Weight Set Point

I liked hearing everyone’s responses to my last post on how skinny people stay skinny.

I would also like to clarify some things.  “Skinny” can sometimes have a negative vibe to it, but to me, it’s just another word.   Really, what I mean by “skinny” is someone who is at a healthy weight for one’s body, based on activity level, their genetics, and their build.  You can call yourself whatever you want though: skinny, fit, thin, athletic, healthy, or just plain HOT! 🙂

It’s also important to not get so caught up with being a number on the scale. We ALL carry our weight quite differently, so while someone may be perfectly fine at one weight, another person at the same height may look sickly.

Weight Set Point

Today I want to discuss the Weight Set Point theory. This information is adapted from the following article.

The set point theory was introduced by a group of researchers in 1982. The basic premise of the theory is that the body has a built in weight regulating mechanism, largely genetically determined, that will tend to keep your weight in a physiologically established comfortable range.

Initially, for most, body weight will come off steadily and easily when following a reduced calorie diet and exercise program. However, for those of us with genetically determined set points beyond our desired weight goal, losing beyond this weight plateau can be quite challenging.

How this Theory Works

One premise of set point theory is that after the onset of adulthood the body will maintain a constant level of body fat. This involves a complex set of interactions between the brain, nervous system and the fat cells. This communication can cause a reduction in metabolism when the fat cells signal that too much fat has been lost during a period of dieting and/or exercising. On the converse side, the brain can also be signaled to minimize hunger and eating when the fat cell build up extends beyond the comfortable set point level.

Following a weight loss diet for a period of time can also trigger the body to cling to its set point. After dieting, the body’s metabolism can decrease, particularly when a dieter chooses the “no exercise” route. Once the body reaches this point, the same amount of calories that initially led to weight loss, can now lead to weight maintenance and/or gain. Much of this has to do with the fact that the now smaller body size (due to weight loss) requires less calories per day to maintain.

With these two factors working together, it can be difficult to reach a goal weight that is lower than what our genetically inherited set point would like.


This other article talks more about genetics and how that can play a role in one’s set point.

Some scientific data and logical conclusions made by scientists do point to the fact that we have a genetically and biologically predetermined weight that we are supposed to carry, and this set weight depends on a number of factors, number one being good old mom and dad – AKA genetics.

It has been proven by shear observation, and medical evidence that most individuals are about 65% likely to be in the same weight range as their family members are. Are there anomolies to this fact? Of course, there always are, but it’s a pretty good chance that the apple will not fall far from the tree, weight wise.

Fat Cells

It is speculated by the scientific community that every one of us is subject to this genetically predetermined weight range, which is said to be dependent on the number of fat cells a person has by the end of their first year of life. Of course, how much we eat, the fat content of our diet , the amount of calories we take in regularly and our level of physical activity all impact how large those fat cells will get, and thus how “large” we will be, but we do pretty much start life off with this predetermined amount of fat cells.

How to reset your set point

The following information I have adapted from this article.

1. Identify a weight you have easily maintained for six months or longer. This is probably your body weight set point. The set point theory does not apply to your weight during a weight loss or weight gain effort. Your body weight set point is an effortless weight maintenance level. Knowing what this set point level is, and the lifestyle that goes along with that effortless management, is the first step to resetting your body weight set point.

2. Identify a weight loss/weight gain strategy you can adopt as a new lifestyle. If the program you embark on to gain or lose weight is only a temporary one that takes maximum effort on your part to maintain, then after a momentary enjoyment of your success, you will find that your body quickly returns to its previous weight, with a bonus: The problem you set out to fix gets even bigger.

The set point theory for body weight explains the yo-yo dieting problem: When your body creates the triggers that get you back to your body weight set point, it is as if it also creates a savings bank to ensure that the next time you try that crazy weight loss/weight gain again, it has that extra gain or loss built in to balance that out.

3. Set the start date for your new lifestyle and start living it. If your new life includes regular exercise, then exercise regularly. If it includes meals with higher protein content to build and maintain muscle, then make sure you find ways to get that protein in regularly. Whatever your strategy for achieving your new preferred weight, it must be something you can easily maintain if you are to reset your body weight set point.

4. Create accountability systems until the new lifestyle becomes effortless. If you are on Weight Watchers or a similarly structured program, the accountability is already professionally provided. The Weight Watchers model is particularly well organized because once you successfully achieve your new, healthier weight, their lifetime membership offers free access to that accountability to help you maintain your new weight. At that point, if you keep up with the accountability of the program, it is very likely that you will have successfully reset your body weight set point.

5. Resetting your body weight set point is an accomplishment that only a small percentage of people successfully achieve. Pat yourself on the back for proving that personal will can overcome the body’s natural tendencies.

My Thoughts

All of those strategies make sense.  For example, my set point weight is 140lbs.  It’s VERY hard for me to gain or lose weight and my lifestyle is effortless in maintaining this weight.

Any time I have tried to lose weight, I’ve done so stupidly with a diet that was too strict and rigid.  Each time I would stop dieting, my weight would come right back.  For me to lose weight I would have to make adjustments to my lifestyle that I could LIVE with long term to achieve a new body weight. Make sense?

Take bodybuilders or fitness competitors as an example.  They diet for 12 weeks with a strict regimen of too few calories and too much exercise.  They are of course able to lose weight, but as soon as they stop the diet the weight comes right back, and usually pretty quickly.

Now let’s take someone who wants to lose 20lbs.  They start making small adjustments in their diet and exercise.  They are not too strict, but at the same time, they are forming NEW habits to help them with this new lifestyle.  They probably lose the weight at a slow pace, which is smart. The diet doesn’t all of a sudden “end” after a certain amount of time.  They don’t go back to old habits of their old self.  They are now living a different type of lifestyle as their lighter self.


Do you believe in the set point theory?

Have you ever CHANGED your own set point by gaining weight or losing weight?

Are you built like either of your parents?


6 responses to “Weight Set Point

  1. Glad you clarified the “skinny” thing actually. I hate to be called skinny. It irks me to no end b/c skinny doesn’t = fit. I am very much built like my mother actually. She’s pretty much always been at the same weight. That gives me hope 😉

  2. That’s actually really interesting! It definitely makes sense. Great post!

  3. What a great post, as usual. I am built like my mom’s side of the family. For example, everyone on my mom’s side of the family does not have defined calve muslces. My grandpa was a professional baseball player and he didn’t have them at all. I have been a runner my ENTIRE life yet I do not have those typical runner’s calves! This used to bother me so much and I did everything I could to get calf muscles…all the exercies I could find. Still nothing. So I totally believe that genetics DO play a role. BTW…I have made peace with my no calf musle legs! haha!

  4. I literally JUST typed a guest post about basically the same thing this morning. I don’t know when the guest post is going up specifically but it’s too crazy that we are on the same wavelength again.

    I would say I have two set points. When I lost weight after Makenzie I got my body down to around 125 and after staying there a little bit could easily maintain it. Then once I fought to put back on weight after the show my body easily stayed at that size (10 lbs heavier).

  5. “Or just plain HOT”- haha i think i like that one!! i honestly don’t know if i agree with the set point theory. this was great information and from what i read here, it seems to make some sense!

  6. i love this! it’s so refreshing to hear “do what works for YOU” instead of picking up a magazine and being blasted with LOSE 40 POUNDS BY TOMORROW!

    thank you for helping girls embrace themselves!

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