The set point theory for weight, which has been around since the 1970s, suggests that your body has a specific weight range to which you are genetically predisposed. In other words, the body tries valiantly to stay within a certain weight range. It’s a popular theory. If you search for “Set-Point Diet” in Amazon books, you’ll get about 125 results. But, if your body has a predetermined set point, why do so many people have so much trouble maintaining their weight? While evidence from animals indicates that a set point does exist, research in humans suggests that our set point is “loose” rather than tightly regulated. While genes passed down from your parents can influence your set-point (set for either a high or low weight), it has been estimated that genetic influences are actually small. Instead, the belief is that the over-abundance and the ubiquitous presence of foods that are high in fat and calories (Western diets) coupled with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle overpower the set-point and open the floodgates for weight gain.
A healthy, well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, plus regular physical activity are critical factors for maintaining your set-point weight, but they’re not the only ones. There are several additional factors can render your set-point invalid and turn the dial up on your numbers.
- Restrictive Dieting—cutting back too much on calories can backfire, as your body tries to compensate for a lower calorie intake by using fewer calories.
- Thyroid Malfunction—if your thyroid gland isn’t operating as it should, weight gain can result. An underperforming thyroid gland is common among postmenopausal women.
- Medications—a number of medications can interrupt the body’s attempts to maintain a certain weight. Among them—antidepressants, anti-convulsants, blood pressure medications, pain medications, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, medications for type 2 diabetes, and estrogen suppressors given to some women after breast cancer.
- Gradual Weight Gain—the average weight gain for adults is about 1 to 2 pounds each year. Over time, that can add up and fool your body into thinking your set point should be higher.
- Chronic Disease—fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic infection and chronic inflammation can all cause your body’s set-point to go unrecognized.
- Immobility—arthritis, broken bones, osteoporosis can affect your ability to be physically active.
—Densie Webb, PhD, RD