Today, I want to talk a bit about the theory of set point.
Evidence suggests there is a weight range our body fights to be in (set point, or “natural” weight). This is determined by a variety of factors—mainly genetics. This range looks different from person to person. This range may not fit within the deemed “acceptable” ranges determined by BMI (which was never meant to be used as a “health marker” as it is today), but is the weight your body prefers to function optimally (and why the idea of “acceptable” weight ranges is flawed.) If you want to know what your own set point is, it tends to be the range your body “defaults” to when you are tuned in and honoring your body’s cues, and not trying to manipulate your weight.
Weight cycling has been shown to negatively affect health due to the stress it can place on the cardiovascular system, metabolism, etc. It’s also a mentally defeating process, making you feel as if weight regain is your fault. Being in your set point range promotes weight stability. You typically don’t have to “fight” your body to maintain this weight.
Our bodies work harder to bring us back into our set point range when we are BELOW it vs being above it. Being above our range is more protective at keeping us alive than being below it. When we fall below our natural weight range, our body interprets it as starvation/famine. It does everything it can to protect us. This means slowed metabolism (conserving energy); shutting off/slowing bodily processes that are less priority; increasing food cravings, especially foods with higher fat/sugar content (more bang for your buck); etc. It’s why dieting may “work” in the short term, but eventually can make you feel crazy around food, causing rapid weight regain for the majority of people. It isn’t from lack of “willpower.” We just can’t fight these survival mechanisms when we consistently deprive our bodies of enough food, or try to maintain a weight below our natural set point range.
Can you change your set point range? Typically no, but constantly dieting and weight cycling have been shown to raise your set point for many people. (It is why many who diet/restrict food tend to regain more weight over time.) There are different theories on why this happens—likely a protective mechanism due to the body repeatedly sensing “starvation.” It could be due to the muscle lost through dieting/weight cycling. (You lose more than just fat cells.) Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Your body can recover from this—it takes time to rebuild and replenish these losses. But, jumping into the next diet means your body doesn’t have a chance to “catch up.” So the set point may shift upwards.
The point is, fighting your set point backfires. Learning to listen to your body and honoring its cues promote being within your own set point range.
(If you sense you may have altered your own metabolism due to dieting/weight cycling, I encourage you to be compassionate towards yourself, just as I discussed in my previous post. We often act on what we know to be best at the time. The important thing is to move forward from wherever you are right now. Moving away from the restrictive mindset and giving our bodies what they need is the beginning to healing our metabolism.)
In my next post, I’m going to share medical reasons our bodies may be below or above our set point ranges.Follow me on social media: