Why is it so hard to lose weight permanently? Are our bodies programmed to "fight back" when we try to change our weight?
Cindy from River Falls, Wisconsin, asks:
“What do you think of the idea that we have a set point for weight? Are we destined to always stay around the same weight or it is possible for that to move?"
Is the Set Point for Real?
The idea of the body weight set point is that our bodies are programmed to be a certain weight or to store a certain amount of fat and that the body will “fight back” against any attempts to change this predetermined weight. And there is some evidence to support this idea.
When we significantly restrict our calorie intake for more than a few days (say, by going on a diet), our metabolism starts to slow down and we burn fewer calories. Likewise, if we significantly and suddenly increase our activity levels (say, by starting a new exercise program), our bodies compensate by burning fewer calories.
See also: How exercise DOES help with weight loss
There have been experiments where lab rats were fed diets that caused them to either lose or gain a bunch of weight. As soon as the experiment was over, however, the rats tended to revert back to their original weight. And we all know that the vast majority of people who lose a lot of weight end up gaining it all back.
There are several factors that probably come into play here. Some of them, such as our genes and biological adaptations, are beyond our control. But that doesn’t mean that all attempts to lose weight are doomed to fail. There are other things that we can control.
4 Ways to Change Your Set Point
The following four strategies can help you lose weight. More importantly, they can help you permanently change your body weight set point.
1. Change the composition of your diet. If your diet currently includes a lot of sweets or refined carbohydrates (things like white bread, cereal, pasta, and pastry), consider cutting way back on these—and not just as a temporary weight loss strategy but as a permanent shift. This can lower your insulin levels, which can in turn reduce your appetite and your tendency to store fat.
You don’t have to go on an extreme low-carb diet. Try the more sustainable approach outlined in this episode.
See also: Do Low Carb Diets Work?