If you’ve ever tried to change your weight, you know that reaching your goal is just the beginning—maintaining it can be just as tricky. There are hundreds of studies that explore why this might be the case, and some of them point to the idea of a body-weight “set point”. In short, your set point is also known as your “default” weight—the weight you always ping back to after a period of weight loss or gain. It’s believed that, due to a number of factors, your body tries to defend this weight.
It goes like this: If you cut calories and restrict your diet, your metabolism slows in response, and you’re likely to move less to preserve your energy. However, if you start eating more, your metabolic rate and activity levels both increase, so you soon end up returning to your original weight. Frustrating? It can be. Unchangeable? Not if you know the determining factors of your set weight. And according to studies, there are four: genetics, diet, movement, and hormones. Here’s how they all work.
How they affect your set point: Genetics is, in fact, the smallest determiner when it comes to your set weight. However, it is true that you can be predisposed to certain genes that control how and where you store fat.
What to do: Genetics are genetics, right? Trying to fight against them sounds futile—not one of us can alter the fundamental things that make us, well, us. What you can do, however, is avoid the exact kind of thinking we’ve just described, because when you believe that a certain weight is your destiny, it’s unlikely you’ll be willing to make a change. Instead, look into the remaining weight set point factors with a positive mindset.
How they affect your set point: Hormones affect your body-weight set point in two ways—they alter how your body accumulates fat as well as how often you feel hungry. “The leptin hormones in your body tell you that you are full,” says Mike Tanner, head of education at Bodyism. “Whereas the ghrelin says you’re hungry, like a gremlin. Sound about right? Once ghrelin kicks in, your hunger increases.”
What to do: The good news is that calming these hormones is much easier than it sounds. You simply have to tick off the basics of looking after yourself, which means getting enough sleep, exercising often, finding ways to manage stress, and eating a fiber-rich, low-fat diet.
Tanner adds: “Give your body what it needs right before those hormones kick in. If you’re tuned in to your body, you’ll notice a trend in the times you get hungry. If this is happening every day at the same time, choose to feed your body with the right type of nutrients to avoid excess hormonal cues.” His recommendation for healthy snacking? A shake made with one of Bodyism’s protein supplements like Body Brilliance.
Team Byrdie also loves these protein powders.
How it affects your set point: That diet can affect your weight is a given. As we know, to reach a certain weight, energy intake (or calories consumed) should generally match the energy expended. It’s not quite as simple as that, though. With that “thermostat” in working order, the idea that restricting calories and hitting the gym that little harder will result in long-term weight loss isn’t always true.
What to do: Skip the crash diets if you want to lose weight. “Crash dieting can show results for a short period of time, but in most cases, it will leave you binge eating in a few days,” says Tanner. “Adding one thing at a time to your daily routine to achieve your goals rather than completely cutting everything out will help you avoid yo-yo dieting, which can mess up your hormone levels and make it harder to sustain weight loss.”
Sudden, drastic cutting of calories can also mean that your body weight changes too fast, which makes it harder for your body-weight set point to catch up and reset to a new level. So to maintain a lower weight, swap fad diets for high-protein, low-fat foods, and take the “dieting” slow. For example, try losing 5% to 10% of your overall weight first, and focus on maintaining that for two to three months before you take the next step down.
How it affects your set point: As mentioned above, weight loss typically happens when the output of energy is greater than the input. It’s even been proven that exercise can switch off certain genetic markers that lead to obesity. If you’re going to lower your body-weight set point, working out is a major factor. However, our next point might alter the way you approach the gym.
What to do: By far the best way to achieve long-term weight loss with exercise is by adding muscle to your frame. This is because muscle is a metabolically active tissue that allows your body to continue burning calories even when you’re at rest. If anything is going to prevent your body from defending a set weight, it’s this, so look to weights and toning workouts for your upcoming gym sessions. Great full-body workouts include Pilates, barre, and boxing. If you’re usually a slave to cardio, make sure you have a good pair of training shoes to support your ankles and posture as you learn new moves.