Struggling With Weight Loss? Set Point Theory

Do you ever feel like you keep struggling to lose the same 4 or 5 pounds? Maybe your problem is plateauing at a certain weight that you can never get past? Have you lost some weight before and found yourself gaining it back? The reason for some of these common weight loss problems may be the Set Point Theory. A Set point is the simply weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set points vary for each person, and some people will have a high setting, meaning they tend to have a naturally higher weight, while others have a low set point and therefore a naturally lower body weight. Scientists estimate the average person has a set point range of about 10 to 20 pounds, meaning at any given time, there is a +5 to 10 pounds above your normal weight or a -5 to 10 pounds below your normal weight. (

So for everyone who has ever tried to lose weight may notice a loss in the first few weeks, but almost always gain it back as consistency and new habits start to slip.The faster the rate of weight loss, the quicker the rate at which your body will try to gain the weight back. That is a sign that the body is trying to fight to retain it’s natural weight. Think of simple physics as Newton's third law states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When you go below your body’s natural set point, (calorie deficit state) both appetite and metabolism adjust to try to return you to your set point. Your metabolism may slow down to try and conserve energy as your body starts to sense it’s in a state of semi-starvation. A study from MIT Medical shows that Long-term caloric deprivation acts as a signal for the body to turn down its metabolic rate. The body reacts to strict low calorie dieting as thought famine has set in. Within a day or two after semi-starvation begins, your metabolism shifts to a cautious state  designed to conserve the calories it already has. This will tell your body to make you more sleepy in an attempt to conserve calories (little calories in = little calories out), and try to gain weight back. Because of this innate biological response, dieting becomes progressively less effective, and a plateau is reached at which further weight loss seems all but impossible.

Just as your metabolism will slow down when you go under your body’s set point, it will also increase if you go above it. The body will try to fight against the weight gain by increasing its metabolic rate and raising its temperature to try and burn off the unwanted calories. However, this is very short term! The set point, it would appear, is very good at supervising fat storage, but  it cannot tell the difference between dieting and starvation.

The interesting and uplifting news is that if you are able to maintain a safe and steady rate of weight loss (1-3 pounds a week) for a longer period of time, you can change your set point. After about  year your body will start to “accept” your new set point, and it will actually become easier for you to maintain your weight loss. Thus, the body is no longer fighting against you, but actually [working] with you, which is good news for anyone trying to lose weight.

The graph below is meant to show everyone that along your weight loss journey you will face plateaus, weight gains, and yes weight losses. The path is a long one that can be frustrating at times, but if you stick it out and “stay the course” your body will reward you in the end.

Does the set point theory explain how hard it is to maintain weight loss?