The Set Point Theory

The set point theory refers to the idea of our weight being predetermined by our body. In other words our body has it’s own weight it tries to achieve and maintain regardless of our own personal goals. More research is needed to fully understand how our body determines it’s set point. However most agree it is a mix of genetics and environmental factors.

Our set point is also much better at increasing than decreasing, which is why it is greatly influenced by our environment. In the America of today we are surrounded by delicious calorie dense items, driving down almost any road we will either see multiple restaurant/fast food or see advertising signs for them. The interaction of our genetically acquired want of calorie dense foods and our environment makes a deadly combination. Research does show we protect ourselves against weight gain to some extent, for example feeling of fullness after eating. What our body did not evolve to protect us against is our brains reaction to highly palatable (high sugar, high fat items). The result; when we eat highly palatable food we activate circuits in our brain making us want to overeat which often leads to ignoring our feeling of fullness.

After overeating our bodies will generally respond by making us feel fuller for longer, trying to protect the set point. This reaction varies from one person to the next depending on your genetics. Therefor, once again we become at the mercy of our genetics and environment. How many times have we eaten something despite being overly full and using phrases like “I’m so full I think I’m gonna bust”. The mechanism we developed to protect against weight gain are not strong enough to fight the ones we developed to protect weight loss. Mainly because for millions of years weight gain was not an issue, unless genetic mutations were present.

As mentioned above our set point increases as we gain weight. When the holiday season starts at thanksgiving followed by Christmas and we attend multiple family dinners overeating at most of them, we are increasing our set points. We often tell ourselves “I’ll work it off after the holidays” but the set point theory makes sustainable weight loss challenging. There is even research indicating most of the weight people gain yearly is around the holiday season. The lower we get from our setpoint (the more weight we lose) the more our brain will try to make us want highly palatable food on top of the ever present want. There’s an analogy that says “trying to maintain drastic weight loss is like trying to hold your breath, eventually your body will take over and you will have to breath”.

This all sounds pretty discouraging, there is some actions we can take to decrease our set point. However the results vary from one person to the next, there is no one size fits all. Research has demonstrated a less palatable diet might help to decrease our set point. A less palatable diet does not mean bad or bland, it refers to keeping your food choices simple. Eating meat without adding butter or salt but rather herbs. Doing the same with fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Eating a sufficient amount of fiber has also been linked to a decrease in set point as well as exercise. That being said if you eat at a fast food or restaurant daily and try to cook with no salt at all you might not find it very tasty. The trick is to be patient with yourself and your taste buds, they will adjust to the less intense flavors over time. These suggestions are not one size fits all and may not help you avoid weight regain. Despite of weight, eating simple high fiber meals and exercising will improve your health. Which is why when thinking about losing weight or making lifestyle changes we should primarily focus on our health.

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