Look, I know I’ll never be a size 2…..I just need to get back to my set-point.

"The set-point theory suggests that body weight is regulated at a predetermined, or preferred, level by a feedback control mechanism." (Harris RB) Translation: your body knows what weight it likes and it will fight to stay there.

set point theory

It's an extremely important and helpful theory when working with women who believe that they need to be "in control" of their weight at all times. It's like, "Hey! Guess what?!?! You're off the hook! ....Set Point - TAKE THE WHEEL!!!".

It's a theory of biological trust and surrender. It is freedom for those who have been fighting to control the uncontrollable.

Except when it's not.

We live in a diet culture. And our diet-culture-trained brains want to gather any and all bits of health information we can find and then squish squash them into new - slightly more camouflaged - "thinner is better and here's how to do it" messages.

As we get wise to the evils of calorie cutting and extreme weight-loss schemes, we're willing to concede that our dreams of being a perfect Cindy Crawford size 4 may not be in the cards but it is WAY too uncomfortable and unknown to ever consider just accepting our bodies as they are and giving up the game entirely. We cling to the idea that we need to be fixed. That our bodies are wrong and need to change.

But the whole point of the Set-Point Theory is that our bodies aren't wrong.

There is evidence that when we continue to engage in diet behaviour we "break" the self-regulating set-point thermostat. That eventually, with repeated periods of starvation (that's what dieting is to the body) set-point goes up....and I've used that evidence to help convince many women to finally stop kick the dieting habit BUT I've recently changed the way I approach the conversation upon seeing that what takes the place of deprivation and restriction is a new and un-healthy fixation on set-point.

  • women feel sad and angry that they've "broken" their set-point

  • they obsess about what their new set-point is

  • and how big the set-point range is

  • when they'll finally reach their set-point

  • and they hope that their set-point will be lower than their current weight

And while it is entirely possible that a person's set-point may be lower than their current weight - there is NO WAY of knowing if it will/won't and staying focused on reaching a lower set-point keeps women DIETING, even if it looks a bit different.

Our bodies have chosen the weight we are at for a number of different reasons - many of which revolve around our evolutionary design for survival. And when we take the theory and manipulate it into a new "here's where we should be, here's how we messed it up and broke ourselves, and here's how we can fix it" goal, we are inadvertently swapping out old, extreme, weight-loss plans for more politically and socially acceptable, watered-down, weight-loss plans. We stay STUCK IN THE CYCLE - a cycle that is proving to be, in and of itself, more detrimental to our health and well-being than weight is. A cycle that blocks us from making healthy choices that are right for us (because, as I've explained before - the psychology involved in pursuing weight loss is VERY different from the psychology of pursuing health - and they don't work together).

What strikes me most, is how we (I always include myself in these convos) desperately want a number or equation to latch on to...and that being ever so slightly leaner remains the aspiration. It's why I took so much issue with the GOOP article on set-point. It provided great research on set-point theory but then quickly manipulated and twisted it to "make it fit" with the diet messaging we're more comfortable with hearing (ie you aren't in control of your weight and we can't predict your set point but NEVER STOP TRYING to get to your "leanest liveable weight"! Whatever that it....).


If you want to REALLY free yourself of this cycle and truly make peace with food and your body, here are the facts:

  • There is no way to know what your set-point is until you stop dieting and start living a life you love, enjoy, and feels healthy TO YOU.....and then keep doing that, for a long time, for no other reason than it's fun and enjoyable and true to you.

  • There is no way to know what your set-point "range" is - you may happily fluctuate 15-20lbs on either side of your set point, or not at all.

  • You MAY have broken your set point thermostat and bumped it up by ongoing attempts at weight-loss - or you may not have. Plenty of women diet their whole lives and don't see a change in their set-point. The opposite is, of course, true.

  • Changing how "clean" your food is may change your set-point or it may not.

  • Taking probiotics may change your set-point or it may not (likely NOT).

  • Doing HITT workouts may change your set-point, it may not.

  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

That's the cluster f&*ck that is diet culture...it continues to dangle a shape-shifting carrot in front of our noses, locking us into the belief that we are just-not-quite-good-enough-but-almost-there-keep-going..... while tricking us into thinking we've opted-out of the system.

We are who we are, having had the experiences we've had, in the bodies we are in.
Our weight & set-point reflect some of that but also SO MUCH MORE.
So much we don't (and can't!) know in this moment because weight gain/loss remains one of the most poorly understood processes in the human body - which is a feat considering how obsessed everyone is....

Set point theory is useful. It helps us to understand that weight is generally not in our control and attempts to free us from the illusion that we need to mico-manage our bodies at all times.
But when we take set-point and make it the new goal we are working (read: controlling ourselves) toward...well, you see the problem here, yes??

My hope is that you can take this information and use it to FREE yourself.
Thank you for continuing to be here and for doing the hard work. I appreciate you all so much.
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, you turkeys.
XO
Jill