Is There Really a Set-Point for Your Weight?

Does your body know where your 'ideal' weight should be?

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

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