helping you understand what “set point weight range” is and how you can ultimately determine yours.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is: “how do I know what my set point weight is?”
You may also have heard this referred to simply as your ‘set point weight.’ However I really like to emphasize that it’s a range to deter the false idea that our weight should sit at one number and never fluctuate.
FYI: natural weight fluctuation (i.e. not caused intentionally from restriction and/or extreme exercise) is NORMAL and happens for a number of biological reasons which are protective of our health, not harmful to it.
Unlike certain health measures (ahem…BMI…) that will tell you “if you’re this height, you should weigh X amount in order to be in the ‘healthy’ weight range” – your set point weight is not going to tell you that. The set point range is a weight range at which our bodies are most happy, productive and healthy. There’s no “right” or “standard” set point weight range and it’s unique for every individual. It’s a weight that is more or less determined by our genetics and physiological functioning. It’s more reflective of the relationship you have to food, movement and your body and could be described as more of a feeling than a number.
It’s a weight range at which:
- You eat the foods that sound good, are appealing and satisfying to you without obsessing, counting, measuring or tracking your intake.
- You move in a way that feels good without obsessing and allow yourself rest when you need it.
- Does not require you to monitor or try to control your weight through the foods you eat or the way you move.
Essentially, it’s a weight that allows you to live and enjoy life without obsessing over your health (because remember, an over-focus on or obsession about our health has actually been shown to harm it).
Stop and think for a minute what it would feel like to simply move through life in a way that felt good and enjoyable rather than one spent worrying about your weight and food choices. While I”m sure this image stirs up many emotions, I’d imagine chief among what you’d feel when you think about it would be a sense of relief and freedom. Going on vacations without worrying about getting a ‘beach body’ first, enjoying a meal out without first having to check the menu, going for an impromptu ice cream on a hot day. These are the things you can do when you embrace your set point weight range. More than anything, it provides you the freedom to just live your life unrestricted by the shackles of diet culture. While I recognize that might sound scary for those who have spent most of all of their lives contained by diet culture’s messages, there might also be a part of you that feels like that sounds pretty nice.
Here are some commonly asked questions with regards to set point weight:
- How wide a range is someone’s set point weight range? Everyone’s set point weight range is unique to them. Some individuals will have a range of 10-20 pounds, others will have a range of 5-10, some may be between 15-20 or 10-25 pounds and so on. My advice would be to shift your focus from worrying about hitting a specific number range and more toward your patterns and behaviors around food & movement. If they are gentle and respectful and in-tune with your body’s signals, your body will naturally find the range where it is able to best function.
- What is my set point weight range? Unlike with BMI where you can plug in some information about yourself and get a “healthy weight range” (irrespective of any other lifestyle behaviors, genetics or other determinants of health), you won’t be able to do this with a set point range. It has more to do with the way you’re living life and the way you feel, than your height or age. Again, determining yours comes down to being able to live your life without food rules and restrictions, without monitoring or obsessing over your weight and moving in a way that feels good to your body. In making these patterns and behaviors the norm, your body will naturally regulate to the weight range that will support this lifestyle (and your health).
- How long will it take my weight to settle into my set point weight range? This one depends on where you’re at in your relationship with food, movement and your body. If you’ve been restricting or dieting and/or exercising in an extreme manner for some time, it can take a while as your body works regulate itself back into balance. If you’re resisting the process of making peace with food & your body, you may still experience yo-yoing of your weight. I like to think of this situation as a pendulum. When you swing so far to one side (the side of restriction/dieting) it often has to swing all the way back in the other direction (the side of non-restriction) in order to eventually settle back in the middle. Again the idea behind your set point weight range is really to take the focus off your weight. It’s a weight that your body will naturally find once you repair your relationship with food & body. Try to worry less about what that exact weight will end up being and put more of your focus on cultivating a positive relationship with food and your body.
Diet culture teaches us not only that we should control our weight, but that we actually are in control of our weight. That with the ‘right’ diet and exercise routine, we have the ability to alter our bodies. While these tend to be commonly held beliefs accepted by the vast majority, it’s important to note that they’re not actually supported in the research. Most of the valid data gathered on what happens post-weight loss shows that 95-98% of people regain whatever weight they lose (2-4) plus some (5).
That’s not to say diet and exercise can’t impact your set point weight range – it can, but likely not not in the way you’d be looking for. For most individuals, when they utilize restrictive eating or exercise to impact their weight, it may work short-term. But remember, our body wants to survive, protect us and keep us safe; dieting and restricting is in complete contrast to those goals. So each time we go through this pattern, our bodies re-adjust our natural set point higher in order to protect against the next period of restriction (what our bodies see as a time of scarcity or famine). If you have dieted most of your life, it’s likely you can look back to what your weight was when you first started dieting and find that your current weight is now higher than it was before you began the dieting cycle.
So while it may seem counterintuitive, the less you focus on your weight and trying to control it through diet, exercise or other means, the more likely it is to settle where your body needs it to be. Learning to trust and respect your body‘s cues is a crucial first step in getting to your set point (and comfortably staying within that set point range for life, unlike the yo-yo cycle that comes with dieting).
(1) Bacon, Linda. Health At Every Size. BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
(2) National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Methods for Voluntary Weight Loss and Control (Technology Assessment Conference Panel),” Annals of Internal Medicine 116, no. 11 (1992): 942-49.
(3) Miller, Wayne C., “How Effective Are Traditional Dietary and Exercise Interventions for Weight Loss?” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 31, no. 8 (1999): 1129-34.
(4) Mann, Traci, et al., “Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets Are Not the Answer,” American Psychologist 62, no. 3 (2007): 220-33.
(5) Garner, David and Susan Wooley, “Confronting the Failure of Behavioral and Dietary Treatments for Obesity,” Clinical Psychology Review 11 (1991): 748-54.
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