Set Point vs. Settling Point

May 26, 2011

UPDATE – This post is no longer in line with my thinking in some ways. See newer post.

I overheard a young (and overweight) young man complaining that he had been having trouble losing weight. His slightly less overweight female friend suggested that his body might be thwarting is fat loss – that his body has a natural “set point” and that any attempt at straying from said point would be futile.

This idea seems solid on the surface, but as I hope to show, it’s a little off.

A “set point” just seems right for a few reasons:

  • Losing weight is hard.
  • Some people are just “naturally thin.”
  • Often, those who lose weight gain it back quickly.

In my opinion, often losing weight is hard because the dieter isn’t doing it right. Those “naturally thin” people? Try naturally insulin sensitive, active, or raised to eat a healthy diet. Easy.

The weight regain point is a little stickier. Many of these “yo-yo dieters” get their weight down with an unsustainable diet, which I think is a result of a flaw in the dietary paradigm; many simply regain weight because after they lose it, they stop dieting. They get fat again for the same reason they got fat the first time – poor diet/lifestyle. However, the second time, they have a little help: they are hungry and deprived from crash dieting, and they now have more fat cells than they used to so they don’t need to waste time building new ones. With a healthy diet and lifestyle, unused fat cells should die (apoptosis), but that takes time.

A more accurate model is the settling point. If a dieter follows a specific lifestyle for a really long time, their body composition will eventually become constant; the dieter is in equilibrium. If the lifestyle changes, the body composition will change as well, until a new equilibrium is reached. This new equilibrium is the settling point of the new lifestyle.

The distinction: It’s not that the dieter has a “set point,” it’s that the diet has a “settling point.”

Dieters are not unique (in the large majority of cases), diets are.


*Some credit here (as with many of my posts) goes to The Paleo Solution Podcast. Andy mentioned something a lot like this a few months back.

Entry filed under: Basics, Calories. Tags: .

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