When it comes to our weight care journey, we already know that it involves a number of different factors—from intuitive eating to movement—but there's even more involved than that, and at an inherent biological level.
You may have heard the phrase "set point theory" or "set point weight" recently, but what is it? Set point weight is the weight our bodies feel they need to be at to perform optimally. Our bodies try their very hardest to stick to where it's set, and it reacts when we deviate from our set point weight. This set point is determined by genetics, environmental influces such as diet and medications, and hormonal changes over one's lifetime.
Think of it as your air conditioner or heater. (Stick with us here!) Our bodies are just like your thermostat at home. During the warm summer months, we set the AC to a specific temperature, and if the thermostat goes one degree over, it immediately kicks in to cool it off and get it back to where it was programmed. It essentially self-regulates to fix it any time it veers from where it should be. This is exactly like our set point weight.
Set point weight is influenced by a variety of aspects like age—and it's going to differ from your 20s to your 40s. Hormones, genetics, and environment also affect where it's at or tries to remain. Your body is constantly looking to find its equilibrium—it sweats when you have a fever, or it adjusts your pH levels if there's something awry with acid levels in our kidneys. It's constantly helping us to stay level through understanding energy spent and how it adapts to changes in our day-to-day life.
One of the wonderful parts about your body is that just like you can adjust your thermostat for different seasons, your set point weight can be adjusted as well. But first, let's chat about influencers—not the Instagram kind!—but the kind that determines our set point weight.
You know how you inherited your grandma's beautiful thick brown hair or your mother's shoe size? Your body size can also be predetermined. Humans all have different sizes, shapes, and weights due to genetics. In fact, the set point weight parents are at is likely to be passed down to their children, according to a 2018 study on understanding body weight.
Along the same lines, doctors ask for the list of our family history because of this exact reason—diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure can be inherited so they can know what risks you may have or are predisposed to. Our set point weight range is going to be genetically modeled, meaning that your biological parents' health history plays an important role in yours—determining much of it, even.
The hypothalamus is an area in our brain that produces hormones that control hunger, heart rate, and body temperature. It's constantly regulating and communicating with multiple hormones—ensuring that our bodies are self-regulating to the maximum capacity. And although there are many hormones that help us keep our equilibrium, two of the most crucial to our weight are the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is what is referred to as the 'hunger hormone,' and leptin is often called the 'fullness hormone.'
Leptin is designed to keep you from starving. It's secreted from fat cells, and when your body thinks it's not getting enough food, it kicks ghrelin into high gear, giving you the urge to eat. Leptin is defending your body from losing any weight when it thinks fat cells are dipping too low. Humans have biologically developed this trait to make sure we're nourished and to keep us alive. It's your body using all its might to get back to your set weight.
Your hormones are controlling when you feel full and determining when you're hungry based on what set weight it's programmed to be at. In a 2018 study on fasting and food deprivation, they found that when our bodies are put into "starvation" mode, ghrelin rises substantially. It also showed rapid weight loss in patients who had calories cut substantially, but after the short experiment when they returned to consuming normal amounts of food, their bodies stored more fat than before trying to get back to that set weight point and, in turn, gaining more back as it tried to reach an even level.
Another crucial hormone is cortisol—also called "the stress hormone." It's important because it controls our metabolism and our immediate immune response. For example, if we're stressed, our bodies increase the hormone cortisol, and it can go into survival mode, slowing down our metabolism to try to find that perfect balance and keep our "reserves." The fluctuations in our hormones impact when we're full, hungry, and our innate drive to eat.
Our set weight point is absolutely influenced by our environment, whether or not we have access to certain foods, and the areas we live in. It's controlled by our relationships, work, and busy lifestyles—in fact, research suggests that "snack eating" and a low socioeconomic state are contributors to the obesity epidemic. Both are evidence that where and how we live can impact our weight. And, our set weight point changes as we go through different life cycles—pregnancy, after child-birth, and menopause. The body may feel it needs more fat storage at any given time, depending on what stage of life you're in.
We often find ourselves on a loop of endless diets that force us to undereat and not listen to our bodies and then overeat to compensate. All of these environmental decisions can cause our set weight point to fluctuate depending on what we're doing. The body's ability to weight-regulate as it's been on courses or down routes it doesn't know starts to be thrown off, so it sets its "mind" to one set point.
The short answer: No. But that doesn’t mean you can’t defy it.
There’s no scientific evidence that we can change our natural set point. But, we can do things to help maintain a weight below the set point weight—lifestyle changes such as movement, eating patterns, and medications. This means you don’t have to let your genes or other factors define your weight! Found offers a comprehensive approach to weight care and believes in treatment that's completely tailored for you individually. We approach weight care comprehensively. The goal is to maintain longevity and success in the control of your weight, and in addition to lifestyle and behavior modifications like improved sleep schedules, movement, nutrition, and stress management—medications can also help.