June 17, 2021

What is a Set Point Weight?

By Jennifer Northcott RD

When you start eating intuitively and ditch the diets for good, many people wonder what will happen with their weight. When we stop trying to micro manage our body weight one, of three things can happen – You may lose weight, maintain weight or gain weight. We can’t predict what will happen, but it all comes down to where you are currently in relation to your body’s set point.

With finding food freedom weight loss is NOT the goal, it’s all about allowing your body to find the weight that it feels best at and to function optimally. It’s the weight that our bodies can maintain without micromanaging, harmful restrictive dieting, counting calories, weighing food, or excessive exercise.

Set point is not an exact static number, it’s actually more of a range that some experts say can be between 10-20 lbs and may fluctuate throughout our life. For example, your set point in your 20’s may not be the same in your 40’s.

To understand your body’s set point, think of it like the thermostat in your home that likes to keep your house at a constant temperature. Our bodies don’t want our weight to go above or below this range and will work to keep it within our predetermined range.

This was demonstrated in a study conducted on participants of the TV show The Biggest Loser. After losing a significant amount of weight most participants have since regained most, if not all of the weight they have lost. This is not a matter of the participants losing willpower after the show, but their bodies fighting hard to maintain their set point weight.

There are a few things that can affect our set point weight which included a complex balance between genetics, biology and environment.

Genetics play a huge role in our pre-determined set point. Think about a German shepherd and a teacup poodle. Both are dogs, but are very different shapes and sizes according to their genetics. It’s the same with humans, we definitely all come in different shapes and sizes and are genetically programmed to an extent to be a certain size, but the unfortunate thing with humans vs dogs is that all shapes and sizes are not universally accepted because of our unrealistic standards of beauty in our world today.

Also, our bodies throughout the lifecycle are meant to change and as you age you may find your set point changes, or the way you carry your weight changes. Our 18 year old bodies are not meant to be the same as our 45 year old bodies.

The environment and lifestyle can also affect our set point. Stress, anxiety, depression, leading a super busy lifestyle can cause us to lose touch with our body’s cues, be it emotional eating and/or restricting calories.

These non-genetic factors can cause you to deviate from your set point weight range, making you either above it or below it. However being below your set point range is not likely to be long term and your body is unlikely to have extreme deviations from your set point for long. There have been numerous studies that have been done on weight regain following a diet, where most weight is regained within 2-5 years. This means it’s not YOU failing the diet, it’s the diet failing you.

So while we can manipulate our weight in the short term, eventually our body is going to fight to return to it’s natural set point weight. What’s more, our bodies can adjust our set points higher than they previously were to protect against a future diet.

Hormone fluctuations also affect our drive to eat and thus our set points. Two main hormones that work to influence our appetite are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin makes us feel full, while ghrelin makes us feel hunger. Leptin is secreted from our fat cells, so when our fat cells shrink in size after weight loss, leptin is reduced and ghrelin is increased making us feel hungrier. Again, our bodies work hard to get back to it’s natural set point.

 So how do we know if we are at our body’s set point?  We can not truly know because there is no magic formula or lab test to find out. Generally it can be described as the weight you maintain when you listen and respond to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness (which may take some guidance from a professional with experience in intuitive eating) and the weight you maintain when you don’t fixate on your weight or food habits (also likely requires the guidance of a professional especially if you have a long standing history of dieting)

Allowing your body to find it’s natural set point and listening to our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues is the optimal way to promote health and feeling your best. Fighting your body’s biology by going on a restrictive diet will never serve you long term. You can truly be healthy at any size as long as we are focusing on those health promoting behaviours. Your weight is not a behaviour. And weight itself is not an indicator of health.


. . .


Guest blog author Jennifer Northcott, Registered Dietitian and Virtual Nutrition Coach

Guest Blog Author: Meet Jennifer Northcott — a Registered Dietitian and Virtual Nutrition Coach:

My relationship with food and my body was not always a good one. I know what it feels like to be confused and stressed about eating. 

I spent way too many years obsessing about the scale, feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and ignoring my own hunger and fullness cues. My weight was up and down depending on whether I was restricting, or overeating at the time. I lived on a “junk food” vegetarian diet and constantly felt bloated, out of control and terrible. My disordered eating started in childhood and accelerated into my teens when things got scary. 

I started to get professional help at the age of 16, and I slowly started to improve my nutrition and how I viewed by body. Working on my own relationship with food as a teenager and into my 20’s changed the trajectory of my life. I knew I too could help people who felt as overwhelmed and guilty about food and eating as I had felt.

I earned my Bachelors of Applied Science in Food and Nutrition at Ryerson University in 2000 and completed my Dietetic Internship at KFL&A Public Health in 2006. Today, I am finally at a place where I trust what my body is telling me, and honor my hunger and fullness cues with intuitive eating. I’m not perfect, but I finally view food as a source of nourishment, not stress.

It wasn’t until I consistently ate a balanced, mostly whole food plant-based diet, that I truly felt my best. It also wasn’t until I let go of the restriction and deprivation mentality that I truly felt free. For me, sometimes that includes eggs, wine, dairy, chocolate and fish if I feel like it. Hello #Flexitarian lifestyle.

Learn more at: https://www.jennifernorthcottrd.com


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