In eating disorder recovery, we often use the term ‘overshoot’ when it comes to weight restoration and it is a concept that fills people in recovery, who are already terrified of weight gain, with a deep sense of dread.
Unfortuntately, I do think that the dreaded overshoot in recovery, if we want to get to a state of full mental and physical health, free of the eating disorder, is a necessary part of the deal. In fact, I think that allowing overshoot gives us our best chance at getting over this illness once and for all and who doesn’t want that?
Overshoot seems to me, to be the way our body ensures it can fully repair and heal every last bit of us, inside and out (more about that later).
Firstly though…. In order to understand what the term ‘overshoot’ refers to, it is necessary to understand the concept of ‘set point weight’.
What Is Set Point Weight?
Set point weight theory is the pretty much indisputable fact that every human being on this planet has a unique to them genetic set weight range at which their body functions at its optimum.
Just as we are all different heights and shoe sizes and these things are decided by our genes, so too is our weight and shape. The body knows what this set weight range is and it will use all sorts of very clever mechanisms to try to defend that weight range and keep itself there (e.g. changing our metabolic rate, using hunger signals, shutting down less than essential functions if our weight drops too low etc).
We cannot change what our genetic set point range is. We can force our body below it but it will make us unhealthy and our body will fight to get back to where it wants to be and the same too if we force ourselves above it… We might not like what our genetic set weight is because it might not fit nicely into a BMI category that we or society deem acceptable but we also know that BMI is bullshit and if our set weight is meant to be at a higher BMI then that really is the healthiest weight for us and Mother Nature probably knows better than society.
Yes, we can hold our weight below our natural set point range, but to do so, we would need to continue to restrict and / or compensate for eating (as most of us have for years with a restrictive eating disorder) and live in a body that only functions in survival mode. I think most of us can testify to the fact that that is a pretty miserable way to exist.
The approach to eating disorder recovery that I follow is not to achieve a ‘target weight’ set by a treatment provider who knows nothing about where my body weight naturally sits… (tried that more than once and that did not end well). Instead I know that to recover fully, it is necessary to allow my body to gain to reach its set point weight, determined by my genetics.
I know that if I eat unrestrictedly and rest too that my body will lead me to health. Eating a lot of food and resting will give my body the best chance to gain weight and when it is at a weight that it is happy and can heal fully at, it will do clever things, like change my metabolism and change my hunger signals so that it then defends that weight and does not keep gaining forever. This weight might be higher than I want, but it will be a weight at which I am confident I will have the best physical health and mental freedom and so I say, bring it on!
BUT, as this post is also about overshoot, I must first speak more about this and before I allow my body to settle at its genetic set point weight, I will be expecting and as I wrote about before, even AIMING for ‘overshoot’.
What Is Overshoot?
So, if we accept that our body has this genetically determined set point weight range; in recovery from starvation and malnutrition, it is very often found to be the case that initially the human body, if trusted and allowed to do what it needs to do, will gain ‘over’ that set point for a time.
A human body, in recovery from starvation, will store additional fat supplies in the short term and then come naturally back to the set point weight range when it has finished doing all the healing it needs to do.
And it is not just people recovering from eating disorders who experience this. When we look at the men who were part of the Minnesota Starvation Study in 1944, when allowed to eat freely again (and most of them when permitted then ate thousands of calories a day for months), it was noted that nearly all overshot their pre-starvation weight by on average 10% and over the course of the following 12 months, their bodies came naturally back to the weight range they were before the experiment began.
It would seem that a human body needs to store excess energy as fat for a time post starvation and if you think about it, that makes sense.
Firstly, as far as our body is concerned, we have been through a starvation period for a long time… it does not know why or if there will be another period of food scarcity coming and so initially it is going to store any excess energy it is given as fat in a way that it can access it again quickly if it needs to when the next famine strikes. At this stage, most of us experience a greater proportion of fat distribution around our mid-sections (the belly and butt) and for a time we have what might be described as a ‘toddler body’!
If the body finds it has been getting more than adequate fuel for a while with no signs of another famine, then it will start to feel a bit safer to use some of that excess energy stored as fat to do more internal repairs to the body parts that have suffered in the time of being underfed.
It will slowly start to use some of the excess energy stores to repair internal organs, build more heart muscle and produce hormones. But some of the repairs it needs to do will require a lot more energy at once and it cannot do all those repairs if it does not have enough building blocks.
So, just like you cannot build a house from only half the bricks you will need to complete it and you might wait until you know you have all the bricks to build the house first, the body will want to ensure that it has enough building blocks in terms of stored fat to build everything else that needs repairing in us before it starts actually using those fat stores and doing the internal work.
If we have trusted our body enough and allowed it to keep gaining weight to the point it wants to gain to (overshoot) then it will really trust us in return and start to use any excess fat stores to repair everything inside of us that we might not even have realised was broken.
As the body uses the excess energy stored as fat over time to repair and fully fix, our weight might start to drop back slightly or redistribute more evenly and settle at the genetic set point range that is the weight at which our body is then able to function optimally and where we are at our healthiest.
There is also significant anecdotal evidence from people who have been through the stages of overshoot and fully trusted their bodies in recovery from an eating disorder, that when they hit ‘overshoot’ and their weight finally settled, the eating disorder thoughts and any residual fear of weight gain also dissipated. It would therefore seem that the the body needs energy surplus and complete physical healing in order for the eating disorder from a mental health side to also completely fade away.
When we do finally get to this point in recovery (note when and not if!) we are the same as every other human on the planet… at a genetic set point weight that our body will then fight to maintain and really, we need to respect it for that and let it maintain it because if we don’t and we try to bring it lower again we risk very certain relapse back to eating disorder hell.
The thing is, we won’t recover from an eating disorder unless we allow our body to gain weight, not just to a low end ‘healthy BMI’ point but to a point that is genetically optimal for our body and unique to us.
And very often, in recovery from starvation, we might well need to allow our body to ‘overshoot’ our genetic set weight range too for a time (possibly a year or more) while it does all the amazing healing and repairs that it is desperate to do to get us as healthy as we can be.
If we want to fully recover and not stay in quasi recovery misery forever more then we have to trust our body to know what it is doing and what weight it needs to be at… And the harsh truth is that that weight is likely not going to be that of a super model.
But as I say to people, if you think about dogs and you compare a whippet and a pug… they are both dogs but you are not going to expect a pug to be the weight and shape of the whippet because genetically it just isn’t! And same too with humans… we are all supposed to be different shapes and sizes and if you are meant to be a pug and not a whippet, well there is nothing wrong with that so embrace it and be proud of it!
I would also brutally question any internal resistance you might be experiencing to the idea of gaining to overshoot. If your brain is now screaming at you a million reasons why gaining to a higher weight is a bad idea, just stop and think about it logically for a minute. The alternative to gaining a bit of weight and living in a bigger body is staying ill with an illness so miserable you are spending time reading this post. The resistance you are feeling is really only the paralysing fear of weight gain that is illogical and caused from the illness – the very thing we need to overcome (through hitting our set point weight and possible overshoot!).
For me, I think that the body is really bloody amazing and ‘overshoot’ might be terrifying but it is also almost certainly the only way through recovery to reach both FULL physical and mental health. And so, I am aiming for overshoot because I don’t want a quasi recovery… I want to be as sure as possible that I have given myself my best possible chance of a full recovery. I am not settling for less and nor should you.
20 replies on “Set Point Weight And ‘Overshoot’ In Eating Disorder Recovery… Why I’m Aiming For Overshoot!”
Thankyou for this. I really enjoyed this post. It makes So much sense I’m scared because of h weight I am now. So never weighed this. Due to being An/ Bulimic for 50 years. I truly don’t know what my set point is. But I don’t want to go back. But I’m still struggling. Hope one day I will let it all go It’s the edema and bloating that I truly hate . I’m still bloated and puffy all over my body. But what you posted really does help me see there is a life without ED. Because I don’t have one with it.
Thanks again for posting this
Thank you so much for your kind comment.
It sounds like you are staying incredibly strong and true to recovery and it’s definitely not easy as we grow! It can be impossible to know what our set point will be. If you were a healthy adult pre ED (as I was) then you might have a clue from your weight and size then but if anorexia was present since teens then that’s often not possible.
At the end of the day, as you say, we can only trust the process and trust our body and know whatever the future holds, it can’t be worse than where we have been. X
I hope you’re ok, and recovering well ♥️ Sending you lots of love xxx
Overshoot is definitely a huge fear of mine. But after reading your rational view of it, it really does make sense why it’s best for our bodies to enter that state for a while in order to become our healthiest selves. Wonderful post!
Thank you so much and it is terrifying, I agree but let’s hope allowing overshoot actually makes it all much less frightening long term and gives the freedom we crave.
[…] intentionally aiming for overshoot, I am hoping to remove the mental gymnastics, the negotiations and the doubts from my brain – […]
Me pregunto entonces si esto se trata solo del peso, de comer y comer y ya está. Si hago eso ya me recuperare?, sería suficiente?
Hi… so I’ve used google translate and I think you are asking if you eat and eat and allow weight gain you will recover?
Ultimately recovery won’t happen unless we gain weight to a point that our weight is stable without our having to restrict on food or compensate with other behaviours. And if we are doing those things (eating without restrictions and not compensating and trusting our body) then we will be rewiring our brains as we do and ultimately in time reach full recovery x
[…] So, each and every time I recognise that the illness is growing stronger, I have to keep pushing against the very fibre of my core that is screaming at me not to eat more, not to rest more and not to break the ‘rules’ of the illness and do again what feels so very wrong…. keeping my mind on my commitment to aim for overshoot and full health. […]
[…] not forget to focus in on all that recovery gives us and remember that our body, in whatever shape or size it becomes, is only ever the wonderful vessel that makes these aspects of our lives much more […]
Hi, thank you so much for this article. I’m trying to recover from 7 years of ED and is struggling because of being scared of overshoot weight. I do have a rather strange question, if everyone has a set point where there bodies natural head towards, why do some people become obese/morbidly obese, where they end up eating themselves to major health complications? I know it’s such a sensitive question but it’s been stuck in my head and stopping me from trying to trust myself to go through with recovery.
Thank you for your comment.
Of course you are scared of overshoot weight and your brain is bringing up any fears or justifications not to gain weight… that’s what eating disordered brains do!
To answer your question, some people are in the obese range because that really is the healthiest for their body and that’s where their body functions best. That’s also why someone can have anorexia at a higher BMI because losing weight for them to a lower but still overweight BMI is enough to trigger their ED predisposition.
When it comes to morbid obesity, some people have what is called leptin resistance, which is when their brain is resistant to leptin (the hormone that tells us when we have eaten enough) and so they rarely feel satisfied and eat excessively. However; this is a separate medical condition that people are usually born with and if you have anorexia, almost certainly not something that you need to worry about: For us, our leptin hormones balance out to give us normal hunger signals again when the body reaches our set weight.
Generally, I’d say go for it in recovery! Keep eating and let yourself go to give yourself the best chance of a full and happy life. If you do find that you get to a place of morbid obesity, you can worry about it (if you even really need to) at that point…!!
Hey there, fought anorexia purging type, partial for over half my life [18 years ish] and finally won. I am in year 4 of solid recovery from all symptoms including compulsive movement. 7 years purge-free. This is such a sneaky eating disorder thought. And whether we want to admit it or not, it is completely driven by fear of weight gain, not fear of compromising one’s health because optimal health is not the state of someone who is compromising their food intake in any way. In fact, even if one is not experiencing visible, tangible health consequences of malnutrition and all the other self harming eating disorder behaviours we engage in at the present moment, their health is being severely compromised already. It’s mind blowing right?
We’re not meeting our body’s basic life needs, hurting ourselves dramatically yet rationalizing continuing to do so on account of possible health consequences related to obesity when we start feeding our bodies normally and no longer allowing the ED have its way with us, our lives, and our health.
Arguably, whatever health consequences MAY come IF you end up “overweight” or obese, are not worse than those you are already experiencing every day as a result of undernourishment- energy restriction of ANY DEGREE.
The truth is too, that a lot of people who are obese are victims of chronic dieting stuck in the restrict binge cycle, their bodies in the starvation mode state and unable to restore their set point because they are actively resorting to restriction.
It is society that is responsible for fears like yours – it feeds the assumption that you are not suffering health consequences if you are not thin or in the “healthy” BMI range.
There are many people overweight and obese healthier than anyone living under their set point weight due to an eating disorder. Hope this helps you step outside the ed thoughts and stop negotiating with an illness that ruins health and lives- a mental illness with the highest mortality rate, a statistic that most ed sufferers feel immune to…
Typo: *** if you ARE thin,
if you are not thin
Couldn’t have said it better myself!! xx
very, very well said!
when i was 12, i developed being eating disorder from stress. i binged for several months. when i turned 13, i became orthorexic, anorexic and bulimic for 2 years.
i am now 14, in recovery, and i have gained so much overshoot, and my appetite is not coming down. i am still ravenous.
i am now over 30 pounds overshoot and still gaining weight because my fullness signals are non exsistent, if i dont eat every moment of the day i am starving.
will it ever stop?
Thank you for your message.
Of course I’m not a professional in this area but I would ask what makes you say your 30 pounds is overshoot? Some people are naturally meant to have bigger bodies and we should not try to manipulate that. No one can tell you that you are 30lb ‘overweight’ as only your body knows the weight it wants to be.
I would recommend you seek out a professional who genuinely works from a health at every size perspective though to support you through this recovery process.
Stick at it. The one thing you can do wrong right now is restrict in your eating or compensate!
This is a great post for those recovering or wishing to recover!
I am now 2 weeks away from being 2 years into recovery from BN (I went all in)
My weight is the highest it’s ever been, and although I’m in a much better place mentally, this weight is showing no sign of shifting to my set point… and that’s nearly 2 years in. My stomach, arms and hips are way out of proportion. Any experience of it taking more than 2 years for this set point to set itself?
Hi there and thank you for your comment and question.
Firstly, huge credit to you for the recovery you have achieved. Hardest thing ever but sounds like you are rocking it! It’s so good to hear that mentally things are so much better for you.
The question is ask though is how you know the weight you are now isn’t your set point? It might be higher than you would like but perhaps that’s genetically where you are healthiest?
If you do though really think you are in overshoot then just look carefully at if there are still ways you are restricting or over exercising or anything that could stop your body fully trusting you yet?
Stress is another thing to consider as high stress levels make the body hold onto extra weight.
Poor sleep is another factor.
Hope that helps! X