(Alternate child-of-the-80s title: “Homeo Don’t Play Dat.”)
I’m still reading Health at Every Size — such slow going, thanks to a massive amount of assigned reading for school these days. I’ve been ruminating on a section early in the book, where the author talks about the obsession with food as being characteristic of an unhealthy attempt to control what is really an involuntary process: food intake and weight regulation. She says that the human body is designed to maintain homeostasis (or equilibrium) in regulating food, just as it is in other areas like temperature and respiration. The book has a lot of sciencey things to say about the hypothalmus and leptin and metabolism and how the whole process works, but what I’ve mainly come away with is:
Your body tries to maintain your fat at the level at which you are designed to function best (not necessarily a size 4 or even 24, however). Your body is strongly invested in helping you maintain this healthy and relatively consistent weight, and it has amazingly efficient mechanisms in place to pull off this feat. …
All you folks who have dieted or exercised with gusto, only to regain the weight, listen up! You did not fail to keep the weight off because you are lazy, weak, or undisciplined. It’s not because you didn’t want it badly enough. You regained that weight because the contributors to your body weight, such as what, when, and how much you eat, as well as how you expend energy (including your inclination to move), are not completely under conscious control. …
Losing weight is not about finding the perfect proportions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat or tricking yourself into feeling satisfied. Rather, maintaining the right weight for you is about respecting your hunger and trusting your body to guide you in doing what’s best. (bold emphasis mine)
I’ve been thinking about this concept of homeostasis, about how God designed my body to regulate itself — for my body to be the driver when it comes to food and movement, and for me to pay attention and respond to its cues instead of strong-arming it into doing what I think it’s supposed to do, which will inevitably fail. It’s such an enormous, difficult concept to understand, in a society where our concept of food and nutrition is shaped by message after message about dieting and weight-loss and making our bodies shrink shrink shrink.
So I’m trying to think through this concept of homeostasis in terms of something less controversial, and I’ve come up with two parallels. The first is temperature: My body comes with its own heating and cooling system to keep me at a fairly constant, comfortable temperature. If I get too cold, my body runs the Goosebumps and Shivering programs to warm things up, and if I get too hot, my body runs Sweat and Move As Little As Possible to cool things down. It’s up to me to make sensible choices based on the cues I’m getting from my body: If I notice that the Goosebumps and Shivering programs are running, I can choose to give my body what it’s asking for by putting on a sweater. How ridiculous would it be if, instead of going along with my body’s self-regulation attempts, I decided to skip the sweater and told my body that it just needed to get used to operating at a lower temperature than the one it was designed for – and, when eventually I either got frostbite or caved in and put on a sweater, I berated myself for my lack of willpower?
The second parallel has to do with the concept of obsession as being a sign that my body’s needs aren’t being met in some way. Sleep is a good image of this for me: now, as long as I try to get myself to bed when I need to (which may be earlier or later based on how I’m feeling that evening), I pretty much get up in the morning, have my coffee, and then go the rest of the day without thinking about sleep until it’s bedtime again. This certainly hasn’t always been the case, though — when my children were infants and not yet sleeping through the night, I was so exhausted and sleep-deprived that I thought about when I could go back to bed pretty much constantly. When I did finally get to lie down, it was still torturous because I was haunted by the fact that before I’d slept for long, my baby would be awake again and I’d have to get up. There was no pleasure whatsoever in going to sleep, but it was a constant obsession.
Now, though, I enjoy sleep, and I do things to make it pleasurable – soft pillows, cushy blankets, whatever; I don’t treat it like an exercise in austerity – but it’s just one experience of my day. I’m looking forward to the day that I can feel that way about food, too:
Food is simple now. I appreciate the sensuality and pleasure of eating. When I am full, I typically lose interest in food. … When I finish eating, I rarely think about food until I am hungry again.