The human body resist weight change. Losing weight disrupts your bodies ability to maintain balance.
As you get older your body settles into a comfortable weight. This is called your body weight set point. The body weight set point theory is simple: it hypothesizes that the body uses hormones, hunger, behavior changes, and other physiological mechanisms to “defend” a certain range of body weight (and body fat in particular). A simple way to think of this is as a “thermostat” or “cruise control” system for body weight and fat levels. Whatever numbers are set are what your body strives to maintain.
If you've ever tried to 5 pounds or 60 pounds you have experienced this resistance in some form. The further we push our weight away from our set point, the more intensely the body fights its way back. This isn't solely the reason for yo-yo dieting but it is definitely part of the conversation.
The command center for the body's weight management system resides in the hypothalamus. The argument could be made that it wants to preserve fat, not eliminate it. Leptin is produced by the body's fat cells and signals the brain to regulate your appetite and satiety. Since leptin has that responsibility in the body we can conclude that this has a lot to do with our weight.
If you lose body fat, leptin triggers hunger and the urge to eat; if you gain fat and increase leptin, you eat less. The more leptin your body produces, the leaner you tend to be; the less leptin you make, the higher your set point and the fatter you stay.
The bottom line is it’s well established that our bodies do have a complex system for regulating body weight. I like to use a slightly different term than "set point" because "set point" implies that your body weight is fixed when that is not the case. A more accurate term would be "settling point."
What are the factors to this "settling point"?
- Yes, there are genetic variants that can predispose us to higher or lower body weight set points, but their effects are small. Research shows that certain “obesity genes” can be “turned off” through exercise alone. While genetics can predispose you to a certain amount of fatness, you can overrule them with the right behaviors.
- If you chronically feed your body more (food) energy than it expends you will create weight management issues. Even if only by 200 calories per day which is an apple and banana. If it is more than you expend you will slowly but surely gain weight.
Lowering your body weight set point takes patience, discipline, and consistency, but it isn’t particularly hard. Just takes work!
One of the best ways to combat this settling point and change your body weight for good is to increase your muscle mass. Nothing helps maintain a low body weight set point like adding a substantial amount of muscle to your frame. Muscle is a “metabolically active” tissue, meaning it increases the basal metabolic rate. The increase may not be much, but even if it is 100 extra calories burned per week, it is worth it. At the end of the week that is an extra 700 calories burned while doing nothing. The more muscle you have, the more energy your body burns while at rest. And the more energy your body burns while at rest, the more food you get to eat every day without gaining fat. Research shows that the more muscle you have, the less fat you gain in response to overeating. This means that the more muscle you have, the less you’re “punished” for eating too much. I call it 'wiggle room". If you have a little too much at your parents house over the weekend then you might be able to get by because a large amount of muscle allows you that freedom. Simply put, the more muscle you have, the easier it is to get and stay lean.
Adding more muscle to your frame and coupling that with a nutritional program that allows you to be in a calorie deficit is your best bet. They key here is that you have to consciously manage your energy balance because your instincts are likely to lead you to overeating. Practicing and getting better at proper meal planning and discipline to avoid overeating is key.
The longer you remain at a given body weight, the easier it becomes to stay there. The healthier your body is, the better its hormones will support your efforts to stay lean. Use your exercise and nutritional regimen to maintain health and body composition.