Set Point




This week a TV documentary here in the UK was promoting the Set Point Theory, so I thought I’d re-visit this idea as you might be interested.

The Set Point Theory says that your body can learn to prefer a higher weight, so that your Set Point becomes raised to a level that’s overweight or even obese. Then, any attempt to lose weight will be doomed because your body automatically sets biological reactions in motion in order to return to that higher weight, which has now become your elevated Set Point.

The principle mechanism said to drive your body’s attempts to regain the weight is your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is said to slow down, resulting in a slower burning of calories. Badly behaving appetite hormones are also believed to drive this inevitable regain.

For example, if I’m 200lbs and I go on a diet and lose 60 of them, my body will make me – even force me – to regain those 60lbs, overriding anything I might do to stay slimmer. The phrase that’s often used is that “the body biologically defends the elevated level of body fat mass.

I suggest two problems with this Theory.


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  1. Maria

    From my own experience, this set point theory is nonsense! I was very overweight for a long time while I regularly overate. I’ve also been very skinny when I restricted my calorie intake. And I’ve also been a healthy weight since I’ve eaten more moderately. In my experience, my weight reflects what, and how much, I eat most of the time. I think this theory is really unhelpful because it could make people think they’re doomed to be overweight forever. Don’t believe it for a minute! If you eat less consistently for a while, you’re likely to lose weight, and vice versa! It’s simple cause and effect. Of course, getting into new habits of eating less/more healthily can be hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

  2. Lesley

    I was so pleased to read your blog, Gillian. I had watched the TV production you referred to and was completely disheartened by it. I’ve been struggling to lose weight because of having very sore knees and other compelling reasons to lose some, and had just completed a successful ten days of ‘control’, but after watching that programme it made me throw up my arms and ask myself “what’s the point?” – and I’ve been overeating again ever since. But what you say in your blog actually makes more logical sense to me than what the scientists on the show were claiming – and isn’t it strange how these scientists never seem to have ‘weight problems’ themselves? I always come back to your books when trying to tackle my overeating problems, but the books alone don’t seem to be enough for me. I’m looking forward to receiving information about your online course. Best wishes, Lesley

  3. Donna

    Makes sense! Now I need to learn how to adjust my attitude/mind to allow me to succeed! Please tell me how I do this!! 🙂

  4. Ruth

    I agree with your analysis. In a recent tv programme that showed several very obese people who had lost a great deal of weight very quickly using one of several well-recognized methods (Lighter Life, reality tv programme, Slimming World etc), but who then gained it all back or more – they all agreed that they were fat again because they had eaten too much once slim. Some were using extreme exercise to try to control their weight, but none seemed to have accepted that their smaller bodies needed many fewer calories forever in order to maintain their lower weight.

  5. Kay

    Gillian I’m so grateful for your articles to help me through the tough times! As you have so correctly stated – it is so much easier to lose weight than maintain a weight loss. I’m 50 years old and have been yo-yo dieting since the age of 14, that’s too many years worrying about what I am eating and how much I weigh! Since reading your book and following your suggestions I do feel more in control of my situation, but I still find that some days I just give in and still binge eat! And that’s all down to my mind-set, where I’ve gone from “I’m succeeding” to “I’m failing”. Thank you so much for reminding me of this – it’s time to get your book out again! I’ve just been through an interesting exercise. My husband booked a 2 week all inclusive holiday – my absolute nightmare! All I can eat and drink for 2 weeks – the thought of it terrified me. Anyway I of course went, but went with the attitude that I was not going to eat all I could eat, but eat healthy and interesting foods that I would not usually have the opportunity to try, and it worked – that was my motivation. And I returned feeling good and my clothes still fitting comfortably! But since I got back it’s been so hard to not overeat – it’s almost as if I feel I was restricting myself while on holiday because I was being sensible, and now I feel I deserve to be naughty! That’s why I feel “I’m failing”! Which proves I still have lots more work to do, thank you for helping me see this!

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