Setpoint weight refers to the weight your body tries to maintain regardless of your calorie intake or level of exercise. It is your natural weight for this moment in time, which requires no effort from you to keep.
What is My Natural Setpoint Weight?
Your setpoint weight is within 10 to 20 pounds of what you weigh right now.
Think about your weight fluctuations. No matter how wildly it may spike, it always settles around a core body weight. That's your setpoint.
And if you raise your setpoint with some of the factors we'll discuss shortly, your body will settle around that new weight.
Is Setpoint Theory True?
The setpoint theory has been around for a long time. Experts speculated about it and wondered how it might work. Those struggling with their weight wondered how it might help them meet their weight loss goals. Fad dieting marketers wondered how they could use it to trigger instant weight loss for their clients and rake in huge profits.
But now, the set point is no longer a theory. Instead, scientific evidence shows that biological factors regulate our body weight around a set point. (1) Further, research indicates that there are specific biological signals that in specific circumstances trigger hunger or satiety, fat storage or fat burning, calorie-burning or calorie conserving, and much more.
The body weight set point shows us a way to work with our body's biological signals to lose weight safely, easily, and permanently -- no calorie counting, deprivation, or willpower required.
However, the setpoint is not a quick-fix concept. But it IS a permanent solution that doesn't involve constant monitoring of your weight, as you'll see in a moment.
How Setpoint Differs From the Calorie Deficit Theory of Weight Loss
The calorie deficit theory of weight was thought to be the only way to lose weight until recently. The idea goes if you create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories for the week -- by eating less or exercising more -- you'll lose one pound. And, of course, if you end the week with a 3,500 calorie surplus, you should gain one pound.
That makes sense on its face until you consider this -- if the body works like a calculator, we should be significantly heavier than we are.
In 2011, doctors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered that calories consumed per person per day increased by570 calories between 1977 and 2006. (2) At first glance, these findings prove that increased caloric intake led to our current obesity epidemic.
That's partially correct, but it also reveals a mind-blowing fact for those who believe in the calorie deficit theory of weight loss.
As Jonathan Bailor writes in his New York Times bestselling book,The Calorie Myth:
"If the average person is consuming 570 more calories than necessary per day and if the calorie-counting math we hear about daily is accurate, then the average person should have gained 476 pounds since 2006." (3)
You might say that the average person didn't gain 476 pounds because they started taking care of their health, eating less, and exercising more. But with the spiraling rates of obesity, diabetes, and other obesity-related conditions, this explanation doesn't seem likely.
The only explanation is that the body does not operate like a machine. Instead, it uses a biological feedback system to regulate body fat around a specific set point.
How Does The Body Determine Setpoint Weight?
Calories are necessary, but it's not our job to count them. Instead, the body manages all of this for us.
Our set point is determined by hormonal signals released from our gut, pancreas, and fat cells. These signals travel to the hypothalamus in the brain, which then regulates how much we eat, how many calories we burn, and how much fat we store long term. (4)
The hormones involved in this process include:
Leptin (produced in fat cells)
Ghrelin (produced in your gut)
Insulin (made in the pancreas)
Cortisol (produced in the adrenal glands)
Seratonin (produced in the brain)
Thyroid hormones (produced by the thyroid gland.)
An elevated set point occurs when these hormones become dysregulated, and the brain cannot receive the proper signals. Since a specific amount of body fat is essential for survival, the brain adjusts biological signals that promote weight gain.
Why Calorie Restriction Is Not a Sustainable Way to Lose Weight
As you've probably discovered, you'll lose weight if you cut calories. But it doesn't take long before your body starts fighting back to keep you within your set point range.
It has many tools at its disposal. For example, your body can:
Decrease energy levels
Increase fat storage
Promote excessive food cravings for sugar and refined carbs
Inhibit fat burning
In other words, your body does everything it can to destroy your weight loss efforts not because it hates you but because it thinks it's helping you.
How can you possibly achieve a healthy weight, then?
The only way to achieve healthy long-term weight loss is to lower your set point. Your body will then defend that lower weight with no effort from you!
What Determines Set Point Weight?
About 50% of your set point weight is determined by genetics and is therefore uncontrollable. This doesn't mean you're fated to be obese but susceptible to weight gain and activities that promote it.
It also gives you a body structure that requires a heavier but still healthy weight. In other words, trying to meet what society might consider a "normal" weight is NOT normal or healthy for everyone.
The good news is that you are totally in control of the other 50%, the lifestyle factors that you can modify to lower your set point weight and obtain a healthy body.
Factors That Raise the Set Point
Here are a few factors that can raise your set point.
Routinely eating a poor-quality diet is the most significant cause of an elevated set point weight.
A poor-quality diet is one that primarily includes:
Ultra-processed foods lack essential nutrients and fiber. Instead, they contain excess salt, sugar, artificial colorings, and chemicals that damage your body's weight regulation system. Jonathan Bailor refers to this as a "hormonal clog" where your hormones cannot send proper signals to your brain.
The result is an elevated set point weight.
When you're stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone associated with weight gain and increased belly fat. This is not a problem with short-term stress. But with chronic stress, your adrenal glands continually pump cortisol into your bloodstream.
Eventually, this affects the overall hormonal balance and leads to weight gain.
Numerous medications are associated with an elevated set point weight, including antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs (5).
Some drugs prescribed for diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines, and seizure disorders are also associated with weight gain.
Always speak with your doctor about any potential side effects of medications prescribed to you.
Severe Calorie-Restrictive Dieting
Though it might at first seem helpful, slashing your calorie intake elevates your set point weight, leading to excessive weight gain in the long run!
This is what happens with weight cycling, aka yo-yo dieting. Research shows that the fat metabolism slows a little bit more with each weight cycle, so you regain weight quickly.
Why? Your weight regulatory system sees your last diet as a near-death starvation experience, so it takes drastic steps to make sure that doesn't happen again. In other words, crash dieting causes your body tostorefat instead of burning it!
So, it's better and healthier for you never to diet -- i.e., continue your regular eating pattern -- than to weight cycle.
Can You Change Your Body Weight Set Point?
The good news is that you CAN change your body's set point. An essential first step is toward this goal is to adjust your dietary habits.
Dietary Tips for Lowering Set Point Weight
That's right. DON'T DIET.
And don't eat less food. Instead, focus on eating more of the right types of food!
Giving your body nutritious, high-quality foods will eventually restore your body's weight regulation system. Because you'll feel satisfied, energetic, and healthy, your body will feel good about lowering your set point weight and releasing some fat.
Surprisingly, when you eat a high-quality diet, you'll probably eat more food than you did on a low-quality one. This is because these foods are filling, trigger your satiety hormones, and promote natural fat burning.
Eat SANE Foods
SANE Foods are unprocessed or minimally processed ones that you can typically find in your local supermarket, primarily whole foods that require some preparation time or that you can eat uncooked.
You'll find them in the store's perimeter -- the fresh meat, dairy, and produce sections -- instead of the middle where all the processed foods are displayed.
Most of them won't have labels, i.e., fresh produce. But the ones with labels, i.e., canned tuna fish, should list no more than three ingredients. (And you must be able to pronounce those ingredients.)
Here are the primary SANE foods you'll want to eat most often.
Nonstarchy vegetables(10+ servings per day).Examples include spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, romaine, eggplant, artichoke, asparagus. Please eat various colored veggies daily to ensure you get the nutrients and fiber you need.
Nutrient-dense protein (3 to 6 servings per day). Examples include seafood, grass-fed beef, humanely raised chicken, oysters, liver, cottage cheese, plain nonfat Greek yogurt, whey protein powder. Protein is essential for proper bodily function. It fills you up fast and keeps you full.
Whole-food fats(3 to 6 servings per day). Examples include olives, flax seeds, chia seeds, avocado, cacao/cocoa, coconut milk. When you replace starchy carbs and sugars with whole-food fats, your body will discover it prefers burning fat for fuel, including all that stored fat!
Low-sugar fruits(0 to 3 servings per day). Examples include citrus fruits, berries (all types), peaches, cantaloupe. Due to the sugar content limit, yourself to low-sugar varieties and no more than three servings for the day.
The goal here is to be so full of SANE foods that you don't have room for the inSANE ultra-processed foods, sugars, etc.
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