Is Body Fat Set Point Really a Thing?

Research suggests there is evidence to show that the human body has a body weight, or body fat set point, in which it wants to try and defend.

We know already that the body has in place many mechanisms to try and maintain ‘homeostasis’ (stability and balance). One of these mechanisms includes an inbuilt thermometer, both internally and externally to regulate body temperature, kind of like the thermostat does in your home.

One of the body’s responses to infection is to raise temperature in attempt to fight off the infection, something we refer to as having a fever. It would seem that the body also has another regulatory system when it comes to defending or maintaining bodyweight. This varies from person to person based on genetics, environment, dietary habits, food choices and sleep. In lean people, the body seems to defend a lower adiposity set point against fat loss, which makes great sense from an evolutionary stand point; a Lean person can’t afford to lose much fat. At one point in time this would of led to them possibly starving to death or being too lean to reproduce body fat plays a role in sex hormone production).

People with obesity, however, seem to often defend a higher body fat set point. This is something that confuses scientists, as the body wants to defend an obese body type rather that a lean one, despite having more fat than is necessary to avoid starvation and infertility. One theory for this is that the body acts abnormally, as it has been placed in a modern day environment far removed from the one we evolved to survive…

Today food is so plentiful and readily available with shops, fast food chains and food delivery services everywhere. This is driving us to over eat on calorie dense foods that we would once have had to hunt or travel to find. The body fat set point does vary from person to person, but the good news is in most people it can change over time.

Our body weight isn’t completely determined by our genes.

Many people in affluent or westernised countries gain weight gradually over the course of their lives, increasing the lower limit of our comfortable weight. One of the main reasons for this is the over consumption of highly processed, high sugar, high fat, calorie dense foods.

Whilst we know that the most important thing for fat loss is a calorie deficit, most people want to be able to lose weight and still be able to have flexibility when it comes to diet – including eating ‘junk foods’. This can in fact help some people to adhere to a diet in the long run, after all who wants to live on a super restrictive diet forever? However, research does suggest that highly palatable foods to seem to increase food intake, which makes sense as we want to eat more of the foods that our brains find rewarding. Lower reward foods tend to have the opposite effect. Most people want to hear that they can lose weight eating the most delicious foods, and whilst theoretically true, a diet lower in reward value will control appetite and reduce adiposity more effectively than one that’s higher in reward value.

I’m not saying to cut out all processed foods, or that you shouldn’t include foods you love in your diet, because you definitely should. I would however suggest that the majority of one’s diet comes from whole foods.

The Consistent behaviours of your day to day life, including your diet, exercise, stress management and sleep, are all factors that will affect your bodyweight set point. As obvious as this sounds, its true. Our bodies are much more likely to accept a new, lower bodyweight, as being the norm, if we maintain it for a longer duration of time.

Here are 6 ways to reduce your body fat set point

  1. Reduce highly palatable foods – giving your brain less Motivation to want more is going to help you consume less.
  2. Manage your appetite – Go for a diet that consists of high protein and fibrous foods which are more satiating and less calorific.
  3. Increase NEAT – technically if its conscious exercise it isn’t NEAT, however moving more, whether it be taking the stairs or walking to the station is going to contribute a lot towards a higher energy output.
  4. Include Resistance training – More muscle will have an improved benefit to your resting metabolism
  5. Focus on sleep – sleep quantity and even more importantly, sleep quality should be a priority, both for health and wellbeing as well as fat loss.
  6. Manage stress levels – One of the reasons we tend to over eat is a response to stress. Managing stress levels through things such as Meditation or keeping a diary can help with fat loss.

So there you have it. The advice that generally applies for overall health can also be applied to helping you to achieve and maintain a healthier body weight.

For more advice on your fitness and weight control journey, contact us today for a complimentary consultation.