Set point theory is a concept that many people, and not just those who suffer from eating disorders, have a hard time understanding. This concept refers to the weight range that your body will function optimally at. Set point theory states that your body will do all it can to state in that weight range because it is programmed to stay within that range. Every individual has their own set point, and in a similar fashion to physical characteristics such as height, eye color, hair color and type, they have no control over what that range will be. Everyone’s body is preset by biological and genetics factors when it comes to an ideal weight range.
Set point theory is the reason why it’s never a good idea to use medical weight charts or ranges as a guide for how your body should be. Two people who are the same height and in the same age range will often have different set points that differ by as much as 20 pounds. Their bodies will fight to stay in that range regardless of diet or exercise. Medical researchers believe that each person has a set point of about 10 to 20 pounds. This is the range at which your body functions at its best and where it will be most resistant to change.
Those of us who have tried dieting to lose weight may be familiar with the difficulty and frustration of doing so. At first, dieting may seem to work as a few pounds are lost. But soon enough after a few weeks the weight is gained back, despite our best efforts. This is normally when frustration sets in, and a person stops losing weight or begins to gain it back. Even as food intake is restricted and exercise is increased, many find that they don’t see any results or results that are as dramatic as they’d like.
What happens is that going below your body’s set point causes appetite and metabolism to automatically adjust. Metabolism will begin to slow down to conserve the body’s energy. The body will believe that it’s in a state of starvation and will use the few calories consumed more slowly and efficiently. The result is that a person will feel abnormally tired and will need more sleep, and body temperature begins to go down. This is why people who suffer from anorexia always feel cold and have generally low levels of energy. People who undergo extreme dieting or who starve themselves will also experience strong urges to binge eat, as their bodies are asking for nutrition to support their necessary functions.
The opposite is true when a person’s body weight goes above their set point. Generally, the body’s metabolism will increase and body temperature will also go up. This occurs as an attempt at burning off excess and unneeded calories. These rules of set point theory are quite complex and involve the processes of metabolism, digestion, and appetite. These processes are still not completely understood by medical professionals.
How to find your body’s set point.
There is no one way to find your own body’s set point. The important thing to do is listen to your body and following your instincts when it comes to appetite and exercise. This can be a longer and more difficult process for someone who has been dieting or starving themself. Nevertheless, learning that your body has its own unique weight range that keeps it healthy and balanced is an important step in eating disorder recovery. Healthy eating combined with adequate exercise will help anyone discover what their set point is, and hopefully learn to accept their body for what it’s meant to be.