Coping with Panic: Stop. Just Wait a Minute.

One of the first things that happens when we panic is that our brain rushes to and prepares for the worst case scenario without an accurate assessment of whether or not the worst will happen.  This is why when many of us panic, we worry that we will be as big as a house or at least an elephant if we don’t do something RIGHT NOW.  Given the size of a house or an elephant, this isn’t likely, but we worry nonetheless.

I have talked to many, many people who struggle with their weight, and this worry seems to be fairly universal.

However, it is my experience that our bodies have a built in system for regulation that does a pretty good job of keeping us within a certain weight range.  Once I stopped dieting and simply focused on getting regular exercise and eating food that is both pleasurable and nourishing to my body, I lost about ten pounds and pretty much stayed there.  Contrary to all popular wisdom, I didn’t keep gaining weight.  I didn’t “balloon up”, or grow “big as a house”.  And lest you believe this experience is unique to me, there is quite a bit of science to back up this idea.

Most of us, tend to stay within a 10-20 pound range that is normal for us.  This “normal” weight may be thin, average or heavy, and is influenced by a variety of factors (the most important of which is heredity but may also include culture, psychology, habits and many other factors).  In any case, to stray significantly from our “average” range is a lot of work for most of us.  That’s why significant weight loss tends to be fleeting.  And that’s why once we each reach our personal “normal” weight, we don’t tend to get too much heavier.   This scientific concept is called “set point”

Please note that this is not true in every single case.  There are always exceptions–especially when specific medical and metabolic disorders are involved.  But the vast majority of us tend to hover around a specific weight range unless we diet very dramatically, or overeat very dramatically.  It’s also important to note that some people who have a “normal” weight that is far above what the height weight charts say they should be, are not eating any more that those in the “thin range” in the charts.  No matter how much folks in the “thin range” lord it over the larger folks, saying they are thin because of their morally superior engagement in healthy behaviors, their behavior may be identical to a naturally heavy person in the “higher range” of the charts.

I know.  You’re saying–yeah, right.  She just wants to make excuses for eating chocolate chip cookies.  What does she know?  And if you’re saying that–good.  It means your rational mind is starting to creep back, and you’re beginning to make evaluations based on logic instead of just believing what people tell you.  So in order to feed your logical mind, here are some links to some articles that will give you “food for thought”.

A nice PDF about set point from MIT Medical.
A Brief about a prison study demonstrating set point.

There is a very good section regarding this topic in Gina Kolata’s Book

While not everybody agrees with every element of set point theory, most agree that going on a wildly restricted, low-calorie plan will result in short-term weight loss, at best.  And chances are, if you take 15 minutes or even a day or two to think things over, your weight will stay pretty much the same.

This is a very important fact to keep in mind as you are facing screaming, hysterical panic about your weight.  Because, when you are facing this panic, it’s most important to stop, take a deep breath and deal with the panic FIRST before you take any action regarding your weight.  Wait.  Breathe.  Study.  Contemplate.  Take a walk as I suggested yesterday.  For heaven’s sake, gather some facts before you go on the next all meat, all grapefruit, all cabbage diet or stop eating all together, or take some unregulated metabolism enhancing herbal supplement or barely regulated new weight loss wonder drug, or get a major, life altering surgery.

Just wait a minute, why don’t you?  Take a deep breath and consider  your options.  Let your rational mind consider your next move and let your panic-filled lizard brain have a rest.  You’ll be glad you did.

Love,
The Fat Chick

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