The biology of weight regulation

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Andrew Haskell/THE FALCON
Mya Kwon, Seattle Pacific University eating disorder specialist, addresses social stigmas about weight by emphasizing biological reasons the human body is more cautious about becoming underweight.

Seattle Pacific’s Eating Disorder Specialist Mya Kwon had one goal for the Counseling Center’s Health at Every Size workshop: adjust the thermostat on how students understand their weight.
“There’s this spot in our brains called the hypothalamus,” Kwon said to the roughly 15 students in Arnett Hall’s main lobby on May 21. “It acts as our chief regulator. It wants our bodies to work at their most optimal level.”
Kwon explained that bodies operate within a set point range.
“When you’re at that set point range, it’s kind of like a thermostat,” Kwon said. “When the temperature gets higher, the air-conditioning is going to go on so it gets cooler.”
The bad news, Kwon said, is that the body cares more about becoming underweight than overweight.
“A long time ago, when we didn’t have as many resources as we do now, our body was trying to hold onto things so we wouldn’t die,” Kwon said.
When people try to lose a large amount of weight in a short amount of time, it pushes their set point higher.
“The body is trying to kick in more survival mechanisms so that doesn’t happen next time,” Kwon said. “When people try to restrain themselves, the body is going to perceive it as starvation mode…Your hypothalamus will hijack you.”
Rather than focusing on weight, Kwon urged students to think about health in broader terms.
“Emphasize healthy behaviors,” Kwon said. ‘We want to take care of [ourselves] at all points…physical, emotional and mental.”
She said that students listen to their body’s cravings. When students only eat what is healthy, they are building up on deprivation. She also explained that while fullness is a physical reaction, cravings are psychological need.
“Check in with yourself and ask what your body wants so you get that satisfaction and don’t build up deprivation,” Kwon said. “When we give ourselves permission to eat all kinds of food, that food loses power over us.”
Therapist intern Mai-Anh Epperly encouraged students to accept, embrace and love themselves despite negative media.
According to her, most media and advertising emphasize body images that are unattainable for most people.
“Media has an agenda, and it’s not our health,” Epperly said. “We need to have grace with ourselves.”
During a breakout session, junior Catherine Moffett talked about the negative stigma around people considered overweight.
“They’re perceived as lazy, having no self-control…It’s harder for them to have jobs and get into relationships,” Moffett said. “So learning about how biological it is can really break down those stigmas.”

This article was posted in the section News.
Alex Cnossen

Editor-in-Chief Alex Cnossen is a junior journalism major.

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