What is set point theory?

The set point theory suggests that if you gain or lose weight, you’ll slowly return to a normal set range because your body prefers to be “set” at a certain weight.  It also states the human body will try to maintain this preferred weight range by controlling its energy balance through the use of various biological controls. These biological controls can impact your hunger, metabolism, and energy expenditure.

For example, within set point theory, if you suddenly start eating fewer calories, your body responds by increasing your appetite and slowing down how quickly you burn through fuel. And if you start eating more food, your body changes its hunger hormones, like ghrelin and leptin, to lower how much food yo

Set-point or the so-called “preset weight” is defined as a stable weight that the body maintains when no one tries to control it (Bennett and Gurin, 1982). For most people, the set-point varies between 5 and 10 kilograms and cannot be permanently reduced by a restrictive diet. This may explain why people regain the weight they lost while being on a restrictive diet.

Metabolic changes

When an individual is initially on a reduced calorie diet, it may be relatively easy to lose a few pounds. However, most dieters find that they eventually reach a plateau preventing further weight loss. By eating less food, a person’s basal metabolism – BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) decreases. Nutrition is used more effectively in the body’s attempt to protect its set-point and prevent further weight loss. This reduction in BMR is the built-in mechanism the body uses to keep us alive during starvation.

BMR reductions caused by dieting may require at least 6-12 months of normal eating (without dieting) before recovery. By the time the BMR recovers to its preset norm, the person may reach a weight that is higher than before the start of the diet. The weight will stabilize if the metabolic rate catches up with the intake and the body is convinced that it will be consistently provied with adequate energy.

What is your preset weight?

People often ask: “What is my set-point?”. One big disappointment is that there is no direct way to measure it. You can only say that you are at set-point if you eat normally – without being on a diet (for example, through following the Intuitive Eating approach) and exercising moderately for at least 6-12 months.

If you only stress your body – with excessive and prolonged, highly restrictive food regimes and compulsive exercise, you can achieve a weight below your set point. Attempting to weigh below this limit, however, leads to emotional and health problems, as well as the development of eating disorders.

This theory is really important as it teaches us that while our height cannot change, our weight can, but only within the limits of our set point. Anything above or below these limits is dangerous to our health and emotional state.

Author: Mirela Velikova

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