Set Point: Your Body’s Take on Weight

By Katie, 5:04 am

Fact: I used to really want to be a size “blank.” Like really really.

It didn’t matter to me that my original weight was perfectly healthy. It didn’t matter that it was easy to maintain. I still wanted to be thinner. I would do everything in my power to reach that smaller size – restrict my eating, overdo it at the gym, obsess over every morsel of food I ate. Eventually I got what I wanted; I reached my dream size.

 (Source)

Guess how long I stayed at a size “blank”? I think it was about two months. Two very short months. I blinked my eyes and was right back at the weight where I started.

Of course this frustrated me; I had worked hard, hadn’t I? I had followed the rules, right? I was keeping my body tightly under control, wasn’t I?

Then I learned about set point, which gave me a whole new perspective on my weight.

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“Set point” is the idea that when we fight against our bodies, trying to make them succumb to our wishes, our bodies don’t just sit back and passively let themselves be controlled. No, our bodies fight back. They know the weight where they are most comfortable, and they will fight to stay there.

When we lower our weight by dieting or increase it by overeating, of course our body size responds to that. But our bodies will also let us know that they aren’t happy. When I was under my set point, I was always tired and cranky, and constantly craving decadent foods. My body was pushing me to gain the weight back. When I was over my set point from eating emotionally, I continuously felt bloated and uncomfortable because my body was urging me to tune back into its signals.

It’s really difficult to maintain a weight that’s too far from our set points because our bodies keep saying, “Listen to me! I won’t let you do this! I will make you feel miserable until you pay attention to my needs!”

In the end, I had to turn inward and ask myself why I wanted to be a size “blank” so badly in the first place, when it was obvious my body was more comfortable elsewhere. I had to choose between being a size that was more “fashionable” – and yet made me feel miserable – and a size that was less model-like but a whole lot healthier for me personally.

I had to decide if my body and its set point were going to be my enemy or my ally. I chose the latter.

Do you think our bodies have a “set point”?

57 Responses to “Set Point: Your Body’s Take on Weight”

  1. Karen says:

    I 100% agree that our bodies have a “set point” – I actually like to think of it as a range. I have been in a similar situation as you – trying and trying to get to my “ideal” size and then being miserable once I got there. Once I let go of the control, my body always rebounded and I was back to my “set point” again. There are still days when I struggle with not being that “ideal” size but I’m working through it.

    • Katie says:

      It isn’t easy, that’s for sure! And I agree that our set point is more of a range than a specific place or number.

  2. I think so, yes. As of right now, I don’t know how much I weigh. I know I could stand to lose some weight but I am not unhappy where my body is right now and my body has been “here” for a while now. I think I have weighed a little less than I do right now and I have certainly weighed a lot more. I think if my body needs to lose weight then it will naturally and then it will have a new set point.

    • Katie says:

      YES! That’s something I didn’t get into in the post, but I do believe that our set points can change throughout life.

  3. I totally agree! Our unique bodies have a preferred weight to maintain homeostasis and I too believe it communicates to us when we drift away from that. Trusting our own internal wisdom keeps us there (and feeling physically best!); disconnecting via dieting or emotional eating promotes the distance from the set point. Once reconnected with our body, our body will gently let us know how to get back to that set point…we just need to listen and trust!

    When I work with clients, I often ask them: what do you want to weigh? THEN, what does your body want to weigh? This is the start to the set point conversation.

    Great post!

    • Katie says:

      I love that! What a great, insightful way to get people thinking about set point.

  4. Cammy says:

    This is a concept that I find endlessly fascinating. I haven’t ever really allowed my body to find a set point as an adult, and have often wondered what I’d weigh if I’d never developed food issues. I have of course noticed that my body seems to resist change more and more the lower I get below an ideal weight, and also that small spurts of weight gain with changed eating patterns inevitably plateau (ie if you eat X more you won’t gain weight at the same pace forever, even if the consumption is held constant). I’m a biologist, so I’m extremely impressed by how apparently people’s bodies seem to strive for equilibrium like this. I try to sort of use my mother as a case study, because our frames are very similar. She lost quite a bit of weight a few years ago (three children’s worth of baby weight), mostly by eating better and taking up a running program. Now she’s in law school and has pretty much gone cold turkey on the running over the past 18 months. She did gain some weight back, but she has stayed around what is still a nice healthy weight for her age and height, seems like her body just found its set point and held onto it.

    Anyway, just wanted to offer that anecdote, this is an issue that is really important because it involves *trusting* your body to find a good place and stay there, and that faith can definitely be hard to come by for people who are used to living with the idea of their body as some sort of enemy that constantly has to be kept in line.

  5. Cammy says:

    I had no idea how long that comment became until I posted it, sorry for the novel!

    • Katie says:

      I happen to love comments that turn into novels, so no need to apologize! :) I appreciate you sharing your mother’s story; those kinds of real life examples are so important to hear. Trusting our bodies is incredibly difficult and scary for those of us who have had such rocky relationships with them in the past. So hearing about someone who is LIVING it is so inspirational!

  6. I like the idea of my body having a set point–I don’t want to obsess about calories and exercise or have my body be unhealthy and uncomfortable. My concern is, after being so overweight for so long, my body’s set point (where it is right now) is “too high” for me. My body still doesn’t feel completely healthy, and I wish I could be at least forty pounds lighter.

    I’m not sure what I should do in this situation: Accept my body where it is (even though I hate it) or hope eventually the weight will drop.

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Kate. I like to think that it’s not an either/or situation – that you can treat your current body with acceptance and love, while still working towards a goal of feeling as healthy as possible. I also think it’s possible that our bodies have different set points at different times in life. I’m glad to hear that you don’t want to obsess over calories or anything like that. But I don’t think that means you can’t want to lose weight. Are you familiar with Karen C. L. Anderson’s blog? She talks a lot about the notion that we can actually lose weight by accepting our current bodies. It’s really interesting stuff!

      • I am familiar with Karen’s blog. (I also bought her book). I should probably make a point during some downtime to read through the archives.

        Thank you Katie for your always insightful blog!

        • Really good points here…you don’t have to hate your body in order to lose weight…in fact, loving your body right now will go a lot farther in terms of losing weight than hating it will. I recently wrote a post about “change” that talks about this very phenomenon…it’s a paradox! As I like to say, self-acceptance is more powerful – and certainly more effective – than any diet I have ever been on!

    • Read “Health at Every Size” by Dr. Linda Bacons. There are so many medical myths about health & weight that the medical community pushes on us.

  7. Tina says:

    Kate I’m totally where you are right now. I’m not in a healthy weight range and I don’t feel comfortable in my body as it is now. I have been trying to accept it and eat the best way I can but I’m not loosing, I have actually put on a few pounds.

    Katie, I love your site!

    • Katie says:

      Thank you, Tina! I actually just responded to Kate’s comment; it sounds like it would be relevant to you, too!

      • Tina says:

        Thanks Katie, I just checked out Karen’s site and it’s great. I definitely struggle with accepting myself the way I am, that is what I know holds me back but not sure how to get past that.

        • Katie says:

          Unfortunately there’s no simple answer…I’m right there with you, honestly! It’s a continuous journey for me.

          • I reply again here with the same thing: you don’t have to hate your body in order to lose weight…in fact, loving your body right now will go a lot farther in terms of losing weight than hating it will. I recently wrote a post about “change” that talks about this very phenomenon…it’s a paradox! As I like to say, self-acceptance is more powerful – and certainly more effective – than any diet I have ever been on!

  8. bubu says:

    I am very curious about this issue. In the last month or so I’ve started really exploring intuitive eating (in big part thanks to your e-book, Katie!) and meditation practice… and something has clicked and it is really great: I am much more at peace, relaxed, both in life and with food. I’m not sure if it is this, or the fact that it is warming up, I am coming out of hibernation mode, running again, and more generally active — but I got on the scale this morning and it was down 3 pounds. I do think part of it is my body responding to these things, I also think seasonal weight change is real; weight changes not just over a lifetime but over the year too. Weirdest thing was, I just looked and was like “huh, interesting” but my response was not nearly as emotional (positive or negative) as changes on the scale usually are for me. I already knew from how my body looked and felt that I had shrunk a little, and things overall feel good and right. So is that my body moving to its set point? Too soon for me to tell but it will be an interesting process.

    • Katie says:

      This is AWESOME! I agree with you that seasonal weight change is totally real and natural for many people. I think it’s possible that we actually have different set points at different times. I’m very curious to see how this progresses for you, and I’m super happy to hear that you were able to see the scale without having an emotional response. AWESOME! :)

  9. peacebeme says:

    I totally agree with this idea, always have. I also think we can have different set points at different times in our lives (like in our 20′s vs our 50′s etc) and that people fight that too much too! That is a natural course of life, especially with weight distribution.

  10. McKella says:

    I sure believe in set points, but I also believe that they change. It changes with age and with lifestyle changes. I’m not sure what my current set point is, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon, since I’ve made so much progress with intuitive eating lately. I’m well on my way to my happy weight, whatever it may be.

    • Katie says:

      That’s awesome! Congratulations! And I definitely agree that our set point can change throughout life.

  11. Lisa says:

    For some reason I just want to get to 140. I can’t seem to get there. I fluctuate between 143-146 and can never break through that 143!!!

    • Suze says:

      I understand your frustration, but I think what Katie is trying to say is that if it’s so difficult for your body to reach a particular number, there’s a chance it was never meant to be at that number in the first place.

      • Lisa says:

        I agree and I think that’s part of my “problem.” I’ve been wondering about it a lot lately, whether or not I’m just NOT supposed to weigh less than 143.

        • Katie says:

          Do you think you will be ok with that if that’s the case? I know I really struggled at first to accept the fact that my body didn’t want to be where I thought it should be. But once I accepted it, I realized I could actually be healthier and happier even without losing those extra couple pounds.

          • Lisa says:

            I’m still in the “learning to accept” it stage. Part of me thinks that I can still get there, but I probably can’t. And really, would those 4 pounds make that much of a difference in my life? Not really…

  12. My body definitely has a set point- when I go lower than that, I am definitely unhealthy (even if it is a healthy BMI)

  13. Taron says:

    I definitely think it’s true. But I also am suprised how blankly people look at me when I say something that even vaguely refers to everyone having a set weight range where our bodies are comfortable. I think it shocks and terrifies people to consider that they don’t have as much control as they think…

    • Katie says:

      I think you’re right. The thought of not being in total control is really scary for some people. For me, it was terrifying and relieving at the same time!

  14. amy says:

    I’ve struggled with anorexia in the past and now I eat 2500-2700 calories a day which to me is alot of food. I am very active lifting weights and right now I’m 104, even though I feel healthy whenever I go below 106 my hair falls out in chunks.Its so hard though because I was much thinner than this for a long time so I have no idea what my set point is and with the way I eat I’m always overly full but if I cut out food I lose weight. Its so scary.

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for sharing your struggles, Amy. That certainly is a scary place to be. I know that, for me, it was impossible to determine my set point in the immediate aftermath of my eating issues. It took a long time for my body to become stable again, and only then was set point a realistic idea for me. I can’t say for sure, but it sounds like your body is still adjusting as well.

  15. First of all, I really enjoyed reading your ebook! I meant to send you an email, but I had hardly any computer time while I was visiting my family.

    And, yes, I think we have a set point (or range). I tried to go below it before, and it didn’t work out at all. In fact, I think it was the cause of all sorts of food issues.

    • Katie says:

      Welcome back, Andrea! And thank you so much for the feedback on the e-book; I’m glad you enjoyed it! :)

  16. Katie, I absolutely agree! I think each person has a healthy weight range. When I was dieting, I was fighting with my set point all the time. I thought the pangs of hunger were just annoyances that I could “overcome” with some willpower. But of course my body was screaming for more nourishment.

    Great, insightful post!!

  17. Sportsgirl says:

    The body definitely has a set point. Anything above or below it is hard to maintain. I actually think it has to do with body fat % more than body weight. My set point has increased over the years as I’ve put on muscle. I’ve not gotten any fatter, but definitely have gotten bigger as my muscle has increased and fat % has remained the same.

  18. AnnE says:

    I really like the idea of a set point, but have no idea what mine is. Any thoughts on how long it takes the body it find it’s set point after years of dieting/overeating? I am working very hard at IE, and just wish my body would instantly be at a healthy weight!

    • Katie says:

      Girl, I know that feeling! I’m sure the timing is different for everyone, but it took my body several months to even out. I had been fluctuating about ten pounds above and below my set point.

  19. Shawnee says:

    I totally agree. We are so mean to our bodies.

  20. Jessica says:

    I totally think our bodies have a set point. And what I have come to find over the last few years is that my body is the most comfortable and my weight the most manageable and stable in the moments when I am not consciously thinking about food and weight, but just letting my body tell me what (and how much) it needs. The more I obsess over my weight and food, the more miserable I am – both physically and emotionally. There is a great book that I read a few years back on this topic, called “Intuitive Eating.” I often say, this book re-taught me how to eat. It is an easy skill to lose, or never learn. But our bodies are designed to keep us healthy, if only we were to listen to them! We crave certain foods for a reason (vitamin deficiency, etc). When you learn to listen to your body’s cravings, notice how certain foods make you feel when you eat them (energized, satisfied, gross, sluggish), and also learn how to identify the feeling of being satiated and full, you gradually start to change your habits into healthy and balanced ones. Suddenly food isn’t such a scary thing. You can actually enjoy it without guilt… like a “normal” person.

    • Katie says:

      YES! I am all about intuitive eating; I even gave away a signed copy of the book here on my blog a few months ago! There’s actually a tab across the top of my site where I list all of the posts I’ve written that relate to intuitive eating – it sounds like you might find some of them interesting!

  21. kim says:

    This is incredible!

  22. [...] do you feel about the concept of weight-related set points? Do you have one? Are you comfortable with [...]

  23. Carey says:

    Okay, this explains what often happens to me! I might lose a few, then I always end up back at the same weight. Perhaps it is my mental attitude that needs to “lighten up”!

    • Katie says:

      That’s exactly how my experience has always been. Sounds like we have something in common. :)

  24. Kellie says:

    I am struggling with the idea of my set point. I am in recovery for anorexia and it is so hard to let go of the control. I am “healthy” on the low end of BMI charts, but I still have not seen my period, am cranky, don’t sleep and struggling with the obsession about weight and food. My body is so sensitive that when I loose a few pounds,the ED voice starts getting louder. I hate giving up the control. I find myself shaving calories off of my food plan here and there and overexcercising. I just want to be “normal” but it is so very hard to give up the control.

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for sharing your struggles, Kellie. To a certain extent I can relate to everything you’ve said here. I did find that I wasn’t able to find my set point until I was free from all disordered eating behaviors for a good couple of months. It took my body some time to stabilize. All I can say is to keep fighting, and it DOES get better!

  25. June says:

    I’ve had an eating disorder for a few years, and I’ve relapsed this year and lost a lot of weight (well below an underweight BMI). I’m worried that when I recover and start to gain, my set point will be lower than what it was prior to my relapse. This has always seemed to have been the case….I’d lose a lot of weight and go through a period of recovery, but my body would just stop gaining abruptly, about halfway up to the weight I was previously. I always thought that was a little weird.

    Anyhow, that was a lot of babble, sorry. I certainly do agree with you about setpoints though. During my periods of health, my body seemed bound and determined to stay within a one to three pound range, and it was honestly really nice to be able to trust my body like that. I’m so glad you promote intuitive eating also; it is an honest relief to get to the point of not having to stress and worry about food at all. That is the best approach to food and eating, and it is a long-term goal of mine to re-learn that when I can afford treatment.

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, June! It sounds like you and your body have been through a lot, so I encourage you to be patient with yourself as you recover. I know it took my body quite awhile to stabilize itself once I stopped engaging in eating disorder behaviors. Also, I absolutely agree that eating intuitively and listening to our bodies is the way to go, even though it’s not an easy thing to do all the time!

  26. [...] lbs. I got there, but not for very long. I’m not alone in this, as Katie found out when she fought her battle with her own weight set point. “Set point” is the idea that when we fight against our bodies, [...]

  27. ConnieV says:

    Your body does have a set point and a good memory for it. I’m 45 and have recently lost 40 pounds. When I floated down to where I am now, which is where I was when I graduated from high school, the scale stopped…didn’t budge. My body told me “no” when I wanted to continue to lose. I don’t mind it. Happy where I am. After two kids, I’m ecstatic.

    • Katie says:

      It sounds like you’ve been very successful – both in reaching your set point and in having an awesome attitude about it. :)

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