What is Set Point Weight Theory?

We can put so much energy into trying to attain a certain weight, through dieting,over-exercising, excessive meal prepping, over-hydration, etc. But what if our body has a built-in mechanism that naturally keeps our weight within a certain range? Wouldn’t all that energy be better spent a different way? In today’s blog post we are going to look more closely at this phenomenon known as the set point weight theory.

Research indicates that every human being has a set weight range that they are genetically predisposed to maintain1. This range is known as the body’s set pointweight. Just as individuals have a fixed height they reach or have the same shoe size for the majority of their adult life,there is also a predetermined weight range they naturally fluctuate around. One’s set point is affected by their eating habits but is largely determined by genetics; our overall build, bone structure, metabolism, and musculature1.The body goes through various changes regularly due to fluid retention, hormonal changes and medicationswhich leads to normal fluctuation within a certain range2.

So how does the body strive to stay within its’set pointweight? Just as the body has feedback control mechanisms to maintain a constant body temperature, it also has mechanisms that will help it stay within its’set point weight range. For example, if there is an increase in food intake, the body will raise its’internal temperature and increase metabolism to try to use up the extra energy1. Similarly, if there is a decrease in food intake, the body will slow down its’metabolism to try to conserve energy1. Additionally, if the body is not receiving adequate energy it will use hunger signaling as a mechanism to try to get us to eatwhile also slowing down our metabolism to conserve energy1. This is just another reason why diets do not work. The body naturally wants to stay within a certain weight range and by restricting food intake it only slows metabolism and increases hunger to combat the lack of energy. Some people may successfully be able to maintain weight loss after dieting due to the fact that they were above their set point prior to beginning a diet, but this is quite rare3. For those who are within or below their set point before beginning a diet, they will likely find it difficult to lose weight as their body slows metabolism to conserve as much energy as possible.

Set point weight theory is an important concept in eating disorders. Food restriction may cause the body to fall below its’normal set point range which will slow metabolism and increase hunger in an effort to protect us from starvation1.This will lead to an increase in thoughts of food and make it difficult to focus on other things. A preoccupation with food may cause individuals to be more susceptible to episodes of binge eating1. The best thing one can do for their body is to allow it to naturally settle into its’set point weight and avoid behaviours that suppress the body’s normal weight tendency. This is much healthier than cycles of weight loss and regain, as is common with dieting.

So how can you know if you are at your set point weight? A weight set point is not a static number on the scale; it is a range that the body normally fluctuates within. The best way to get a good idea of what your weight set point might be is to engage in normal eating and moderate exercise for approximatelyone year3. The body usually requires this length of time to settle into its natural weightbut it can sometimes take even longer. This only applies to those who have stopped growing. Adolescents and young adults are meant to have an increasing weight until their young 20s. Finding your body’s natural set point is best done through intuitive eating and gentle exercise, as mentioned above, and not using objective measures like the scale or measuring tapes.

You may be wondering how you can accept your body’s set point weight. What if it’s higher than you think it should be? Diet culture has taught us to value thinness and low numbers on the scale. It can be difficult to accept one’s weight being higher than deemed acceptable by society. You may not initially feel comfortable at your natural weight, however, this is something that takes timeand reflection. Gradually, by showing kindness towards your body, by dressing in clothes that fit you and are comfortable, and by taking care of your body, an acceptance of your body’s natural size will be fostered. Try to avoid wastingyour time trying to attain a certain number on the scale that your body cannot naturally attain. You have not failed if your weight is higher than you think it should be. Strive to take care of your body as it is by eating intuitively and engaging in gentle exercise and it will become the weight it is meant to be. Try to spend less energy focusing on maintaining a certain weight and put your energy into more productive activities, like being kind to others and creating beautiful things. Let’s not let our lives be marked by the number on the scale.


References

  1. Centre for Clinical Interventions.(2018). Set Point Theory. [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/~/media/6CD4432DC40649949D8B4923C725742D.ashx
  2. Eating Disorder Help. (2017, September 22).Can I Accept My Body at It’s Natural, Comfortable Weight? Retrieved November 17, 2018, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/accept-body-comfortable-weight
  3. National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). (n.d.). sSet Point: What Your Body is Trying to Tell You.Retrieved November 17, 2018, from http://nedic.ca/set-point-what-your-body-trying-tell-you

 

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