Can you change your body’s natural set point weight?
Dana Yarn, RDLD and Certified Personal Trainer
It has become increasingly difficult to take weight off, it used to be that you could increase activity slightly and decrease calories and weight loss was the result. Now living in a fast paced world full of distractions, stress, and less self-fulfillment time we are becoming more resistant to weight loss. There are more food intolerances, hormone imbalances and metabolic issues being diagnosed or undiagnosed than ever. The increased consumption of processed foods, chemicals and idle time spent behind gadgets and screens is also no help to our increase in obese and overweight individuals.
Is it as simple as, “I have horrible genes.”
Yes, we are predisposed to being a certain size due to our genetics but we are all capable of being in the best shape possible. Sure if you are 5’1” you may not ever have long skinny legs, but you are capable of having legs that are defined and free excess fat. We CAN train our body to maintain a set point that is both optimal for health and comfortable to maintain. The catch is training the body to have a healthy set point weight takes time. The common success factor in most people who have lost a substantial amount of weight and kept it off is they did it over a long period of time.
The set-point theory’s concept suggest that your body tries to keep your weight within a certain range, and you have a pre-determined “ideal weight” based on genetics. With diet and exercise, you can go above or below this set point, but when you do your body makes adaptations to bring you back to where it thinks you should be. This is especially true for those who lose weight quickly (more then 1-2 pounds per week). This is one explanation as to why people who lose weight have a hard time keeping it off, it may also account for weight loss plateaus. Sometimes plateaus are your body’s way to adapting to a new set point. A plateau is not necessarily a bad thing it is just a natural response for your metabolism to adapt to its new activity burn and daily caloric needs. Be patient and make some minor changes to your nutrition and exercise intensity and the plateau will not last forever.
Set-Point Theory: How Your Body Responds When You Lose Weight
When you first change your diet and start exercising differently, the weight comes off rather easily. The change in lifestyle habits “jolts” your body initially and your weight drops.
After the initial change (especially if it was very fast), your body recovers and does what it can to bring you back to your set point. It has some pretty clever ways of doing that. As you start to drop weight and are further from your initial weight set point, you release more leptin. Leptin is defined as a protein produced by fatty tissue and believed to regulate fat storage in the body. They can increase hunger and even send subtle signals to the brain to reduce activity to promote fat storage (think of hibernating bears). Fluctuations of leptin levels are easier to adapt to when weight loss is done at a steady and controlled pace.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to trick your body into determining a new set point that will result in long term weight loss. Higher intensity exercise is the most effective way to reduce body fat percentage along with resistance training since it boosts lean body mass. Resistance training trains our metabolic rate to burn more calories all day long even when we are resting and sleeping. Be careful to avoid over exercising, this can also have negative effects, lowering metabolic rate due to a starvation response. 45-90 minutes daily of cardiovascular interval and resistance training with 1-2 days off per week is recommended for optimal results.
You ARE in control of your body’s ability to be lean, healthy and strong. The best way to accomplish your optimal weight is to do it slowly, through a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, protein, healthy fats and high in fiber along with regular exercise. Losing weight at a steady and controlled pace allows your hormones to regulate as you progress resulting in less weight fluctuations and instead long term weight loss.