Do you want to reach your set point weight so you can stop fighting with your body?
Knowing the science behind set point weight is important to understand your personal weight history instead of blaming yourself for it. This post will help you let go of the weight loss fantasy that’s kept you stuck in food guilt for years, and just maybe, you can stop constantly obsessing over your weight!
obsessing over weight is common, but not normal
If you have dieted on-and-off for years since childhood, you may wonder out of sheer frustration: why can’t I lose weight? You wouldn’t be alone. It’s estimated that 17% of Americans are on diet at any given time. Another survey found 80% of 10 year olds have been on a diet. We’re taught to obsess over losing weight and it’s hurting our health. That’s why I want to have a quick chat before I go any further explaining set point weight.
why reaching your set point isn’t the point
It makes total sense if you want to lose weight given how highly it is valued in our society – but transferring your daily obsessions from “what will it take to lose weight?” to “what will it take to reach your set point weight?” won’t create the feelings of freedom you’re after. Actually, clinging to a weight outcome of any kind stalls the process! To find real peace, you need to stop focusing on weight entirely.
The No Guilt Framework does not focus on reaching set point weight. Instead, I show you how to feed yourself in a way that feels effortless and enjoyable. Then I help you STAY focused on non-weight goals, even if a little part of you does still want weight loss.
Understanding set point weight as reality does not mean you need to concern yourself with finding it
My concern is this: if you think you are “above your set point weight”, you may hear yourself saying things like, “I can’t be hungry, I just ate. Look at me, I clearly eat enough…”. This negative thinking will block you from building Intuitive Eating skills. This thinking stalls the process by turning intuitive eating into feeling like just another guilt-ridden diet. Any of you out there who have tried Intuitive Eating, but got obsessed with hunger and fullness (in place of calories) can relate.
That’s why at the end of this post, I’ve included ideas to point you in the direction of freedom, instead using your awareness of set point weight to invite more food guilt and weight obsession.
what is set point weight?
Set point weight theory says individual weight is genetically defined within an estimated 10-20 pound range. Within this range, your body can gain and lose weight without experiencing reactions like extreme hunger, preoccupation with food, and binges.
Set point weight theory also explains why trying to control weight through restriction causes big problems. Various animal models and human starvation studies prove the body works tirelessly at a biological level to keep weight within a tight range in an effort to prevent starvation.
Set point weight is a complex and dynamic process driven by metabolism and hormonal regulation. The books Health at Every Size and Body Respect by Lindo Bacon – both available on my resources page, give the best and most understandable summaries I’ve seen of the science behind set point weight theory. I often break this work down for clients so they can understand the complexities against their own lived experience with weight.
When you round up all of the long-term weight loss studies, regardless of the type of diet or amount of weight lost, the majority of dieters return to their pre-diet weight after 5 years time. Despite a billion dollar industry telling you otherwise, the reality is becoming increasingly clear: your body works hard against any weight loss effort that attempts to bring you below your set point range.
What’s more? After periods of starvation (ahem, let’s say like a strict calorie-restricted diet) the body semi-permanently raises your set point to protect you in the event of future starvation (or, restriction). This phenomena was validated by a recent look at what happened to TV’s Biggest Loser contestants metabolisms’ over time. Even when they gained weight back, their metabolisms were significantly lowered, possibly for life. These data may explain why many people regain more than their initial weight after each consecutive diet. Engaging in chronic dieting may drive your set point weight higher over time.
you know you are at your set point weight when:
- you don’t obsess over what, how much, and when to eat
- you move in a way that feels joyful and sustainable
- your weights maintains effortlessly
At the moment, there is no way to measure your set point weight, though it is very likely your set point is the weight you return back to in between dieting periods. Since your body does compensate when you are above and below your set weight, there are sometimes signals when you are outside your set point range. I explore these signals later in this post.
…but what about health?
Weight isn’t health. Period.
That statement doesn’t mean that folks in bigger bodies are always healthy; it means there is no health problem that ONLY impacts bigger people. Weight itself can’t measure health status and weight loss doesn’t guarantee health improvements. If that were the case, smaller bodied folks with high blood pressure, for example, would be in big trouble.
It would also mean bigger bodied folks would be in big trouble, too! Why? Even if weight loss were the solution it claimed to be (it’s not), weight loss efforts are rarely sustainable long-term for most who try.
The last important point about weight and health is this: the effort you take to drive your weight below your set point links to major health issues. Weight cycling or “yo-yoing” weights over the years may be super harmful and mental health struggles, including disordered eating are prevalent among dieters.
By focusing on health behaviors that matter, instead of your weight and size, my clients improve health without dieting. For tools to exploring health beyond size, check out my resource page, or, apply for a coaching program so I can walk you through this step-by-step.
are you within your set point?
It is commonly believed being in a bigger body means you must be above your set point.
This is not true. Size diversity is real. Being a bigger person does not mean you overeat. You may personally know this from years of trying to eat as little as possible and STILL being in a bigger body.
It is worth noting, too: there is no moral prize for being within your set point range. You are a good and worthwhile person even if you currently do things like eat past fullness, or, have a hard time responding to hunger.
Through Intuitive Eating, you can get to a point where you eat and move because you are listening to your internal boy cues, values, needs, and wants at any size.
By addressing factors that bring you outside your set point range, you work toward repairing connection with your body. This connection stops your internal weight management system from backfiring on you, as it has for many years. Here’s some examples of signs you may be outside your set point range:
if you are above your set point weight, you might:
- find it super hard to know when you feel full
- often eat until the point you feel uncomfortable
- eat out of control before promising yourself “it’s the last time” because your “diet starts tomorrow”
- skip meals to “save up” calories, only to binge later
- struggle with emotional eating
if you are below your set point weight, you might:
- feel constantly preoccupied with food
- often notice gnawing hunger
- experience low sex drive, difficulty sleeping
- have infrequent or no monthly period
Note that many of these behaviors are associated with disordered eating or other medical concerns. Additionally, you can experience the above symptoms no matter where you are against your set point range. These are not lists to diagnose you, but do highlight signs your choices are disconnected from your body’s needs.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, the call to action for this post remains the same. Listen to your body so you can restore connection and balance. If you aren’t sure how, check out the tips at the bottom of this post, or work with professionals who can help you have a normal experience with food.
how long does it take to reach your set point?
It depends and we honestly don’t know how long it takes to reach your set point.
Reaching your set weight “depends” because you may have individual roadblocks to applying Intuitive Eating skills that restore connection to your body. For example, feeling uncomfortable in your body and fears of weight gain can often keep clients stuck in a restrictive mindset.
We don’t know how long it takes to reach set point weight because there’s no way to measure it. We also don’t know how to measure where you currently are in relation to your set point range. All we can measure is your resting metabolism. Since we know weight loss lowers metabolism, the best course of action to stop dieting and trust your body will figure things out in time.
Intuitive Eating feels like a trust fall, but it is really not. Your body has been in control of your weight the entire time. By choosing food freedom, you are just finally choosing to be on the same page with your body.
takeaways for a life of no more guilt
Now that you understand set point weight, your job is to use it to put dieting behind you, and then forget it exists. The concept is not helpful to your day-to-day Intuitive Eating practice. The real focus is this: learning to simply listen to your body’s cues.
No matter where you think you are against your set point weight range, here are 3 ideas for you to start listening to your body’s cues:
1. aim eat enough, not too little
Your body won’t reach set point if you continue to restrict what, when, and how much you eat based on diet rules.
For this reason, feeding yourself regularly and in ways that leave you feeling satisfied is one of the most important Intuitive Eating skills you can learn.
Eating enough gets your body out of harmful weight cycling patterns. It also makes you feel better right now! If your hunger cues are not present because of years of dieting, this free guide includes a tool to start observing your body’s cues so you can identify your hunger and fullness patterns.
2. get in touch with your emotions
Emotional coping skills should make you feel better – not worse.
If you often feel stressed, you may find it difficult to connect with your body. This is a normal response, and Intuitive Eating helps you create a stronger foundation of self care during stressful times. In addition, Intuitive Eating includes a principle meant to support effective emotional coping skills.
For many, working on self-care means exploring coping skills beyond food. My clients work on creating life balance, setting boundaries, and getting support from women like them learning about food freedom.
3. challenge negative beliefs about being in a bigger body
Weight stigma and fear of weight gain drives the desire to lose weight and often blocks the Intuitive Eating process. Challenging weight stigma is important for YOUR journey, and critically important to helping other women feel safe to listen to their bodies, too. Remember all those depressing stats about dieting at the start of this post? I’d love a world where little girls weren’t taught to diet at age ten. If you are like my clients, this is part of the strong “WHY” that motivates you toward Intuitive eating too. We can make a difference to diet culture, together.
Unlearning the thin ideal as part of your body image work is critical to finding food freedom. To help you do this, I’ve included memoirs of women in bigger bodies on my resources page. My clients get extensive body image and weight stigma coping support so they can focus on what is important to them beyond food. If you want to get to know more about your food freedom vision, this free guide is a good start to explore your food freedom values.
I hope you choose 1 idea from this post to start experiencing less food guilt!
Tell me in comments what you thought of this post and which idea you’ll be using to focus on improving your relationship with food. For more support check out:
Until next time, I hoped this post helps you be good to your good body,