“The metabolic set point theory of homeostasis” is a complicated, medical way of saying that your body:
- Has a natural tendency to be a specific weight
- Will adjust internal processes to stay at that specific weight, such as speeding up or slowing down metabolism
This is an important thing to recognize, because even though people will tell you otherwise, your weight is largely out of your control.Read the sections below for everything you need to know about understanding (and changing) your set point.
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- Your body “wants” to be a certain weight and will “work” to stay at that weight
- Historically, we have been thinner because our lifestyles were more physically demanding and we consumed fewer calories
To better understand whether it’s possible to change our set-point, first consider the level to which obesity has taken over. According to the CDC, as of 2014 more than 1 out of every 3 people is obese in 22 states (1).
A variety of arguments can be made to suggest that the average set-point of Americans is increasing, such as…
What happened? Did America’s average set-point go up?
- We are getting older on average due to the aging baby boomer population, and as we age we get more fat cells
- Our sedentary lifestyle and worsening diets are making our set-points go up
While there is an element of truth to each of these arguments, neither is correct. The real answer is…
- America’s increasing weight is our “real” set-point. Historically we have been thinner because our lifestyles were more physically demanding and we consumed fewer calories.
In other words, we are genetically hard-wired to be obese in the presence of a high-energy (high fat) and sedentary lifestyle. In addition, as our bodies “give in” to our genetic predispositions, it is likely that our brains become less receptive to the “stop eating” hormones that our fat cells secrete.
- You cannot change your body's set point unless you suffer from obesity
- Some bariatric procedures fundamentally change the way your body functions, which changes your set point
If genetics drive our weight level, is the desire to achieve sustained weight loss hopeless?
It depends on your current weight and your goals. Despite the healthiest diet and the most active lifestyle, some body types are just “thicker” by nature. On the other hand, obesity (body mass index of 30 or above) is a serious problem that should be addressed.
Which category describes your situation best?
- Normal to thicker body type (body mass index from 18.5 to 29.9)
- Obese (body mass index of 30 or above)
1. Normal to Thicker Body Type
If you have a thicker body type and feel unattractive when comparing yourself to what you see on TV, it’s time to change your self image. Learn to accept your body type. Realize that you are beautiful just the way you are, and understand that there are many people who find “heavier-set” people much more attractive.
While TV and magazines can lead us to believe that skinny equals sexy, there are plenty of people who view those models and celebrities as way too skinny.
Fortunately, the ideal body weight in the eyes of the media and therefore the public in general is slowly shifting back to a more natural, normal, healthy level. Here are a few examples of how the trends are swinging in the right direction…
- As published on Allure.com, in a recent Prada fashion show “all the models were clad in classic 60s feminine shapes—A-line dresses, princess coats, and dresses with ruffles on the bodice or inverted darts at the bustline that amplified the chest, though in the least revealing way. In these clothes, the voluptuous models especially seemed to represent the type of beauty that was revered back in 1950s and ’60s.”
- Vogue Italia launched “Vogue Curvy”, a new line of clothing specifically dedicated to more shapely women.
- Shapely models walked the Loius Vuitton runway
- To drive the point home, consider Kate Moss, the former epitome of “skinny celebrity”, who has intentionally put on additional pounds. When asked about it, she replied “I’m a woman now ” (2).
2. Obese (body mass index of 30 or more)
If you are obese, there should be cause for concern, especially considering the related obesity health problems and negative impact of obesity discrimination. You have two options from a set-point perspective:
- Improve your diet and increase your exercise. Our set-points evolved to keep us lean and fit when leading a more highly active lifestyle on a lower-energy (lower-fat) diet. Reverting back to that lifestyle is the only natural way to lose weight.
- Fundamentally change the way your body functions through surgery. For some people, maintaining an aggressive diet and exercise routine is impossible due to the confluence of their genes, the prevalence and marketing of unhealthy food, a demanding, time-strained lifestyle and maintaining self-control after a stressful day.
In these cases, bariatric treatment may be the only alternative. Weight loss surgery disrupts the association between obesity and genetics which can fundamentally change the body’s set-point.
- Critics will state that there is a lack of evidence to support the set point theory (read details below)
Not everyone agrees with the idea of a metabolic set point. Critics of the theory argue the following points:
- Since no test is available to identify an individual’s set point, the theory is too vague and has no means to prove its existence.
- The theory’s very existence is more negative than positive. If someone attributes their inability to lose weight on their set point (or genetics), they may be unmotivated to change their diet. Instead, they will be discouraged, believing that weight loss efforts are futile. The body’s preferred weight range does, in fact, change after long-term dietary change. This means that the set point theory cannot be relied upon as the reason for obesity.
Regardless of whether or not the metabolic set point theory meets scientific standards, it’s well established that:
- Changing the body takes time, patience, and discipline
- Despite many people’s best efforts, they still are unable to escape from obesity
- You can ask a local bariatric practice for a free insurance check or cost quote
- You can attend a free in-person seminar or an online webinar offered by a local weight loss surgeon
- You should schedule a phone or in-person consultation (both often free), if you are interested in learning more about weight loss surgery