14

votes

How can I permanently lower my body-fat set point?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 08, 2012 at 4:52 PM

I'm trying to lose weight and I'm starting to think I might be struggling against a body-fat set point that is higher than optimal.

I have had success losing weight in the past, especially when my environment changed significantly. For example, I got down to the 160s while I was studying abroad in Peru (not paleo at this time...the altitude and a nasty parasite killed my hunger) and while I was working as an intern on a farm (did eat paleo then). Both situations lasted 4-6 months, and during that time, maintaining a better body composition was effortless. However, once I returned to a less extreme lifestyle, I gained the 10-15 lbs I lost in a few weeks! I currently sit around 180 at 5'9' and a muscular frame.

It is extremely frustrating to me that I get so close to where I want to be in terms of body composition/overall health, and then as soon as I change anything, my body shoots back up to 180 again. Not only that, but even if I implement a strict diet plan (I'm leptin resetting now), it takes a very long time to see any results. I figured my body would want to stay leaner because it's healthier, but this doesn't seem to be the case (and I'm not talking 6-pack lean, I just mean healthy BMI range).

I'm afraid my childhood obesity and the binge-eating disorder I struggled with during adolescence will haunt my metabolism forever. Do I have to resign myself to being slightly overweight for the rest of my life (I'm 22!!) or is there a way to condition my body to maintain a lower body-fat set point?

Any insight you have is extremely appreciated!

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on February 09, 2012
at 03:30 AM

plus one.............

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on February 09, 2012
at 03:29 AM

plus one...........

1dcfcebc5f36408d121f124a78292d42

(1295)

on February 09, 2012
at 01:57 AM

I think the fact that I moved around a lot in both situations had a lot to do with it. I'm just baffled because I thought body comp was determined mostly by diet, and my diet is on point now even though I've transitioned out of these environments.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 09, 2012
at 12:47 AM

Big Woo factor; I added the same info to my answer while you were posting yours.

543a65b3004bf5a51974fbdd60d666bb

(4493)

on February 09, 2012
at 12:00 AM

that's some link address, my screen is not wide enough.....:)

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 08, 2012
at 09:43 PM

Yes, I make water kefir at home. You're welcome to check my profile and visit my blog but here's someone else's great video on how to make water kefir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-t9C7PoBRc

60af23519906aa54b742ffc17477c3d3

(1186)

on February 08, 2012
at 09:28 PM

I have horribly unreliable digestive issues. Just water kefir? Did you make it yourself?

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 08, 2012
at 07:40 PM

I hit puberty at 11, plunged into binge eating at 15 and never had stable weight. Ever. The past 5 months is the first period of calm, happy GI tract I've ever had and I give most of the credit for that to drinking water kefir since the first 3 months of ancestral eating--without water kefir--weren't calm at all.

D1728f99db66ff91d695a6df5cd38b02

(1368)

on February 08, 2012
at 07:30 PM

How long has it been since your weight was stable? Ie when you where around 13-17 years of age Nance?

8c509aac21bdb54b3ca91de2da994b9b

(248)

on February 08, 2012
at 06:31 PM

Seth Roberts and "Shangri-La" is all about resetting the body's set point. It's a fascinating concept. The methodolgy is easily incorporated into a Paleo lifestyle. The book is fairly inexpensive on Amazon and his blog and forum are full of wonderful, interesting and educational posts. He has also been eating paleo. http://sethroberts.net/

1dcfcebc5f36408d121f124a78292d42

(1295)

on February 08, 2012
at 06:08 PM

Great link! Thanks for the info!

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c

on February 08, 2012
at 06:08 PM

I've also found going abroad helps with my weight and muscle tone, even when not paleo. In my experience, some of it is just activity level. Nevertheless, let me know what you find out.

D1728f99db66ff91d695a6df5cd38b02

(1368)

on February 08, 2012
at 05:07 PM

Yep, let me know if you find the answer to this one. It would be miraculous and I will join you! yayaaa

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7 Answers

5
Medium avatar

on February 09, 2012
at 01:36 AM

I don't really buy into the set-point theories either. There's clearly a "minimum body fat point" that the hypothalamus does not want you to go below which triggers hypothalamic austerity measures. This will lead to increased hunger and decreased energy expenditure. The bodyfat levels of all of the people you see walking around in the healthy range are governed by the balance of total energy expended against total energy ingested. There's no reason to believe that there was sufficient selection pressure for humans to require a "too fat" fail-safe. Wild humans are lean because they expend quite a lot more energy than the average person in pursuit of less energy.

Traditionally, people got fatter as they aged because they were less active and thus had less muscle mass. Their setpoint didn't move, they were just eating roughly the same amount of energy but expending progressively less energy. While it's possible to get significantly obese with healthy leptin signalling (at least at first) I think it's safe to say that in the obese the hypothalamus, for whatever reason, isn't getting the message from the adipocytes and is viewing, for example, a woman with 30% bodyfat as having 15%. Personally, I think the leptin receptors are being damaged by massive doses of excitatory amino acids, which are ridiculously prevalent in an industrial diet.

Anyway, assuming the excitotoxin theory is correct and that those receptors can be repaired (which I believe is the case), simply adopting a diet where nearly all the food is made from scratch ought to decrease the constant feeling of starvation and thus reduce energy intake and bodyfat levels as a result. On the other hand, if someone adopts a diet with an energy density that is too great for their TDEE, minimal fat will be loss, even if appetite is being sated to a greater extent. I think this is the reason why a lot of people here stall out on their fat loss. It's one thing to eat a satiating piece of fatty meat, however it's an entirely different thing to do that and then shovel refined fat out of a jar into your face, drink heavy cream straight, or take bites out of sticks of butter. Additionally, it always helps to endeavor to gain muscle as well as be more active in general.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on February 09, 2012
at 03:30 AM

plus one.............

3
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20888)

on February 08, 2012
at 11:13 PM

I'm not much of a believer in "set-points". One common analogy is to use a thermostat as an example of a set point, and even Chris Kresser does that in the podcast linked to by Mike. My main disagreement is that people say that your "set point" for fat can be changed like the "set point" for a thermostat and your body works to maintain a certain fat set point just like your HVAC works to keeps the room at certain temperature set point.

I argue that it's not the set point that needs to be changed, it's the signalling (hormones) that need to be changed.

For example, lets say you have a thermostat set at 65 degrees. We say that the thermostat will tell the heater to come on if the room is less than 65 degrees. But in reality, the thermostat will tell the heater to come on if the thermostat itself is less than 65 degrees. Under normal conditions, the thermostat should be the same temperature as the room, and all is well. But if I put an ice cube on your thermostat, then your thermostat will think it's colder out than it really is, so it will tell the heater to stay on longer and the room will actually be hotter than 65 degrees. Likewise, if I put a candle under the thermostat, it will think the room is hotter than it is and the furnace will stay off until the room is much colder than 65 degrees. There's nothing wrong with the set point of the thermostat, even though the observable is that the room isn't at the right temperature, it's that the signals going to the thermostat are being screwed up.

I think the same thing happens in people. There's a whole cascade of hormones that your body uses to tell your brain how much fuel it needs. When all is well, the brain gets the right signals and keeps you hungry enough to meet demands. But if something goes wrong in the signals, the brain doesn't know the real state of things. It's not that your brain is set wrong, it's just getting the wrong signal. It's a little more complicated than a simple temperature sensor in a thermostat, but the idea is the same. (I think lepin is a big part of this, but I'm not confident enough in my biochemistry right now to go in to it).

So the upshot of all of this is that I don't think you need to worry about fixing a broken set point in your body. You just need to do the things (like working on a farm and eating paleo) that keep your hormones under control and your brain gets the right signals.

3
96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 08, 2012
at 06:08 PM

I no longer believe very deeply in the concept of a set-point.

Here are my reasons:

  • In my 50 years of binge eating and yo-yo dieting, I never stopped losing or gaining weight at the same "point" of body fat.
  • There never was a "point" at which I could just eat and would stay the same weight--any weight.
  • With ancestral eating, I have no urge to eat more even though I've already lost about 40 pounds of excess weight and I'm still losing slowly.
  • The longest I was previously in "losing" mode was 4-6 months before exploding into a non-stop binge that took me back to and well past my previous body fat high.

I do believe--and feel I'm now proving for myself at least--that what/when/how you eat does make a huge difference in whether you will quickly regain lost body fat or comfortably maintain your new, lower weight.

My full story is not yet told since I have another 25-30 lbs I'd like to drop. But it must be said that at least 25-30 of my lost lbs have now been gone for at least 6 months and again, I have no urge to change how I'm eating to restore that weight.

My new belief is that it's about your gut flora and metabolism--if deranged, nothing sustainable can happen; if it's healthy, improvement may very well be sustainable.

We'll see in a year or two.

EDIT: I just read an article about the receptor control viewpoint at Getting Stronger and they feel you can regrow/reset your cell receptors; if true this would in fact be a method of adjusting "setpoint." Worth a read!

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on February 09, 2012
at 03:29 AM

plus one...........

D1728f99db66ff91d695a6df5cd38b02

(1368)

on February 08, 2012
at 07:30 PM

How long has it been since your weight was stable? Ie when you where around 13-17 years of age Nance?

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 08, 2012
at 09:43 PM

Yes, I make water kefir at home. You're welcome to check my profile and visit my blog but here's someone else's great video on how to make water kefir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-t9C7PoBRc

60af23519906aa54b742ffc17477c3d3

(1186)

on February 08, 2012
at 09:28 PM

I have horribly unreliable digestive issues. Just water kefir? Did you make it yourself?

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 08, 2012
at 07:40 PM

I hit puberty at 11, plunged into binge eating at 15 and never had stable weight. Ever. The past 5 months is the first period of calm, happy GI tract I've ever had and I give most of the credit for that to drinking water kefir since the first 3 months of ancestral eating--without water kefir--weren't calm at all.

3
28bd65a868abd76e0d544d91b46a975e

on February 08, 2012
at 05:54 PM

Chris Kresser talks about about the body-fat set point in his podcast here:

http://chriskresser.com/why-its-so-hard-to-lose-weight-and-keep-it-off

While this episode only talks about the concept of the body-fat set point, he does say that he'll follow up with another podcast with how to apply the knowledge.

1dcfcebc5f36408d121f124a78292d42

(1295)

on February 08, 2012
at 06:08 PM

Great link! Thanks for the info!

2
C00e493393828df34be65ddc25456c7c

(610)

on February 08, 2012
at 11:41 PM

Take a read of this: http://tinyurl.com/7jszfqr

Change your receptors, change your setpoint.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 09, 2012
at 12:47 AM

Big Woo factor; I added the same info to my answer while you were posting yours.

543a65b3004bf5a51974fbdd60d666bb

(4493)

on February 09, 2012
at 12:00 AM

that's some link address, my screen is not wide enough.....:)

2
D5a4ff096a452a84a772efa0e6bc626e

(2486)

on February 08, 2012
at 07:55 PM

The two situations you described seem to naturally involve: lots of sun, lots of walking/low level activity, minimal contact with cities and all the air and noise pollution. Could any of those be contributing? I'd also consider additives/quality of food and macros.

I am a believer in setpoint, at least as far as trusting my body to manage my hunger to reach the appropriate level of nutrition and calories to maintain bodyweight within a fairly tight range. However, when my hormones or stress levels change, my setpoint will drift up or down just like you're describing.

1dcfcebc5f36408d121f124a78292d42

(1295)

on February 09, 2012
at 01:57 AM

I think the fact that I moved around a lot in both situations had a lot to do with it. I'm just baffled because I thought body comp was determined mostly by diet, and my diet is on point now even though I've transitioned out of these environments.

0
C42aa5a6f415a1026c27fcea0b0a5ec7

(0)

on April 05, 2013
at 04:56 PM

Beat around the bush, use any theory you can make up or find on the web, but it basically comes down to calories in, calories out.

Eating the wrong kind of calories (like refined carbs with fat) makes it easy for your body to put on weight. Eat unrefined carbs and your body has to work harder to get the calories out of the food to be used. However, if your calorie expenditure goes up (you move more, do more) you still can maintain homeostasis at a higher caloric intake, even if you're eating junk food.

Check out Martin Berkhans website (Lean Gains). He has it figured out. He maintains 5% body fat year round utilizing various techniques, including intermittent fasting.

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