- Dan Connors
The set point and how it changes everything in weight management.
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Have you ever tried losing weight and after some success discovered that going any lower starts to get very, very hard? No matter how much you diet or exercise, that scale won't budge below a certain number? And have you also noticed that after dieting for a while your body eventually pops back up to the same weight you've been at for years?
This is the result of the set point- an ingenious little thermostat inside our bodies that befuddles our attempts to lose weight and make ourselves healthier. This little control mechanism tells our body what it thinks we should weigh based on past behavior and our genetic and environmental triggers. Try as you might, you can't ignore the set point. And even worse, our set points adjust upwards as we age and our metabolism slows down, so we stay at fatter and fatter levels. Can we fight back against this nefarious system and reset the set point to a lower, healthier number? Yes, but it's tricky.
When you diet and start to lose weight, your body thinks it's starving and goes into defensive mode. Your metabolism slows and your hunger pangs increase, resulting in a correction that causes weight loss to slow and/or reverse. This can give rise to a loss of motivation which changes behaviors and negates all of the hard work we've put in during a diet. There's got to be a better way.
Most of us gain our weight gradually. The new set point arrives slowly based on our eating and exercise habits, plus our genetics. And the only way past the set point is gradually. No massive weight loss heroics needed. Most of the literature I've read encourages people to lose up to 10% of their weight at a time, and no more. Your body can adjust to 10% or smaller weight losses, though it can be hard. If you go beyond that amount, even though it sounds good and motivates you, your body will surely fight back and any successes are likely to be temporary.
On the tv show The Biggest Loser, obese contestants are subjected to extreme physical and dietary restrictions, with amazing results, including triple-digit weight loss. But follow-up studies show that many of the contestants end up gaining much of the weight back after the show is over. Without the constant motivation and supervision, old behaviors take over. The set point can be stronger than human willpower if we're not careful.
There's no secret to weight loss beyond proper diet and exercise, and that's the challenge each of us faces. Change your diet to healthier choices and find an exercise regime that works for you.
Weight loss tip #10- Don't sweat the set point. Go around it not through it.
Dieting is a lengthy process that some have trouble with in a world that expects instant results. Bariatric surgery is a quick fix for only the most profoundly obese, but for the rest of us the set point is a barrier we will have to negotiate our way around with patience and determination.
The set point is real, but not a reason to give up trying. Be aware and push through.