B iological systems like the human body are designed to operate in harmony with the environment in which they live. The body is also designed to operate under very specific conditions; for example, body temperature is maintained at approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heart rate is generally maintained around 70 beats per minute (Widmaier 2006: 408). These conditions or set points allow optimal function within the body. When something in the environment changes, the body has to make changes to bring itself back or near to that set point. The process of bringing the body back to its original set point is homeostasis. For example, when a person exercises, the muscles of the body require more oxygen. In order to maintain a steady stream of oxygen to the muscles, the heart rate will increase so that more blood, which contains oxygen, is delivered to the muscles.
In terms of diet, the human body is good at preserving energy from food so that periods of starvation do not end life (Stipanuk 2000: 385-407). When a person restricts food intake, as is the case when one is dieting, the body will adjust to the decreased intake in food by slowing down metabolism in order to maintain homeostasis. If the body cannot meet energy requirements by simply reducing metabolic rate, it will then pull energy from the fat and muscle within the body in order to maintain energy to all organs. Homeostasis is therefore widely studied in reference to diet. In fact, some people who have published dieting literature have created diets that claim to change metabolic set point so that as the body finds homeostasis, it will actually be burning greater amounts of fat and thus will change the shape.
SLG/Suzanne Judd See also Atkins; Metabolism; Sugar Busters; Zone Diet
References and Further Reading Stipanuk, M.H. (2000) Biochemical and Physiological Aspects of Human Nutrition, Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders. Widmaier, E.P. (2006) Vander's Human Physiology: the Mechanisms of Body Function, New York: McGraw-Hill.
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