What is your body’s set point weight—and can you change it?


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When it comes to your weight care journey, you know as well as anyone that, well, it’s complicated. There are a lot of factors involved—from intuitive eating to movement—including ones that can impact you at an inherent biological level.
We’re talking about set point theory—also called set point weight—a fancy phrase that simply refers to the weight that your body needs to be to perform optimally. This set point is determined by genetics, age, environmental influences such as diet and medications, and hormonal changes over your lifetime.
And it doesn’t like to be messed with. The human body will try really hard to stick to where it's set, and react when you deviate from that point.
Think of it as your body’s version of central air. (Stick with us here!) During the warm summer months, you set the AC to a specific temperature, and if the thermostat goes one degree over, it immediately kicks in to cool the air back down to where it was programmed. It essentially self-regulates any time the temperature veers from where it should be. This is exactly like your set point weight. Go too far below your “normal” and your metabolism may dip and hormone levels could change which makes keeping the weight off a challenge.   
But here’s the thing: Just like you can adjust your thermostat for different seasons, your set point weight can be adjusted as well. Before we get to that, let's chat about the influencers—no, not the Instagram kind!—that determine your set point weight.
Set point weight could be in your DNA
You know how you inherited your grandma's beautiful, thick brown hair or your mother's shoe size? Your body size can also be genetic. In fact, the set point parents have is likely to be passed down to their children, according to a 2018 study that looked at the factors that impact body weight. 
Your doctor asks about your family history for this exact reason. Because diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure can be inherited, it allows your provider to know what risks you may have or are predisposed to. Similarly, your biological parents' health history plays an important role in your set point weight range—determining much of it, even.
Hormones can influence your set point weight
The hypothalamus is an area in your brain that produces hormones that control hunger, heart rate, and body temperature. It's constantly regulating and communicating with multiple hormones to keep your body as balanced as possible. Two of the most crucial hormones when it comes to weight are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone because it helps drive appetite (dinner time!). Leptin has the opposite effect. This so-called fullness hormone signals when you’ve had enough to eat (that meal was delicious!).  
Leptin is designed to keep you from starving. It's secreted from fat cells, and when your body thinks it's not getting enough food, it kicks ghrelin into high gear, giving you the urge to eat. Humans have biologically developed this trait to make sure we're nourished and to keep us alive. It's your body using all its might to get back to your set weight. 
These hormones control when you feel full and hungry based on what set weight your body is programmed to be. In a 2018 study on fasting and food deprivation, researchers found that when bodies are put into "starvation" mode, ghrelin rises substantially. It also showed rapid weight loss in patients who had calories cut substantially, but after the short experiment when they returned to consuming normal amounts of food, their bodies stored more fat than before trying to get back to that set weight point and, in turn, gaining more back as it tried to reach an even level. 
Another crucial weight arbiter is the stress hormone cortisol because it controls your metabolism and immediate immune response. When you’re in a freak-out mode, cortisol levels increase and cause you to go into survival mode—which in turn slows your metabolism, as your body tries to regain balance and hold onto your energy reserves.
Yes, environment influences set point weight, too
Whether or not you have access to certain foods, the area you live in, your relationships, work, and busy lifestyle—all of these factors can play a role in your set point weight. In fact, research suggests that "snack eating" and low socioeconomic status are contributors to the obesity epidemic. Both are evidence that where and how people live can impact weight. In addition to this, your set point weight shifts as you go through different life cycles—pregnancy, after child-birth, and menopause. The body may feel it needs more fat storage at any given time, depending on what stage of life you're in.  
We often find ourselves on a loop of endless diets that force us to undereat and not listen to our bodies and then overeat to compensate. All of these environmental decisions can lead to set point weight fluctuations that eventually throw your body’s ability to weight-regulate off, causing it to settle on one set point.
So…can you really change your set point weight?
Change, no. Defy it, yes.  While there’s no scientific evidence that you can do a hard reset and give yourself the metabolism of a hummingbird, there are some things you can do to help maintain a weight below your set point. Think: lifestyle changes, such as adding more movement to your day, tweaking your eating patterns, and medications. In other words, you don’t have to let your genes or other factors define your weight! 
 Found offers a comprehensive approach to weight care and believes in treatment that's completely tailored for you individually. Our goal is to help you live a long, healthy life and successfully control your weight. In addition to lifestyle and behavior modifications like improved sleep habits, regular activity, adequate nutrition, and stress management—medications can also help.  
Take some time to log your meals, movement, and other dailies in the app to track your progress. It gives you time to reflect, and science shows it supports your success. 
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Müller, M. J., Geisler, C., Heymsfield, S. B., & Bosy-Westphal, A. (2018). Recent advances in understanding body weight homeostasis in humans. F1000Research, 7, F1000 Faculty Rev-1025.
Healthwise Staff. University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, 27 Dec. 2021.
Müller, M. J., Bosy-Westphal, A., & Heymsfield, S. B. (2010). Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight?. F1000 medicine reports, 2, 59.