Set Point Theory




The ‘Set Point Theory’ says that your body can develop a preference for 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 weight regain is your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is said to slow down, resulting in 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.

Problem One 

Let’s say I’m starting a diet at 200lbs, and I lose steadily for 10 months until I’m 140lbs. We know this could happen, but what we also know is that this weight loss is unlikely to be maintained over time. According to this Theory, it’s my body that’s going to drive me back to my starting weight.

If we plotted this loss and gain on a graph, it would be some kind of a “U” shape. On the left side of the “U” I’m losing weight. But then I’m on the right side of the “U” and regaining. At first I gain 10lbs. But my body doesn’t want me to be 150, so it keeps on gaining. Now I’m 160, but my body isn’t happy with that either. And so it goes on until I’m back to 200 at least.

The flaw in the Theory is this. If my body makes it impossible for me maintain weight loss after 10 months, why doesn’t it do this after 10 weeks? Or 9? Or 3? If my body resists being, for example, 160lbs on the right side of that U-curve while I’m gaining, why does it not do that when I’m 160lbs on the left side while I’m losing?

One could argue that the body does resist the loss, which is why losing weight is such a struggle. But why it is a struggle I win at first and fail at later? If this were due to biological systems, no matter what they are, (controlled by the amount of fat on my body or anything else for that matter) it wouldn’t make any difference.

Set Point Theory says that if my Set Point is 200lbs and I’m currently 160, my body will:

  • make me feel more hungry and/or less satisfied, driving me to eat more
  • raise the caloric significance of what I eat by lowering my metabolic rate

And it will do that until that last 40lbs is regained, and maybe more.

So, why didn’t this happen when I was 160 on the left, weight-loss side of that U-curve? How can it be possible to lose any weight at all in the first place?


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