SHOULD one lose lbs beyond what the body sees as it's 'normal' weight?
May 11, 2016 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I know that everyone is different, but I think everyone has that wieght where if you were to eat a cupcake you suddenly gain 5 lbs. That weight where your body just says- nope.. I don't like being this skinny- and then it does everything it can to go back to what it considers 'normal'. For me- at only 5'2 I have large 40" hips- (trim and flat stomach) and that's my body's normal...

Note: I've never had kids so my hips were just always large. Sure... if I pig out because my friends want to try every desert place in town while they're visiting the city, my hips can grow larger than 40", but I'd usually have to pig out for at least a couple of weeks for them to get much bigger than that. Then if I go back to eating normally it goes back to 40" with ease. However, if I work out a lot and go down to 39" if I so much as eat some candy I gain that inch back in days. I have read that someone of my short stature should ideally have hips that are somewhere between 33 & 36" depending on their bone structure, there is simply no way I could ever go down to 36". My body would not allow that ever. The question is, should I even bother trying to trim my hips and thighs considering I already eat healthy, (mostly veggies and salads with some protein). sleep well and work out twice a week? After all, what's the point if I can't maintain it? I can't possibly maintain working out 6 days a week. Inevitably something happens or gets in the way and the weight comes right back pretty quickly.

Is there something I'm missing? Something more I can do that is MAINTAINABLE? Would a nutritionist be able to help or will they see that my waist is already trim and feel there's nothing they can really do? Trying to see if it's better to keep trying or to just let it be.
posted by rancher to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What we don't know about weight loss is enormous. There are theories about set point, and new data about how dieting can actually mess that up (there was an article on the blue last week about what we learned from The Biggest Loser, basically, it's nearly impossible to maintain weight loss.).

If you are healthy, learn to love yourself as is, I chased that dragon in my youth and all I got was fatter and fatter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:13 AM on May 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think almost everyone has certain areas where it's very difficult to lose weight/inches. Like, my hips and butt are small but I'm pretty sure I would have to be near death from starvation before I would have a "thigh gap."

Only you can decide whether having hips an inch or two smaller is worth the effort.
posted by mskyle at 9:15 AM on May 11, 2016

Some of us have butts. It's okay.
posted by myselfasme at 9:19 AM on May 11, 2016 [17 favorites]

It's really easy to be overweight while eating healthy -- postpartum sleep deprivation had me packing on quite a lot of extra pounds solely off stuff like enormous pita sandwiches stuffed with fresh veg and other healthy fare. How much do you actually weigh? Weight plus hip measurement is not really a lot of information to go off of here if the question is "am I at what most authorities would consider a healthy size"?

Caloric intake is much more important as far as weight loss/maintenance goes than exercise, so I wouldn't fuss over not being able to work out six days a week, etc.

I've found that the weight one's body likes to think it should be at scales up quite a bit as one ages, so I don't know that I'd put a lot of stock in the theory that the body has a set weight it knows it should be at -- or else it would be considered healthy and normal to fatten with age. Unfortunately for me and my love of cheese, this is not actually the case, HAES aside... As a young person I was noted for being able to stuff my face and be skinny; as a middle-aged person I have to pay attention to portion size if I want to be able to do up my pants (shirts...coats...everything). The approach I need to take to food to maintain my "normal" weight has changed radically over the years.
posted by kmennie at 9:21 AM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of people want to believe that there are immutable formulae for having a "healthy body," and the reason the science is so confusing around this is that there's no such thing. God didn't come down from heaven and bestow us with bodies we could take care of in A, B and C ways to make sure we'll never get X, Y or Z diseases. Our bodies are just the current stage of an evolutionary process, there is no "Healthy and Fit for the 21st century" telos. I've tried different approaches to dieting-- letting my body "tell me" when it's hungry, ignoring my body, only eating at predetermined times, etc., and what it has taught me is that my body is stupid and doesn't know my dress size.

A lot of people will go on various diets (paleo, which I'm actually on, is a huge one) and evangelize to everyone that that is the One True Way to make your body as small as possible. And it very well may be, but you're correct that once you fail or drop off in some way, the weight is coming back. I think it's likely that our bodies have set points and it's very difficult to put your body in a constant state of starvation stress to make sure your hips are under control, but that's not a popular thing to say.

I'm the same as kmennie: the older I get, the harder I have to work to fit into my wardrobe. It sucks and it goes against all the messaging that dieting should be natural or easy or about banishing cravings forever, but our bodies aren't designed to be any particular way.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:25 AM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

With regard to the "set point," the late Seth Roberts did a fair bit of self-experimentation around this idea and came up with what he called the "flavor-calorie hypothesis." His weight loss plan based on consuming flavorless calories, which he called the Shangri-La Diet, got some Ask MetaFilter love back in the day.

N.B. I was having success with the diet back then but went off it, and have of course since gained everything back and more.
posted by kindall at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not hip size that I would be particularly worried about, it's waist size that can be an indicator of health risks. Waist circumferences greater than 35in for women put women at risk for heart disease, diabetes, etc. Abdominal and visceral fat (the fat that is cumulating around organs, not like in your butt) is what can cause health problems if they become excessive. Some research say waist to hip ratio is important, but pear shaped bodies have shown to be more protective than Apple shaped. (But there are still studies on that verdict so I wouldn't take that as set in stone.)

As a soon to be RD, I would say go see an RD if it is something that is really bothering you. My advice would be to stop measuring your hips as often, we can drive ourselves crazy with small changes in numbers and it could be due to inaccurate measuring through the day. Weight fluctuates throughout the day as well. My biggest goal for my patients is to not have them stepping on the scale or measuring themselves every single day or after a weekend of eating--it frustrates them and doesn't really help them with their weight loss goals.
posted by buttonedup at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think everybody has multiple "set points". I'm 5'2". When I weighed 155, it was easy for me to be at that weight, and I would hardly bounce up and down from it by more than a few pounds.

Then I wanted to lose weight. I was successful using calorie counting (and using the "If It Fits Your Macros" way of figuring out what to eat, which basically says eat whatever you want as long as it has the right combination of macros) and exercised 3 times a week. I lost weight down to 136. It was difficult starting the weight loss, and I spent several weeks at 136 before I decided to stop losing weight (for scheduling reasons). I definitely feel better at 136 and I'm noticeably smaller everywhere.

That was 6-8 months ago. I've since stopped dieting and been eating whatever I want (just making sure to not gorge myself), and I have stayed at around 134-138 without any problems. The key, though, was that I still eat similar types of food (lots of protein, some fat, a little carbs). I don't work out, other than walking around to run errands.

If/when I try to lose weight again in the future, I think I would need to lose 10-20 pounds again in order to find my next "set point". But I suspect I would (again) have to permanently alter my diet in order to do so, and I'm not sure I'm ready to eat less carbs yet. (In my ideal world, I'd like to be 110 to 120, but it's not the most important thing on my to do list right now.)

Also, there's no way you can eat a cupcake and actually gain 5 pounds of fat. Most of those 5 pounds are water weight and would go away once your body realize it doesn't have extra fat to store. There are a ton of things your body does with water, so it's common to go 4-6 weeks dieting without seeing results and then see it "whoosh" off all at once. Or alternatively, lose several pounds when you start dieting, see no progress, and then when you pause the diet just one day, it all comes back. (Because the weight lost is often lost due to going into keto mode, and as soon as you eat more, your body stores the water again. And also, you're unlikely to see measurement changes with water weight, but just feel more or less bloated.)

Also, the big health indicators are waist size and waist to hip ratio. I'd compare those against the health standards, rather than worry about hip size.
posted by ethidda at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you're healthy and don't have a higher-risk waist, I'm not sure that there's a problem aside from a vague notion you have of what your hips "should" be. If I were you, I'd have a body composition test done and stop worrying about this completely unless you find out you're overfat, and then go from there with a professional's help.
posted by hollyholly at 9:48 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have read that someone of my short stature should ideally have hips that are somewhere between 33 & 36" depending on their bone structure

I can say as a very short grown woman that I don't think the charts (BMI or whatever hip BS you read) have got us figured out. I might be the same height as my 8 y/o niece but I sure as shit am not built like her. Personally I don't think staying on the very restrictive diet that gets me to low-normal BMI is tenable, because if I slip up and eat normally, I like instantly gain. Not worth it to me. In fact, I think dieting in what felt like a very unnatural way was the worst thing I ever did to my body.

Are you healthy? Active? Feeling good? Numbers okay at the doctor's office? Do you get proper nutrition, with the protein and fats and vitamins and fiber and whatnot? (A dietician can help with that last one, and it's a worthwhile investment regardless of size.)

You owe it to yourself to be healthy. You don't owe society a "perfect" (by whose standards?) bod.
posted by kapers at 9:50 AM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

1. It is not possible to exist in our society without somebody criticizing your body. Not even if you're an Olympic athlete. Especially not if you're an Olympic athlete.

2. It is, in fact, healthy and normal to gain some weight as you grow older. In particular, the BMI where you're least likely to die increases with age.

3. No matter how healthy you become, you will not live forever.
posted by yarntheory at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your body adjusts to inputs and outputs, 2nd ethidda.

Some regain is likely if inputs and outputs are unmonitored. I think there are ways to monitor and modify inputs and outputs that are not necessarily painful (for some people), it's a question of finding a psychologically and physically sustainable plan.

n=1 here, a case study for you... My adult "set point", with a sedentary lifestyle, no restriction on food type or amount (eating convenience food and home-cooked food), was always ~135-140, at 5'7. So, that changed abruptly - meds prompted a sharp gain (via ^ hunger and maybe some tweaks to metabolism, unclear), shot up to almost 200, with the same lifestyle. Went off the meds; moved to a more walkable city, no other exercise and no change in diet - weight settled at 170. Couple of years after that, it hovered between that and 150, depending on activity (no change in diet). From ~170ish, dropped down to 125 with changes to diet and exercise. (Diet = lower GI, around 1900-2200 calories; exercise = 20-60 minutes of cardio 4-5 days a week, with a few days of fairly vigorous cardio in there, and some less intensive cardio). I want to also say that my actual goal at the time was just to get to 150, and what ended up happening was that my body just went to 125 by eating that way and doing that amount of activity. I maintained that - without discomfort - for five years. It was really no effort once I had a routine. So! Outputs changed when I got injured (no more cardio), while the input stayed the same. With this set of variables, my body likes to be at 140.

I could lose more weight by changing my diet (or doing a loooooot more cardio), but that would involve too many tradeoffs that would make me sad (i.e., more chicken than I want to eat, and not enough steak).

What is worth it to me is reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass (because of this - being a normal weight but carrying not enough lean mass has the same risks as weighing too much. You haven't mentioned your weight or info about muscles etc, but that might be useful info). It's possible to increase lean mass by eating the amount of calories required to sustain your current weight, getting enough protein, and lifting weights.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:08 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Some people are just bottom-heavy, and if you otherwise have a healthy BMI and body fat percentage, it's not necessarily an issue health-wise. That said, the ways in which your bottom-heaviness play out depend on your weight and your body composition, though. I've always had wide hips regardless of my weight, but when I was leaner I had a thigh gap and no saddlebags. Now that I'm slightly overweight, I have prominent saddlebags. It's frustrating because it's a different sort of pear-shaped. It was also a hint that I had an unhealthily low amount of lean mass.

Definitely consider getting a body composition test done - I'm like you in that I've had similar troubles in getting my weight below 5-pounds-overweight, and I found out that I have a very high body fat percentage, which I'm addressing with strength training. I already know that being leaner won't give me narrow hips, but it might give me a shape that I'm a bit happier with, and it might be the answer for you as well.
posted by blerghamot at 10:08 AM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think the idea of a body's "set point" has an inherent flaw - it gives too much credit to the sensation of hunger. I go into a bit of a rant about my philosophy on hunger below, but the TLDR is that we choose what we eat, we shouldn't let hunger choose what we eat.

I think mastering the body's sensation of hunger, then choosing to eat the fuel that will get you to your bodies goal, is a surefire way to have the body you want.

The sensation of hunger is not gravity - there are many ways to bend it, to distract it, to fool it.

I think that many discussions about a body's "set point" are over-personifying the sensation of hunger. Hunger is not a rule. However the lack of a mastery over the sensation of hunger is what causes anyone to fail their fitness goals. If you are above your ideal weight, it is because you gave into the sensation of hunger.

If your goal weight is low, routinely fool your hunger sensation. Drink a cup of water before eating. Eat unsalted popcorn instead of any other snack, with chili powder or thyme.

Don't use excuses like holidays or vacations for the sense of hunger to overcome your willpower. Recognize that food is fuel.

If your sense of hunger is justified by "needing nutrients to be healthy" - calculate those nutrients. Make sure your intake is met in your smaller diet.

Do you lack the self control to curb snacking, or not have the time to find a healthy diet? Use soylent 2.0 to drink the 1200 or 1600 calories you need a day. Stop eating any other foods. Stop drinking any alcohol. Allow someone else to decide, not you, what is best for your body.

And finally, no, one cheeseburger does not make someone gain 5 pounds. Calories make people gain pounds. It's math. The math is made very, very fuzzy by constantly fluctuating water weight. One aspect of this is that when starting a diet, bodies tend to shed water weight - up to 20 lbs. Then, a week later, the water weight begins to return, so many dieters become disenfranchised with their diets - it's obviously not working - they are GAINING weight day over day.

Would love feedback about my rant if anyone reads it :)
posted by bbqturtle at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

It is the only body you will ever have. Treat it with love and respect. Find activities that you enjoy doing and eat healthy foods you enjoy eating.

I have read that someone of my short stature should ideally have hips that are somewhere between 33 & 36" depending on their bone structure

Why "should" they be that size? According to what? For what reason?

Secrets From the Eating Lab came out this year with her research on diets and it really addresses a lot of your questions. I'd recommend it. Here is a recent article the author wrote.
posted by jillithd at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

You have the same body shape as my grandmother, who was considered a great beauty.

I certainly have some plateaus where my body won't easily move up or down from. Unfortunately, I can be both too skinny and too fat, and normal, and "normal" for me takes both a ton of exercise and a ton of food. Maybe it's because I trained a lot in my teens?

This morning I heard on the radio that a new study determines that overweight people (BMI 27) live longer than both normal weight, skinny and fat people. They interviewed the head of the research program, and he was very surprised himself.
posted by mumimor at 10:23 AM on May 11, 2016

bbqturtle - I'm guessing from your rant that you are a man and possibly that you are under 40. The advice to ignore hunger, drink water before a meal, and eat unsalted airpopped popcorn as a filling snack was perhaps revolutionary in 1960 but it's pretty much the message that women have been inundated with in every publication for the last 60 years.

We pretty much know that if this advice works at all, it is for a select few.

It's also not supported that well by research but I will leave you to follow the links jillithd posted. Another book on the interesting relationship between hunger and eating is Mindless Eating.

Anyways, OP, I'm not clear on why you're using hip measurements as a goal. But I will say that I'm from a bottom-heavy family and my body would like to join my genetic heritage in becoming lots bigger after 45 and what helps me the most is strength training, running and biking. I am hungrier doing that and I actually weigh a bit more than my sort of goal weight but it's muscular and I feel strong and healthy and my pants hang better.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:25 AM on May 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

The current theory behind this is, as I understand it:
By the time you reach your peak weight, you have built up a certain number of fat cells, all of which are full-sized and happy. As you then lose weight, you don't lose any fat cells, the ones you have just each shrink in size. These shrunken fat cells each emit a chemical signal telling your body to eat more, because each one wants to get full sized again. Taken en masse they are effectively voting for more calories. That is why your body has a tendency to return to the last peak weight and why it is easier to maintain an ideal weight if you have never been overweight or if your peak weight was not too high.

This theory argues in favor of lipo, as that actually does remove fat cells from your body, so they lose their votes. It's quite dangerous for an elective procedure though, and inconvenient, which is why I've never done it.
posted by w0mbat at 12:11 PM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

To answer your question, no. Your normal weight is your normal weight. I am a little chunky, but don't consider myself fat. Every. single. time I get a breast exam, the doctor comments on my "dense tissue." And because I have dense tissue, what shows up on the scale is higher than people might guess. And the doctor then looks at her pretty chart on the wall and says "OMG, you fall in the obese category! You're a bad person!" And then she'll give me the exact. same. lecture on how I should start dieting and eating more salads. (Actually at the moment I am now just one pound below what is considered "obese," and darned if I can keep it there so as not to get the lecture again!!)

And at the same time, I have a friend who is more overweight than I; she has a large frame and looks "fat." And yet she's WAY more athletic than I am, can swim 25 laps when I can only do 3, leaps and bounds up the stairs and tap dances and is very confident and comfortable in her body.

Life is short. Don't starve yourself unnaturally.
posted by Melismata at 12:53 PM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

And finally, no, one cheeseburger does not make someone gain 5 pounds. Calories make people gain pounds. It's math. The math is made very, very fuzzy by constantly fluctuating water weight. One aspect of this is that when starting a diet, bodies tend to shed water weight - up to 20 lbs. Then, a week later, the water weight begins to return, so many dieters become disenfranchised with their diets - it's obviously not working - they are GAINING weight day over day.

Would love feedback about my rant if anyone reads it :)

Right on, bbqturtle, about this point. Water weight fluctuates ENORMOUSLY every day. I ate some really salty food one night and the next morning my weight was up five pounds. And don't get me started on retaining water during various times of the month and/or perimenopause. It really is a thing.
posted by Melismata at 1:04 PM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is a tricky, loaded question, and I am coming at this from the point of view of someone who struggles with healthy body image despite being very thin:

Why do you care about your hip measurements? Is it health? Is it aesthetics?

If it's for health reasons, just be as healthy as you can and fuck the measurements. Work out with athletic/non looks related goals, eat healthily because you want to eat healthily, not in order to lose weight. We all have places where we cannot lose fat safely or healthily, and for a woman, carrying weight below the waist does not have the same health implications as having a big belly and is also considered by many to be a desirable body type.

If your goal weight is low, routinely fool your hunger sensation. Drink a cup of water before eating. Eat unsalted popcorn instead of any other snack, with chili powder or thyme.

Did I stumble onto a pro-ana tumblr? Good lord.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:42 PM on May 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yes, most women have tried the "be constantly hungry" diet at some point in their lives and found it untenable for a reason.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:25 PM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Should? No.

If you're healthy and reasonable active, there's no medical reason to lose weight. If you want to do this for aesthetic purposes, well, that's up to you. Just having wide hips doesn't mean you're fat. From how you describe yourself, I'm guessing this is more of a bone structure thing than a weight thing.

However, if you actually have fat deposits there that are hard to shift, and you reeeeeaaally hate them, you might look into CoolSculpting. It's an outpatient procedure that freezes the fat cells under your skin and kills them so it's sort of like lipo but without invasive surgery. It's not cheap, but it's apparently quite effective.
posted by ananci at 5:53 PM on May 11, 2016

I know what you mean about the cupcake 5 pounds thing, that happens to me too!

Anyway, I am a little bit late to the party with my answer, but I feel I have a lot to add. I am not an expert, but I have made a study of this type of thing and taken copious amounts of notes etc. I have no scientific evidence, just my own experience of how my body reacts.

Here are some ideas that I have read up on that might give you some insight into how your body may or may not work.Here are some truths I have learned about me.

1) Where you gain weight first is where you will lose it last. For me that is my hips. I will get slim all over before I finally lose weight on my hips, and yup, its the first place my body adds padding if I gain an ounce.

2) Set points. You can only move 10% in any direction weight wise before your body freaks out or hits a plateau. If you only focus on losing 10% at a time, and then just accept the plateau- and do what you need to do to stay at this new number, then eventually it will become the next set point. After you have hung out there for a while then you can attempt another 10% and so on and so forth. But this method is not fast and furious.... you have to ignore all those instagram girls that are showing what you can do in 6 weeks etc. Just ignore them.

Unless you are willing to devote yourself to copious amounts of weight lifting, it takes a long time to slim down the way you want. That hip fat is there for a reason, to make healthy babies, and it doesn't care that you live in modern times.

BUT- if you just keep at it, slowly but surely, you can lean out.

I took very detailed notes at one point, my hips, thighs (each one) and waist and wrote down what my measurements were at what particular weight, and I can tell you that my thighs are only 19 inches if I weigh 115 pounds, that is just how it is... unfortunately, I only weight 115 if I am working a lot of hours and walking a lot. Also, my cellulite pretty much disappears at a certain weight but is very obvious at another... both in a fairly small window.... But I find my normal weight and measurements very very acceptable and I feel very good about my body and in a bikini...I wouldn't have said that when I was younger. So there is hope. Lots of luck!

ps- At the moment I am expecting my second baby in a year and my hips are HUUUUUUGGGGGEEEEE but I am not freaking out because slowly but surely I know I can work my way back.

36 inches, to me seems a bit small btw.
posted by catspajammies at 10:27 AM on May 12, 2016

I'm not pro Ana at all. I just think that we can rationally choose what we should eat, not let a biological signal choose what we do. People should choose to eat healthy foods that fit their goals and lifestyles.

Just like, despite sometimes having other urges in life, like the urge to cheat on a spouse or go on a shopping spree, finding ways to ignore that urge is seen as a good idea. I don't think the urges to eat in excess should be any different.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2016

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