Do we have a body fat set point?

Many dieters will tell you that most of their weight was lost at the beginning of their diet. What is particularly frustrating is that the weight loss slows or stops completely after several weeks. This is called the weight loss plateau effect.

The Set Point

The bad news is, approximately 95% of dieters regain the lost weight. This is thought to be because the body is trying to retain its set point. Bennett and Gurin developed the set point theory in 1982 as a means of explaining why diets often fail to change body weight and shape. They suggested that the body is biologically and genetically predisposed to maintain a specific weight range and level of body fat.

Although the set point varies from person to person, medical evidence suggests that most people have a 65% chance of being in the same weight range as their family members. Some scientists speculate that the number of fat cells the body contains at the end of the first year of life determines the set point. The amount we eat, the fat content of our diet and the level of physical activity determine how large those fat cells will become, and how heavy we will be.

This means that no matter how many fat cells we all have it is possible to shrink the amount of fat storage they contain, although, we still need to select the correct exercise and diet suited to our unique needs.

Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle is a program designed to help lower the fat set point and limit the physiological adjustments our body makes in order to maintain present weight. A lower set point allows us to lose body fat easier than following a program that doesn’t attempt to stop set point adjustments.

There are three sides to the set point theory:

  • Some researchers believe that it is psychological. They suggest that it is determined by personal and cultural preferences, such as body image, clothing size (“bikini season,” for example), and health reasons.
  • Some researchers believe that the set point is physical. They are, in turn, divided as to its origin. Some say that a hormone secreted by adipose tissue determines the set point. Others have suggested that the hypothalamus, a hormone-secreting gland at the base of the brain, contains a sort of “adipostat”, the regulatory mechanism which controls fat stores. The hormone leptin helps the brain determine how much fat is being stored.
  • Recently, much attention has been focused on environmental factors for the 4% annual increase in the obesity rate. Industrialization, central heating, vaccinations, reductions in infectious diseases, increased availability of food, and changing attitudes have altered our set points.

The adipostat monitors and maintains body fat stores by adjusting appetite, physical activity, and the resting metabolic rate to conserve or expend energy. Think of the body as having a thermostat that tries to retain the set point – whether you go over it or under it.

When you start to go below your natural weight, it reacts by slowing down your metabolism. It reduces your energy expenditures. Your body temperature will drop as less energy is expended on warmth.

You may become lethargic as your body continues to conserve calories. You will want to sleep more. Some women will stop having their periods. Your body may start to think you’re starving and trigger uncontrollable binges to get you to eat more.

If you go above your natural weight by eating too much or exercising too little, your metabolism will increase. The body will do what it can to burn off the extra calories by raising your temperature, or reducing your feelings of hunger.

Either way, your body will always try to maintain its set point.

The way off this roller coaster is a healthy diet and regular exercise. The healthy diet will provide the proper nutrition we need. A sustained exercise program will lower the set point and result in a body weight that can be reached and maintained with proper dieting.

For example, if you start living a healthier lifestyle – that includes not only eating healthily but also regular exercise, you will be able to change your set point.

The good news is, this has been borne out by international research studies undertaken by the late Dr. Roland L. Weinsier, Director, Clinical Nutrition Research Center of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and many other noted researchers.

While appetite suppressors might seem appropriate tools for losing weight, many have dangerous side effects. There is another risk to using appetite suppressors. As soon as you stop taking them, your body will attempt to regain its set point and you will put back on the pounds you have shed.

We don’t need a short-term weight loss diet. We need to develop a long-term strategy that will allow us to take the weight off and keep it off.

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