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Set point theory: How does it work and is it accurate?

There are a number of myths, fads and facts floating around weight loss.

Set Point Theory: How Does It Work and Is It Accurate? | Juniper

When it comes to losing weight, there are a number of myths, fads and facts floating around and because of this, it can be hard to tell what is fact and what is fiction.

You might be familiar with set point theory but how accurate is it? Is this concept something we should be putting stock into?

This is where we come in. We're going to dive into all things set point theory, how it works and whether it plays a role when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, so after reading our guide, you'll have an in-depth understanding. Ready? Let's get started.

What is set point theory?

With set point theory, it is believed that we, as individuals, have a specific weight baseline dictated by our DNA. Therefore, our weight and how much it deviates from that set point might be limited.

The theory is that some people have higher weight set points and our bodies can fight to remain within these ranges.

But, it's important to note that there are a number of factors that influence one's weight. These include:

The set point theory seems to ignore other factors excluding the genetic background of a person. It believes that a weight range can be controlled by signals in the body and this keeps you at a set point — one which you shouldn't, in effect, deviate too far from.

These signals in the body — which dictate your weight — are things like hormones, leptin and insulin, which regulate hunger. Your metabolic adaptation is also key in this theory, adjusting to your body's set point and weight.

How does set point theory work?

The set point theory works by making sure your body maintains its set point weight [1].

So, after a while, your body will naturally fight a reduced calorie intake or an increased calorie intake by sending signals such as hunger pangs or 'full' signals. It will also slow your metabolism down to get you back to your normal set point.

Why do people have different set point weights?

This is an interesting question and one that comes back to the genetic influence on your set point weight. Every person has a different appearance and body weight due to their unique genetic makeup.

A body weight set point for you will be different from another person, as this set point is where your specific body weight needs to be for you to function properly and healthily.

Your environment also plays a role in determining an individual's set point weight [2].

How accurate is set point theory?

The set point theory doesn't ring true with every study, though, and there does seem to be a lack of research. Whilst it is featured in much of our scientific literature, some scientists believe it to be an unhelpful theory for understanding human body mass and human body weight.

Whilst genetic factors do play a big role, it is suggested that in humans, this natural set point is actually rather 'loose', rather than a strict measure [3].

Though the set point theory is featured in many textbooks today, there still remains to be minimal information to explain body weight control in humans. This is because many studies have been conducted with animals rather than humans and as a result, more research is needed [4].

Once I have a body set point, can I change it?

If we are following the set point theory, then yes. You can change your set point body weight. Although, drastic changes to your energy balance (energy intake versus energy outtake) can trigger your body signals for weight regulation, which is why a slow weight loss approach is advised [5].

To change your body composition with a lower weight or an increased weight, you need to do so slowly, and thoughtfully. Otherwise, you can shock your body and it will attempt to adjust your weight range internally.

Similarly, if you consistently (over a long period of time) continue to overeat with minimal exercise, your body's natural ability to manage weight will become debilitated.

It won't be able to keep you at your predetermined set point range and it could get you to a higher set point — which, in theory, would not be healthy for you.

Slowly losing weight and slowly gaining weight can also reset your set point weight — set point theory means that working with your body's natural weight regulation will see better results.

But, if you believe the set point theory and you've reset your set point after a gradual weight gain, it will be harder for you to lose weight as your body weight set point is now higher, therefore you'll be experiencing signals that will impact your weight loss journey.

How does set point theory work with weight loss surgery?

In some research, bariatric surgery has been shown to denote long-term weight loss [6]. Weight loss following weight loss surgery tends to be quite intense as a person experiences a sufficient calorie deficit and reduction in their usual calorie intake.

But, with set point theory, as it is a sudden change (if not paired with an active lifestyle) the metabolic adaptation might mean it slows down and more hunger signals are sent to the body.

Rapid weight loss can confuse your set point and as such, the best way to focus on your body composition after surgery is to ensure you're considering environmental factors such as exercise and lifestyle choices.

At Juniper, we understand that weight loss requires a holistic approach and weight loss surgery isn't for everyone.

This is why we approach medical weight loss with a multipronged approach in our Weight Reset Programme, which combines proven weight loss medication, health coaching and ongoing support to help you lose weight and keep it off. We prescribe a GLP-1 medication called Wegovy, which contains the active ingredient semaglutide.

Semaglutide is clinically proven to reduce your appetite and make you feel fuller for longer, while also reducing cravings by targeting the rewards centre in the brain.

For long-term success, changing your eating and movement habits is also crucial, which is why we offer a comprehensive programme that includes 3 core pillars of lifestyle change with the assistance of our UK clinicians.

We can help you break habits that might be impacting your weight and help you hit your weight loss goals sooner.