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What Is the Set Point Theory in Relation to Weight Loss?

Losing and maintaining your weight can sometimes be a challenge. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) over 42 percent[1] of adults and 18.2 percent of children in the US are classed as obese.

Your weight can be determined by a number of different factors including:

  • Inherited traits
  • The environment
  • Hormonal, psychological, and genetic elements

Weight also depends on the amount of energy you burn in comparison to what you eat in calories. However, recent studies[2] have revealed there may be a set point, or weight at which your body wants to remain.

The set point model relies on the concept of a genetic preset weight range that is controlled by your biological signals and regulates your system so that you remain at a steady-state level, or set point.

The theory is that your control system which is built into your body dictates how much fat you should carry. Some refer to the set point theory as an internal “thermostat” that regulates body fat. Some people have a high setting and others have a low one.

According to the set point theory, body fat percentage and body weight are matters of internal controls that are set completely differently in everyone.

The set point theory suggests just as you have no control over your height, eye color or hair color, you also have no control over what your set point will be. Your body is biologically and genetically determined to weigh within a certain weight range.

All of this data is governed by your hypothalamus which is in your brain. When the hypothalamus receives signals from fat cell hormones like leptin, which regulates hunger and affects insulin release, your metabolism constantly adjusts up or down based on a variety of signals.

When Was the Set Point Theory in Relation to Weight Loss Developed?

The set-point theory was originally developed[3] in 1982 by William Bennett and Joel Gurin to explain why repeated dieting is unsuccessful in producing long-term change in body weight or shape. In theory, their speculation was that going on a weight-loss diet is an attempt to overpower the set point and would not result in long-term weight reduction outside of that set point.

According to the set-point theory, the set point itself keeps weight fairly constant, because it has more accurate information about the body’s fat stores than the conscious mind can obtain. At the same time, this system pressures the conscious mind to change behavior, producing feelings of hunger or satiety.

Studies show that a person’s weight at the set point is optimal for efficient activity and a stable, optimistic mood. When the set point is driven too low, depression and lethargy may set in as a way of slowing the person down and reducing the number of calories expended.

Scientists estimate that the average person has a set point range of about ten to twenty pounds, meaning at any given time, there is a ten-to-twenty-pound range at which your body will be comfortable and not resist attempts to change. The set point, it would appear, is very good at supervising fat storage, but it cannot tell the difference between dieting and starvation.

The Set Point Theory and Dieting

Everyone who has ever tried dieting knows just how hard it is to lose weight and keep it off. In the first few weeks of dieting, weight is usually lost, but it is almost always gained back. Many of our patients who live in the Los Angeles area have told us they become frustrated because after a few weeks of dieting, they usually stop losing weight or start gaining it back, even though they are still restricting their food intake.

When this happens, typically it is a sign that the body is trying to fight to retain its natural weight. The dieter who begins a diet with a high set point experiences constant hunger, presumably as part of their body’s attempt to restore the status quo. Even dedicated dieters often find that they cannot lose as much weight as they would like. After an initial, relatively quick loss, dieters often become stuck at a plateau and then lose weight at a much slower rate, although they remain as hungry as ever.

Many people who diet also experience uncontrollable urges to eat more food. That is because their bodies are asking for more food than is being provided in order to function properly. Just as your metabolism will slow down when you go under your body’s set point, it will also increase if you go above it. The body will try to fight against weight gain by increasing its metabolic rate and raising its temperature to try and burn off the unwanted calories. Dieting research demonstrates that the body has more than one way to defend its fat stores. Long-term caloric deprivation in a way that is not yet clear, acts as a signal for the body to turn down its metabolic rate. Calories are burned more slowly, so that even a meager diet almost suffices to maintain weight. At West Medical, we explain to our patient in Los Angeles that the body reacts to stringent dieting as though famine has set in. The body’s biological response means dieting becomes progressively less effective, and as countless dieters have experienced, a plateau is reached at which further weight loss seems all but impossible.

How Do You Overcome Weight Plateaus?

Learning to accept the fact that your body needs to be at a certain weight is a good way to stop the vicious cycles involved with dieting. The more you try to go below your body’s set point range, the harder your body will fight to retain its natural weight. Engaging in a healthy eating and exercise routine will allow your body to go to the weight it wants and needs to be.

However, there are a number of individuals who have tried everything to lose weight, from diets to exercise and everything else in between, without solid results. For those in that category, there are other options to help you. Now is the time to reclaim control over your weight loss journey. At West Medical, our weight loss physicians in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California are dedicated to individualized treatment, ensuring that your specific needs are met. In addition, we offer consultations and free seminars in which a member of our surgical team can personally address any questions or concerns you may have regarding our weight loss procedures.

Please call or text us now at (855) 690-0565 and one of our expert team can help you with any questions you may have. Let us give you the support you need on your weight loss journey.


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