There are infinite ways that you can make changes to your body. You can alter your hair colour with dye, you can alter the appearance of your skin with tattoos, but have you ever thought about altering your height? Of course you haven’t. Height is determined entirely by your genetics, and society doesn’t question it or hold any expectations for you to even attempt to change how tall you are. Yet, thanks to the world that we live in, weight — another factor affected by your gene pool — is.
Regardless of our initial weight, the vast majority of us have tried to shed the pounds at one time or another. We are actively encouraged to take whatever body we were gifted with and shrink it. People are taught that it’s important to fit between the boundaries of charts determining acceptable weights, and whilst that’s being shoved down our throats, there is little to no mention of set point theory, which explains a lot more about why our bodies are the way they are.
With a ridiculously high percentage of people regaining weight after a diet (proving that they don’t actually work), people get frustrated that they end up straight back to the weight that they were to begin with — or sometimes, higher. But that’s set point theory for you. Let us explain.
One person’s set point will be completely different to another’s. Controlled by a combination of genetic factors, such as bone structure, musculature and metabolism, a person’s set point is a weight range that the body is naturally programmed to maintain. It has absolutely no correlation to your height (despite what BMI charts imply), and it works to keep your body just how it should be.
Your set point weight is kept in check thanks to a number of your body’s regulatory mechanisms. For example, if you eat too much for your set point body weight, your temperature and metabolism both increase in order to burn the extra calories that you’ve taken on board. So for those out there who believe that eating an extra piece of cake or helping themselves to a second plateful of food is the absolute end of the world, it isn’t. The same goes for the other way around, if you don’t eat enough. Your basal metabolism slows down whilst your hunger levels spike. Plus, on top of that, the number of food-related thoughts you have increases, literally driving you to eat. The more energy your body requires, the hungrier you’ll feel.
Despite all that, many try to fight their natural weight range, and go against their body’s cues by cutting their intake. This kind of behaviour not only sends your body into defence mode as we’ve already mentioned, but it also makes you more vulnerable to episodes of binge eating and losing control over food entirely, resulting in weight gain.
It’s important to point out that years of yoyo dieting directly have an impact on your set point, too. The lines between hungry and full become blurred, and your hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin (who work together to create a hunger on/off switch in your brain) stop sending the right signals, meaning that oftentimes people can then perceive certain emotions as feeling hungry instead. Sometimes it even forces the goalposts to move, pushing your body’s set point to a new, heavier, weight.
This is merely scratching the surface of it all, and whilst it may seem like a science lesson, it’s necessary information. The next time you feel that you might need to drop a few pounds, have a think about how your set point is there for a reason. Rather than messing with it, be grateful for the incredible things that your body does in order for you to live comfortably, just as you are.