Weight loss – the inconvenient truth

Weight loss products are a multi billion dollar industry. From fitness centers, to food choices, to pharmaceuticals, everyone wants a piece of the dieting dollar. With so many programs and so many experts telling us how to lose weight, it is hard to know who to believe. Much of the confusion exists, in my opinion, because the industry does not want you to know and understand a simple (but inconvenient) truth about weight loss.

The evidences of this inconvenient truth are all around us. We all have that friend who, no matter how much he or she eats, never gains a pound. They don’t exercise. They have a huge appetite. But there they are, looking like a bean pole, no matter what they eat. Think of the Dagwood cartoon character! I was actually like that in high school. I consumed horrible amounts of junk food and fast food every day, but could never get above 155 pounds. On the flip side, we probably all know someone who actually is very active, has a moderate or normal diet, but has always been…well…a bit chunky.

The Inconvenient Truth: Set Point

What is going on in these cases? Well, what is going on is the same thing that is going on in everyone. And this is the inconvenient truth: your body has a set point for your weight. That is, there is a certain weight, which can change over the course of your life, that you body wants to be. In fact, your body will make every chemical and biological effort it can to maintain that weight, even if that weigh is heavier than what you want to be or should be.

The “set point” pretty much explains everything in the weight loss world.

The Evidence from Around Us

For example, take the person who has a set point of 150 pounds. If they develop really bad eating habits, and no exercise, they may be able to push their weight up to 160, 170, or even much higher. Your set point can’t overcome enormous over eating. But when this person decides they want to lose weight…frankly ANY diet or plan they choose will work. Their body is EAGER to get back to 150 pounds, and any tiny effort on their part will result in nearly immediate results and progress.

Take another example. Your body wants to be 230 pounds. You weigh 115. So without any real changes to your diet you start to notice the pounds adding on. At 220 you are not comfortable at all. You start to cut back a bit. Still the weight adds up. 222. 225. 227. All the while you have been cutting back and trying to be more active. You go now to more radical efforts. Significant calorie restriction and exercise. Your weight very, very slowly begins to respond. You lose 0.5 pounds one week, 0.25 pounds another. But then you have a day or two where you aren’t quite as careful…and BANG..your body has put back on everything you lost. You are fighting a losing battle with your set point. Yes, with really hard work and effort you can achieve some weight loss. But the effort needed to sustain it is unlikely to be something you can keep up for the long haul. And so…the weight comes back until your body gets to that 230 that it wants to be.

The Scientific Evidence

There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the set point theory, evidence from both animal and human observational studies. While it is impossible to point to a single study that proves this theory beyond a shadow of a doubt (thus, we call it a theory), the data is nevertheless overwhelming.

One study, known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment (which has been subject to ethical criticism) showed the biological response to calorie restriction, and the attempts of the body to maintain a certain weight.

Another study that can be pointed to is the “Twin and Family Studies of Human Obesity” conducted by Stunkard and colleagues. In this study, researchers examined the body weight of monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins to assess the influence of genetic and environmental factors on weight regulation. The study aimed to determine whether there was a significant genetic component in determining body weight and whether individuals tend to maintain their weight within a certain range.

So what does all this mean?

First, this explains why it is so much easier for some to lose weight than others. When someone decides to go on a diet and quickly begins to lose a significant amount of weight, it is almost certain they have a set point below their current weight and their body is cooperating in the loss. Others begin a program of dieting and exercise to find that they actually don’t lose any weight at all, not for a long time, and not without significant caloric restriction.

Second, this reminds me that what is more important than your actual body shape and size is your overall activity level and healthy eating habits. You can be skinny, and be a walking time bomb with high cholesterol and high blood pressure. You can be skinny and not be able to run a mile. Overall, better to focus on an active lifestyle and consuming healthy food choices most of the time, than obsessing on your actual body weight.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top