Set Point Theory
Our genes play a large role in both our physical and psychological makeup. Our genes determine the color of our eyes, the color of our hair, how tall or short we are, etc. Our genetics also play a part in determining the weight that our bodies feel most comfortable at and function the most optimally at. This is called set point theory.
It has been determined that the region in our brain called the hypothalamus has a role in determining our set point. The hypothalamus reacts to messages it receives and signals the tissues in our body. Our body uses regulatory mechanisms to keep our weight within its natural set point range. For example, if you eat more than you normally do on one day, your body temperature rises and metabolism speeds up to burn off this extra source of energy. If one day you eat less than normal, your metabolism slows down, to spare the energy that it has available. Our bodies also use hunger as a regulatory mechanism. If the body needs more energy, it will send out hunger signals and increase our thoughts about food.
The weight our body functions the best at exists within a flexible range that can fluctuate. For example, body weight may fluctuate up after going on a holiday and engaging in different eating and activity patterns. After returning home and resuming our typical patterns, body weight may fluctuate down to where it was before.
There is evidence to suggest that our set point is determined by our genetics, traits we inherit from our family, and our environment. There is no formula or test to determine your setpoint, or how tightly it is regulated. Generally, our set point is within a range where we are eating normally, listening to our body’s cues, free of eating disorder behaviors and participating in joyful movement.
What if I am unhappy with my set point?
Our set point may be different than what we want it to be, or what others may have suggested it “should” be. Similar to how we cannot control our height, our set point range is rooted in our genetics. It is important to work on practicing body acceptance of our height, weight and shape.
It can also be helpful to look beyond our weight and shape; there are so many things about us that make us important and special that aren’t related to how we look. What are your values? What activities increase your self-worth? What inspires you?
Our set point is determined by our genetics. By re-connecting with your body and listening to its cues, eating normally and finding a way to move your body that you enjoy, you can find your natural set point.
Centre for Clinical Interventions. (2018). Set Point Theory. [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/~/media/6CD4432DC40649949D8B4923C725742D.ashx
Müller, M., Bosy-Westphal, A., & Heymsfield, S. B. (2010). Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight? F1000 Medicine Reports, 2. doi: 10.3410/m2-59
National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). (n.d.). Set Point: What Your Body is Trying to Tell You. Retrieved from http://nedic.ca/set-point-what-your-body-trying-tell-you
Roelink, M. (2018, September 22). Let Go of the Perfect Body and Trust Your Set Point Weight.