' 6".

The heaviest I have ever been was during my college years, it was a Thanksgiving / Christmass holiday - I weighed in at 106.5 !!
Within a week and a half I lost most of that weight.

I would gladly take any and all extra weight you want to send my way!

Fast metabolism and slightly Hyper-active thyroid give me this problem.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
I would love to send you about ten pounds if I could.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
Eating normally and exercising some keeps my weight pretty stable, but it's been stable at a whole range of places between ~185 and ~210, so I'm not really sure what would count as my default weight. If I eat irresponsibly (e.g. college dorm food) it goes up; if I change to exercising more and try to eat the minimum that makes my brain feel fed, it can go down.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 05:32 am (UTC)
My anecdotal evidence: My eating habits have fluctuated a lot in the past few years. I gained 50 lbs. in 3 years (with about half of that being in one year). As soon as I got out of my abusive relationship my weight has stagnanted (within about a 10 lb. rage, which doesn't seem to correlate to anything but perhaps my period), regardless of what I eat. I think it has a lot more to do with emotional/physical stress than food in particular.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)

We're Stuck

I agree, it's mostly metabolic set-points vs. personal mobility. People whose lifestyles make them walk and expend more physical activity have more of an excuse to exercise than people who drive everywhere (whether by choice or requirement) and people who are willing to give up eating what they like will probably have more wright loss than the rest of us who won't. Diets are scams and nutritionists are practitioners of a dark art whose rules change every fortnight.

My metabolism stabilised at fit limbs and a pot belly for over 18 years. I keep to a regular walking regimen and eat when I'm hungry as opposed to what time it is. I rarely pig out and eat out only once in a while. My only reasonable likelihood of significant body mass change is through either liposuction or a tummy tuck; it would probably even lower my blood pressure. But Medicare won't pay for that. Quite possibly they'd pay for stomach stapling, but I'm not going there.
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