What Are The Weight Setpoint And Environmental Settling Point?
When you try to lose weight, your body fights back, making it harder to lose and keep weight off. Once you understand how your body fights back for its survival, there are things you can do to mitigate the effects so you can finally lose weight and keep it off. Here are a few theories
Weight set point is the idea that your genetics, epigenetics, and environmental factors regulate your weight. And that there is a predetermined ideal weight or body fat content that your body wants to maintain.
When your body weight (or fat) changes, your body signals your brain to make the necessary adjustments to go back to your setpoint weight. Your gut produces the hormone ghrelin while your fat stores produce leptin. Ghrelin makes you hungry, while leptin controls how full you feel.
Both hormones interact with the hypothalamus. When leptin doesn’t match the target amount in your brain, your body will adjust your hunger level and calorie expenditure to maintain your genetically pre-set target weight.
Many factors can cause leptin resistance and break your setpoint. Many obese people have very high leptin levels but are perpetually hungry. Here are some factors that can break your setpoint.
- Unhealthy circadian rhythm and sleep deprivation
- Chronic inflammation, especially from leaky gut
- High saturated fats and sugar intake
Although the setpoint makes sense in many contexts, it’s not a perfect theory. So, many researchers question the setpoint theory and believe the settling point theory may better explain our weight battles.
Environmental Settling Point
Unlike the weight set point theory, the environmental settling point theory focuses on the behavioral factors that may affect weight regulation. The idea is that your weight and body fat will settle based on factors such as your food intake, exercise, and lifestyle.
The settling point model takes into account your current environment as a weight regulator. You eat more because foods are more readily available, and advertisements constantly stimulate you to eat. Additionally, there is less need to be physically active when most people work behind a desk.
Several factors contribute to eating more:
- Larger portion sizes
- Exposure to calorie-dense foods (small portions that are high in calories)
- A wider variety of food is available (versus only eating what is in season)
- Eating out
- Watching TV while eating or distracted eating
These factors interact with your genetics and the psychological reward factor of eating to increase your settling point.
Why Does This Make It Harder To Lose Weight And Keep It Off?
Having a set point regulated by your biology or a settling point influenced by your environment (or more likely a combination of these two theories) can make it more challenging to lose weight and keep it off.
Based on the set point theory, no matter what you do, your body will still speed up or slow down your metabolism to maintain a particular body weight. When you lose weight, you’ll also be hungrier and fidget less, thus eating more and burning fewer calories. You may be thinking: “I have a chance.”
I was 130 pounds in high school no matter what I ate, which must be my set point. Unfortunately, scientists also believe that your natural set point increases over time.
Whereas, based on the settling point theory, your body will always stop losing weight at some point. If you maintain a lower calorie diet or exercise more, you will begin to lose weight. Still, your body, seeking its new normal, will eventually settle in at a particular weight.
This may also explain why, after dieting, many people tend to regain the weight they lost quickly. Weight loss, especially when done wrong, can trigger your body’s survival starvation response. To survive, your body starts to conserve energy and get prepared to gain fat. Once you increase your caloric intake after you reach your goals, your body’s survival mechanism wants to quickly regain the weight to make sure you survive in the next famine.
What Does This Mean In Terms Of Long-Term Weight-Loss And Keeping It Off?
Just because there may be a natural point at which your body wants to maintain weight, it does not mean you’re doomed. There are still ways to lose weight; you just have to work the system a little.
One way to do this is to reset your weight set point. Some ways to combat weight regain include:
- Losing weight slowly
- Diet breaks and refeeds to remind your body that you are not in a famine – this resets leptin
- Building muscles to keep your metabolic rate high
- Using cold exposure
- Sleeping well
- Addressing all factors that cause leptin resistance.
- Getting expert coaching and accountability
You should lose no more than 10% of your body weight at a time and maintain the weight for at least 18 months to give your body a chance to adjust to your new set point. This will help prevent your body from going into starvation mode.
Private coaching can help you set up an individualized plan to deliver results, build long-term habits, and naturally move your setpoints. Once you reach your goal, a coach will help you immediately progress to the next one to avoid falling back into your comfort zone.
- Müller MJ, Bosy-Westphal A, Heymsfield SB. Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight? F1000 Med Rep. 2010;2:59. doi:10.3410/M2-59
- Speakman JR, Levitsky DA, Allison DB, et al. Set points, settling points and some alternative models: theoretical options to understand how genes and environments combine to regulate body adiposity. Dis Model Mech. 2011;4(6):733-745. doi:10.1242/dmm.008698
- Yeung AY, Tadi P. Physiology, obesity neurohormonal appetite and satiety control. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.