Monday, May 28, 2012

The Set Point Theory: Relevant or outdated?

Image: winnond /
What is Set Point Theory?
To answer this question, I think it's best to defer to quoting this passage from an article in OB/GYN news by Bruce Jancin:
The set point theory holds that obesity entails a metabolic defect that functions as a homeostatic mechanism. This defect is supposed to result in a slowdown of resting metabolic rate in an overweight or obese individual who has lost weight. The resultant reduction in energy expenditure is said to be responsible for the often-observed scenario in which the individual regains the weight that was lost and thereby returns to his or her set point.
Well, that's a rather negative outlook to hold with regards to weight loss and maintenance. It might even get people thinking, "Why bother?"

Let's look a little deeper.

Is Set Point Theory still relevant?
When Rachel asked me about set point on Facebook, I knew I didn't have enough information to make my case for the strong gut feelings I had on the subject. Knowing that, I dove into the research and found the article above, this blog post by Yoni Freedhoff, this Oxford Journal article and several other articles on PubMed. Not the lightest of readings, I know, but I wanted to be able to put my thoughts into an well constructed post.

My opinion?

I think the way that the set point theory has been interpreted and spread through society is bogus. It's been translated to a fatalistic interpretation of some old science and is often (though not always) used to justify a lifestyle that results in an overweight individual. I would know, I was that person once. In looking at the scientific research done on set point, I truly believe the science behind it was accurate for the times. I'm sure there is a homeostatic mechanism that regulates body weight and body fat percentage. Our body has many mechanisms like that. But to say that it's a fixed value that can never be changed and not a range? That's unlikely. Take body temperature for example, in a healthy human it can range from 97°F to 99°F. It's not always 98.6°F. I think it's important never to take a commonly held belief based upon actual studies without a grain of salt.

Given my own personal experience with maintenance, I tend to agree with what Mr. Freedhoff writes in his post. People regain lost weight as they regain their old habits and lifestyles. If you truly want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to put a great deal of thought into the sustainability of a change. Can you give up eating refined sugars for the rest of your life? Maybe if you moved into the woods and never set foot in a supermarket again, but I don't think that's possible for each and every one of us.

Questions? Comments? Disagree with me? Let me know down below.