Does it ever feel like your body likes to stay at a certain weight?
That there is a particular weight – or range of weights – that your body seems to cling to, regardless of changes in the number of calories that you’re eating?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you’re certainly in good company…
The truth is that many people find it difficult to break past a certain weight on the scale – even when their diets seem to be on point.
Well, as it turns out, there is some evidence that your body actually works against you to maintain a certain default weight, otherwise known as a body weight set point.
In this article, I’m going to be taking a look at what these set points are, why they tend to happen, and what you can do to change your own set point.
Let’s get started.
What Is Your Body Weight Set Point?
Simply put, your body weight set point (or ‘setting point’, as it is sometimes known), is the weight that your body likes to stay at.
Sometimes this is a specific weight – other times it will feel like a range of weights, say within 5 pounds – but the point is that you’ll find it more challenging to go above or below that weight for any period of time.
While we don’t know for certain why this happens, we can hazard a pretty good guess when you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint.
You see, your body wants to maintain homeostasis, so it will automatically try to adjust against any sudden changes in weight to keep things in balance.
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This is especially true when it comes to losing weight, since your body is better equipped to protect you against starvation than it is against sudden weight gain.
Again, just think of our caveman ancestors – they were unlikely to have an abundance of food, whereas starvation was a very real threat.
In other words, there is an asymmetrical system of body weight regulation at work – meaning that it is more difficult to lose weight and go below your established set point than it is to gain weight and move above your set point.
How Does Your Body Regulate Your Set Point?
When you get down to it, your body weight set point is determined by changes in your metabolism based on how many calories you’re eating (among other factors).
So, if you’re on a cutting diet, eating at a caloric deficit, then your body might start slowing down your metabolism, which can cause your weight loss to stall.
Which Factors Affect Your Body Weight Set Point?
Now that you understand what set points are, and how your body adjusts your metabolism to maintain certain set points, let’s take a look at which specific factors make it more or less difficult to establish a lean, healthy set point for yourself.
The 4 biggest factors are:
- Your genetics
- Your physical activity
- Your diet
- Your hormone profile
Let’s briefly take a look at each of these factors, and how significant each one is.
People often blame genetics when they have trouble losing weight, but the truth is that it isn’t as big of a factor in terms of maintaining a low body weight set point.
In fact, research shows that even though there is a genetic predisposition to higher set points for some people, the impact of this is fairly small.
And since you can’t really alter the genetic hand that you’ve been dealt anyway, there isn’t much point on focusing too much on this – so let’s instead turn our attention to the factors that you can change.
Your Physical Activity
At the end of the day, maintaining a body weight set point of any kind closely relates to energy balance.
That is, how many calories you take in compared to how many you’re burning.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that your level of physical activity closely relates to your body weight set point.
As expected, studies have shown that people who exercise more tend to have lower body weight set points, which are also easier to maintain.
Now on the other side of the energy balance equation is the ‘energy in’ part.
This ultimately comes down to diet, and how many calories you’re consuming each day.
Interestingly, the relationship between your body weight set point and your diet isn’t as simple as you might think.
It isn’t the case where simply eating more food will increase your set point, while eating less will decrease it; the relationship is more complex than that.
For example, athletes eat much more food than the average person, but also often maintain far lower body weight set points.
By the same token, obese people can sometimes eat comparatively less, for their weight, and still maintain very high body weight set points.
This all comes down to whether you are chronically overeating or underrating, based on your unique energy needs.
If you eat more than your body expends each day, you will gain weight; if you eat less than you expend each day, you will lose weight.
To a point, your body will attempt to account for such differences in energy consumption by adjusting your metabolism (as we’ve already discussed), but this only goes so far.
In the end, the longer you are able to maintain a given weight, the more your body will start adjusting to make that weight your new set point.
Your Hormone Profile
It isn’t always easy to control your hormones.
Unlike both diet and physical activity, they aren’t something that you can just adjust for each day and monitor accordingly.
However, unlike your genetics, you do have a degree of control over your hormone profile – which, in turn, can impact your body weight set point.
For example, higher levels of testosterone are generally associated with lower levels of body fat.
And we’ve already mentioned how hormones like leptin, ghrelin and insulin can contribute to your set point.
Further, stress levels can impact hormones like cortisol, which can contribute to having lower or higher set points, based on how much of it your body is producing.
But how do you do all of this?
Well, let’s take a look.
How To Fix Your Body Weight Set Point
OK, so you want to know how to actually adjust your set point, right?
Well, the bottom line is that the only way to create a new body weight set point for yourself is to first get down to a certain weight, and then maintain that weight for a period of time.
In that respect, it is a 2 step process.
Typically, after a month or so of maintaining that new weight, it will start to shift and become your new set point.
That is, your body will no longer adjust your metabolism to fight to stay at the higher or lower weight you were previously at.
Unfortunately, there are not shortcuts to doing this…
Instead, the best way to define a set point that you’re happy with is to use a combination of diet and exercise, until you are at the weight that you want to be.
On that note, it is extremely important that you pick a diet strategy that you can stick to longer-term, since otherwise you’ll risk crash dieting and won’t be able to establish your new set point properly.
In addition, all things considered, it will be easier to maintain a healthy set point as you put on more muscle.
Higher levels of muscle mean a higher basal metabolic rate, which will make it easier to establish and maintain a set point that you’re happy with.
So while all of this may sound like hard work – and it certainly can be – the silver lining is that once you establish a set point that you’re happy with, it will be more difficult for you to deviate from that set point.
In this sense, it works both ways…
Establishing a new body weight set point can be tough at first, and requires consistency with both diet and exercise, but once you’ve successfully established that new set point you’ll find that it becomes easier to maintain that weight, even if you cheat and eat more than you should sometimes.
Are you having trouble establishing a good body weight set point for yourself? Let us know in the comments below.