What is my set point weight?

Set point weight theory

Set point weight theory is the idea that we each have a weight range that is genetically predetermined. Much like your height this is something that is not easy to change. Your set point is a weight range your body functions well at and works optimally at. Note here that I say weight range rather than specific weight, because it’s very normal to have some fluctuations in weight over time. Think with me…What would our bodies do if we didn’t diet or try to change their weight? How would our bodies look if we only ate based on hunger and fullness levels? According to set point theory, they’d stay at a fairly stable weight. Yes there may be some changes to weight, for example an increase after the holidays or a decrease with an illness, but this stabilises quickly as the body works to regulate things.

What impacts set point weight and how is it controlled?

Factors such as genetics play a role in our set point and mean that one person’s “preferred” weight is different to another’s. This depends on your overall build, bone structure, metabolim, muscular build and more.

There are clever feedback systems in the body that help regulate weight. Let’s think about this from the perspective of already being at your set point. If you eat more than you eat on one day, than your body can counter this by increasing body temperature and increasing your metabolism so that you use extra energy. This keeps you at yout set point. If you don’t eat enough one day then the reverse can happen with the metabolic rate slowing down to spare calories.

Even how hungry you feel is part of this system. This is regulated by the interplay between signals sent from fat cells to the brain and by how preoccupied you are with food. If the body needs more energy, increased levels of the hunger hormone leptin can be sent to the brain to tell you to eat more. You may also be thinking about food a lot more!

IMage of scales with the title what is set point theory?

How do I know if I’m at my set point weight?

Firstly this requires you to be eating normally, that means regular meals and snacks, without restriction and without hunger. Your setpoint is the place your weight naturally maintains and your body is fully functioning. For example menstrual cycle and brain power!

Some clues for finding your set point weight:

  • Look back over your weight history. If you have had a stable period when you ate normally and were moderately active then your weight at this time will be a huge clue. 
  • Look at the weight of siblings and parents as weight has a genetic component
  • If you are female think about the weight if (or when) your menstrual cycle was occurring regularly, this is a clue but it is not the only thing to focus on. If you are using birth control this can mask your cycle and some people do not stop having periods even at a low bodyweight. We are all different.
  • If you are/were a serial dieter think about the weight your body returns to between diets.

To learn more about this try the Flexible Eating Course to help reconnect to your bodies inner cues.

Factors such as genetics play a role in our set point and mean that one persons preferred weight is different to anothers

Can my set point weight change?

In short, yes…. but it’s not very simple or even healthy.

When you lose weight, below the set-point, your metabolism decreases. Your body uses less energy for jobs such as digesting food and other essential functions. Your overall energy expenditure decreases and your resting energy expenditure decreases. So you use less calories than you were using. This decreased metabolism can persist even after you increase food intake regain weight.

For example, let’s say your original basal metabolic rate, plus the energy used in your daily activities is 2000 kcal. After a period of prolonged restricted calories and lowered weight, your new energy expenditure might now be 1600 kcal. When you start to eat your previous calorie intake, you would now have an extra 400 kcal. These extra calories above your energy expenditure would lead to an increased weight and a new set point weight.

This affect is likely to be temporary. As you start to weight restore your metabolism will at some point start to increase alongside this. So don’t feel as though you need to make yourself subsist on a restricted diet! In fact, the sooner you get back to a ‘normal’ diet, the sooner your body is likely to recover back towards its previous set weight.

How does dieting affect my set point weight?

Initially on a diet you may lose weight, rapidly at first due to to fluid loss and then this will plateau. Then your weight will try to go back to your set point. Leading for many people to a yo-yo diet or weight cycling. Over time your weight can actually increase, this is one reason why continuous dieting does not work. This doesn’t actually mean your set point has increased as your set point is a range that can be between 5-10kg. However long term diets or restriction can mean your body then wants to maintain at the upper end of your set point. This makes sense as it is trying to protect against further energy deficit.

Now this can be scary as it could mean that your body initially regains weight to a higher place than you would like. This doesn’t mean your weight will continue to increase and go out of control. Often this increase is around 5%. It does not mean it will stay there. Once the body knows that it is safe and it has full physical function (including a menstrual cycle if you have one and hormones) it will redistribute it’s stores and that can lead to your weight coming back down just a little. This is a good point to work on body acceptance. Your set point weight is unlikely to change so embracing it is key for long term health and happiness.

What if my weight right now is lower than my set point weight?

If you have been through a period of restrictive eating then you may have lost weight and not be at your set point weight. Whilst diet culture and society may tell us this is a good thing. our bodies disagree. It is very hard to constantly fight biology and genetics. So the body tends to respond by increasing hunger (this may not last if you ignore it) and makes you pre-occupied with food. That can mean thinking about meal plans, calories, recipes 24-7, watching food videos and dreaming about food. This is your body trying to get you to eat because it has a biological drive to keep you well.

For some people, staying below their set point can also lead to binges and episodes of over-eating as those urges become extra strong. This can be very scary but is again the body trying to get to back to health.

Knowing your set point isn’t straightforward. There is no direct way to measure it and it can change over time. Pregnancy, medication and illness can all impact someone’s set point. Ageing can also have an affect.

What we do know is that your set point might not correspond to your idea of a “healthy” BMI. Your energy levels, your menstrual cycle, your sleep, your bone health, the condition of your hair and nails, your blood results are all signs of health that are not measured by BMI and weight. Ignore the numbers on the scales and think about your body as a whole.

Tips on finding your set point weight:

  • Eat consistently everyday your meals and snacks. Do not have days you skip meals. Start to monitor your hunger and fullness.
  • Let yourself eat ALL foods.
  • Work on self acceptance. Super hard but your set point weight may be higher than you would like it to be. However if you can stay there and not worry about diets anymore I think it is worth it.
  • Practise tuning into your bodies signals. The Food Freedom course can help you with this.

Is it really worth finding my set point weight?

YES YES and YES! I’ve found my own set point weight after years of disordered eating and it has amazed me how stable it has remained. After every baby (I’ve had 3) my body has naturally brought my weight back there, with no diets, just listening to it’s signals. Some days I eat more as I’m hungry, others days a little less. The body has a wonderful self regulating system that is far more clever than our thinking heads!

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