What Is Set Point Weight & Does It Matter?
Have you ever stared at the scale in frustration, watching the numbers creep back up after working hard at a new diet or exercise programme? If so, you aren’t alone. And set point weight is what might be the culprit.
That’s right – it’s not lack of discipline. There is nothing wrong with you or your body.
In fact, it’s usually the drastic diet or type of exercise itself that triggers your body to regulate your weight in the first place.
You were fighting a losing battle.
But why is it so hard to change your weight? Are eating habits the issue, or is something else keeping you from your goals?
If you’ve looked into intuitive eating (aka food freedom) at all, you may have seen the words ‘set point weight’ tossed around. And, if you haven’t been exposed to weight set point theory before, it can be really confusing to understand what it is and how it affects your weight fluctuations.
So let’s break down what set point weight is, how it affects your body weight, if you can change it – and if you should even want to.
What is set point weight?
The idea of set point weight is the weight your body naturally gravitates to.
One of the major components of your body weight is total body adiposity, or the amount of fat in your body. Although your body fat can go up and down from time to time, you usually have a total body adiposity level that is relatively stable – this is what is set point weight for you.
Set point weight is not a specific number, but a flexible range.
It is the number on the scale that your weight seems to hover around pretty effortlessly. You’re feeding your body regularly, having foods you enjoy and doing regular exercise. It’s not good or bad, it’s just your body’s “happy place.”
When people go on diets, they may be able to lose some weight for a time, but eventually, that body weight will creep back up. That’s because restricting calories can lead to bingeing. It is simply a survival mechanism for your body to return to its set point weight.
This can even be true for people who undergo a lipectomy or liposuction procedure to reduce their body fat. While they may reduce their body fat in the short term, their body fat will slowly return – not necessarily to pre-operation levels.
Conversely, if you try to eat more and gain weight, it may be difficult to do for long periods of time. Even if you aren’t trying to gain weight but have a season or moment of feeding your body more, your set point weight is what you will return to.
But what is set point weight determined by? And can you change your set point weight? Let’s look into why your set point weight exists, how permanent it is and why it’s not something you should even be worried about.
What is set point weight determined by?
What is set point weight for one person will look vastly different for someone else. Your set point weight is determined by multiple factors, including your genetics and the nutritional factors before and right after your birth.
Your body has a sort of internal body fat thermostat that monitors your total body fat. When your body thinks you are straying too far from what is set point weight for you, it produces a range of responses to influence your weight.
For example, if your body fat level is increasing, your body might secrete more leptin and insulin which will tell your brain to reduce food intake and speed up your metabolism.
Likewise, if your body fat percentage is dropping because of dieting or other factors, the reduction in leptin and insulin hormones tells the brain to increase your appetite. This is why it is difficult for most people to stray far from what is set point weight for long periods of time.
That being said, certain environmental factors can influence your set point weight.
Stress is one of those factors.
Some people lose their appetite in the face of chronic stress, while others turn to food for comfort. Emotional eating and weight gain go hand in hand, and a slow and gradual weight gain or loss can confuse your body into thinking its set point should be higher or lower.
If you eat excess food or get insufficient exercise for a long period of time, what is set point weight for your body will start to change. Your natural set point will be overridden, and you will be left with a higher set point weight.
Other factors like age, changing your routine, having children, starting a new active hobby and more can also influence your set point weight. Remember, your body is designed to change over the years!
Can you change your set point weight?
It is possible to change what is set point weight for you by working with your body’s natural tendencies. This means that dieting and rapid weight loss techniques are not the answer.
In fact, as mentioned before, weight set point theory is that you will most likely return to your original (higher) set point weight if you partake in drastic actions such as these.
Your body is smarter than you might think, but when it comes to hunger, it acts on survival instincts. It doesn’t know that you are depriving it of food or fat purposefully – it only knows it is being starved, and that it needs to protect you by putting on some extra weight.
If you are concerned that what is set point weight for you is unhealthily low or high, don’t be. It is much better to practise how to eat intuitively and mindfully so you can retrain yourself to listen to your body. This will let your body find it’s own set point weight. That place where you feel happy and healthy in your skin.
What is set point weight for my body?
Knowing what set point weight is for you is not something that can be done overnight. And there are no tools or calculations for finding it. In fact, listening to your body and eating intuitively are two of the best ways to get in tune with your body and stabilize your weight.
There are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you are already at your body natural set point weight.
- Do you listen to your body’s hunger cues and respond?
- Do you know when to stop eating so that you don’t feel uncomfortably full?
- Do you keep a relatively stable weight?
- Do you feel stress-free about food?
- Do you use nutrition gently instead of obsessing over it?
- Do you exercise for enjoyment and not as a way to burn off calories?
If you answered no to some of these questions, you probably haven’t arrived at your set point weight yet because you are interfering with your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.
In order to find what set point weight is for you, you will need to eat without any restrictions, use the intuitive eating scale and practise finding movement that you enjoy regularly.
A Food Freedom programme is one of the best ways to help return your body to its healthiest weight – and to stop caring about your weight with the support of a trained professional and like-minded people on their own journey to food freedom!
How to eat intuitively
We are all born intuitive eaters.
We cry when we are hungry, and stop eating when we are full. We don’t think about what we are eating, when we are eating or how much we are eating – we simply eat what our body needs.
But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten how to do that.
We’ve given in to the messages of society, social media and even ourselves. Messages that are contradicting, confusing and downright wrong.
And, the problem is, that our internal cues get drowned out by all that information – and we forget how to listen to the one voice that matters.
Intuitive eating aka food freedom is about tuning back into that voice.
When you practise intuitive eating, you will learn how to once again listen to your body’s cues of hunger, satisfaction and fullness, so you can live your happiest, healthiest life.
On the contrary, our whole society is centred around diet culture and the ‘need’ to lose weight. So, you may be assuming that intuitive eating and weight loss go hand in hand.
But that isn’t always the case.
Three things can happen when you learn how to eat intuitively – you can lose weight, maintain weight or gain weight. And all are fine! Intuitive eating helps you find your natural set point weight, not the number on the scale that diet culture has told you to strive toward.
You set point weight might not be lower than your current weight, and that’s okay! Because it is the healthiest weight for your body.
If you want to learn how to eat intuitively, the first thing you need to do is throw diets out the window entirely.
Carbs and sugar are not the enemy – restricting is the enemy. Let go of self-imposed limits on the types, amounts and timing of foods.
When you stop restricting foods, you may see a subtle uptick in your weight as your body adjusts to no longer being starved! This will simply be a phase, and it’s important not to let the weight gain scare you.
Weight does not equal health – and it also doesn’t define who you are.
In fact, health promoting behaviours are what improve your health, and intuitive eating (aka food freedom) can help you focus on a number of them!
After your body learns you aren’t going to restrict again, it will start to give you more cues – and you will learn how to listen for them. You will be able to tell when you are becoming hungry, what foods are most satisfying to you, and when you are full and should stop eating.
This will help to regulate disordered eating because you will be relying more on physical cues than mental or emotional ones.
With a food freedom programme, you will also learn how to practise gentle health-improving movement, and to treat your body with love and respect.
The last one is a BIG one.
Because more often than not, our struggle with our weight has nothing to do with our actual health or the number itself. It’s a struggle with our emotions. A food freedom programme can help you love what you see in the mirror, cope with negative emotions without turning to food and heal your relationship with yourself and your food.
In the end – does set point weight matter?
Set point weight doesn’t matter. Because WEIGHT doesn’t matter.
Let that sink in.
Weight doesn’t matter.
A number on a scale has nothing to do with your worth or value. And a food freedom programme will help you feel that truth in your very soul.
When you achieve true food freedom, you will no longer have any fear or concern about weight, or the way your body looks.
While set point weight is a very real thing concerning yourself over it means you are still stuck in the mindset of diet culture. And any intuitive eating coach or programme that promotes it likely is too.
It’s understandable. If you’ve centred your habits and thoughts around diet and appearance for so long, you won’t be able to change overnight.
The path to food freedom is a long one – but there is no wrong path, and no way to fail.
That’s because there are no rules.
It’s time to free yourself of all the ‘health’ rules society has thrown at your eating habits over the years.
Focus instead on enjoying your food. On speaking kindly about your body. On finding a movement that brings joy to your day. When you start treating your body with kindness through gentle nutrition, hydration, sleep, meditation and relaxation – you’re sure to find your set point weight.
And I hope you absolutely don’t care about it when you get there.
Forget the scale and find food freedom
If you’re struggling with your weight and negative self image, and find yourself frequently turning to food for comfort, then it’s time for a change.
There are so many helpful resources out there on self love, mindful eating and how to stop emotional eating.
You can start with learning more about food freedom or reading some truly transformative binge eating books. And you can reach out to a licensed emotional eating therapist, such as me. I’m here to guide you toward a healthier relationship with your food, weight and body.
There are also many safe communities out there for people on their journey to food freedom (like my own Facebook Group), no matter where you are in that journey.
And we’re here to hold your hand as you step off the scale and into your future.