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The Body Weight Set Point Theory

BodyWeightJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

Do you have a number in mind that you consider your “ideal” weight? Apparently, many of us do. Some struggle for years to reach and maintain a specific number on the scale that our bodies may well resist. Research appears to support the weight set point theory, which suggests our body weight is regulated by a predetermined or preferred range that is likely genetically determined. According to the set point theory, every adult has an internal control system that dictates body fat percentage, body size, and a stable weight. In fact, science demonstrates that body weight is determined by hormones, diet, and exercise, as well as genes.

The weight set point theory was originally developed in 1982 to explain why repeated dieting is often unsuccessful in producing long-term weight loss and body shape changes. According to the theory, the setpoint is the reason why dieters hit a plateau, or regain their hard-fought weight loss. While some question the existence of set points, research suggests genetic factors can predispose an individual to a certain body weight. Many may be surprised to learn that the setpoint can typically fluctuate ten or twenty pounds, meaning that the desire to be thinner may not correspond to their body’s idea of its ideal weight.

The theory holds that dieting for weight loss is an attempt to overpower the biological set point, which is quite a formidable opponent in the weight loss battle. It seems that the set point is very good at supervising fat storage and doesn’t recognize the difference between dieting and starvation. Even the most dedicated dieters often find themselves struggling to lose those last five or ten pounds. Long time caloric deprivation signals the body to turn down its metabolic rate, burning calories much more slowly, as the body shifts to conserve its energy stores. Dieting becomes progressively less effective and further weight loss all but impossible, once you reach your predetermined natural set point.

There is no scientific way to determine an individual’s set point. However, it can be estimated. If you have eaten a healthy whole food diet and have participated in moderate exercise for approximately one year, you will likely have reached your natural weight set point. Any further attempts at weight loss may result in a no-win battle for those still trying to achieve their conception of ideal weight. It appears that at some point, we should accept our natural weight, especially when we have made strides to get there. Studies show that those who are happy with their weight are happier and more content overall. When weight remains stable, the body can function naturally and effortlessly at its own ideal natural weight. Giving up the struggle gives one more energy to focus on enjoying a healthy life without the constant calorie monitoring.

Is there anything you can do if your body weight settles into a range that you’re not happy with? Yes, it’s possible to tweak your set point by offsetting genetic markers of obesity through proper diet and exercise. Lean tissue mass and reduced body fat can help to determine the body’s set point. Strength training is particularly effective for reducing body fat and building lean muscle tissue. Proper and consistent dietary changes, as well as increased energy expenditure can assist weight loss and maintenance, and help to lower your weight set point. Although you may feel discouraged at not reaching your perceived ideal weight, research shows that the keys to creating a set point that you are happy with is managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, following a healthy high fiber, adequate protein diet, and very importantly, increased and sustained physical activity.

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References:
I Think Therefore I am: Perceived Ideal Weight as a Determinant of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2253567/
Set Point: What Your Body is Trying to Tell You. http://nedic.ca/set-point-what-your-body-trying-tell-you
7 Of the Fastest Ways to Change Your Body’s Weight Set Point. http://www.thinwithin.com/body-weight-set-point/
Does Your Body Weight Have a “Set Point?” https://www.inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/does-your-body-weight-have-a-set-point
Set-Point Theory. https://medical.mit.edu/sites/default/files/set_point_theory.pdf
Top 10 Reasons Why BMI Is Bogus. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439