Definition of Set Point Theory: Every person, male or female, has a set point weight, and just as we do not have control over our eye color, hair color, or height, we have no control over our setpoint. Anyone attempting to lose weight as well as those suffering from eating disorders may have trouble understanding the preset weight. The setpoint or thermostat is the weight range in which your body is accustomed and programmed to function at its best. When trying to restrict food intake, the body will fight to maintain this predetermined weight, known as the set point.

 The set point theory believes that regulatory mechanisms in a person’s body will fight to sustain the genetically preferred weight and is sensitive to any caloric changes when dieting and exercise.

A better explanation of how the body controls weight and how weight loss surgery works are the Set-Point Theory. This theory suggests that our bodies have a baseline weight range that is comfortable to operate around.

Set Point Theory - Metabolism and Hunger Chart

What is Set Point Theory?

The set point theory was first developed in 1982 by Gurin and Bennett to explain why repeat dieting from patients was unsuccessful in producing long-term weight changes in a their shape and overall weight. The theory asserts that the body adapts to our weight scale and sets it as a “setpoint”, or a standard of what your weight should be.

Setpoints vary for each person. Scientists believe that the average person has a set point range of about ten to twenty pounds, meaning that there is a range at which the body is comfortable and will resist attempts to change that weight. Anyone who has ever tried dieting will know how hard it is to lose weight continuously. This is why! Known as plateaus, this is typically a sign that the body is attempting to fight to retain the weight it is. Some people have a high setting and some flat, that’s why some people have a small frame, medium, and larger frame (big-boned).

How is your Set Point determined?

A part of the brain, the hypothalamus plays a major role in the body’s energy balance and ultimately our weight management, like our blood pressure. A signal sent from the intestine to your brain adjusts appetite and metabolism. The gut-brain connection plays a role in regulating appetite, hunger, and energy balance – also referred to as the body’s neurohormonal axis.

To maintain the particular weight range our body is used to, the hypothalamus adjusts our metabolism and appetite – increases hunger & cravings and reduces satiety & metabolism (Starvation Mode). The reverse will happen if you gain weight – the total metabolic rate increases and the body’s temperature rises to help burn off any unwanted calories.

Brain Thermostat to Determine Weight Loss

What is my body’s Set Point?

Ultimately, your individual body is a result of three factors: individual genetic makeup, behavioral and environmental factors. Because of the physiological factors, obesity doesn’t have to be cyclical. A recent study by The New England Journal of Medicine, by the 95% of obese people who lose weight with a rigorous weight-loss program will regain the weight (or more) within two to five years.

Bodyweight setting varies for each person and is affected by:

  • Genetic Predisposition
  • Environmental Factors
  • Developmental History

Scientists believe that the average person has a preferred weight range of about ten to twenty pounds, meaning that the body will resist attempts to change that weight.

Our body defends itself against changes to our natural weight. That is why diet, exercise, and diet pills are not a permanent solution as they do not change our set point. Bariatric surgery, however, changes the body’s setpoint for fast and permanent weight loss.

How Does Your Brain Control Your Weight

Metabolic thermostat

set point theory, From: Ethicon

From: Ethicon

Metabolic Thermostat or Body Thermostat refers to how metabolism and appetite adjust to weight changes.

As we mentioned, the body recognizes the increased fat level and elevated weight as an ideal and makes it its new setpoint to operate around. Even modest diet restriction to lose weight makes us think we are going through starvation.

When you go on diet,

  • The metabolism will slow down to conserve energy. The body will sense a semi-starvation state and will attempt to use a few calories it receives effectively.
  • The body may require more sleep; the body temperature will drop, and many women will lose their menstrual cycle. This typically occurs when a woman’s weight becomes too low. Her entire reproductive system will shut down because her body cannot handle a pregnancy safely.
  • Ultimately when body fat is lost, the appetite of the person losing weight will increase. Many individuals who diet will also experience the urge to binge eat. This is because the body is asking for more food that is being provided to function well.

Why Diets and Exercise Fail

Why does set point theory cause diets to fail?

Anyone who has ever tried dieting will know how hard it is to lose weight continuously. This is why! Known as weight loss plateaus, this is typically a sign that the body is attempting to fight to retain the weight it is.

For dieters, it’s important to accept the fact that the body needs to be at a particular weight to stop the dieting cycle. The more that someone tries to go below this set point weight range (it may be -5 lbs, -10 lbs, or maybe even -20 lbs), the harder the body will fight to retain its natural weight.

A recent study by The New England Journal of Medicine, by the 95% of obese people who lose weight with a rigorous weight-loss program will regain the weight (or more) within two to five years.

Set Point Examles with Bariatric Surgery Patients and Weight Loss

Weight Loss Surgery Shifts Body’s Set-Point

Bariatric surgery, known as weight loss surgery, offers the most effective procedures for the long-term treatment of obesity, whereas non-surgical dietary weight loss options are not long-term.

Bariatric surgery lowers your body’s hormonal weight set point to give you a second chance in life!

Until recently, it was assumed that the restriction produced by weight loss surgery procedures, including gastric bypass, vertical sleeve gastrectomy, and lap-band, is responsible for mechanically restricting the amount of food a patient can eat.

Bariatric Surgery Changes Your Body Weight Set Point

A more logical explanation of the mechanism by which weight loss surgery works is “physiologic.” In bariatric surgery, the individual’s setpoint and as result the internal body processes that control hunger and metabolic rate changes – decreases hunger & cravings and increases satiety & metabolism (Overfed Mode).

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