How To Lose Weight By Managing Your Weight Set Point
Posted Sep 09 2012 1:18pm
Regardless of how you may personally feel about it, we live in a world in which, if something is repeated enough, everyone starts to believe in it without question. An unfortunate thing then happens – to even bring it in to question gets people all riled up as if you are committing heresy.
An even bigger blockade is the mere fact that when the mainstream population all starts to believe in something, industries often pop up to cater to this belief.
For example, when many people started believing that carbohydrates cause obesity, huge enterprises were birthed to serve low-carb products. A much bigger example (and an even deeper rabbit hole) would be the idea that high blood cholesterol causes heart disease, a theory with weak evidence supporting it (and strong evidence refuting it).
This has led to worldwide testing of blood cholesterol and cholesterol-lowering medications becoming the leading medication prescribed in the entire world. To say that the people involved in these industries become defensive when the holes in the cholesterol-heart disease theory are pointed out to them is an understatement.
You get my point.
But being open-minded, naturally curious, and interested in the truth, I can’t help but be naturally drawn to the health topics that have the biggest gaps between global acceptance and reality. Today I want to point out the gap between what is societally-accepted truth about losing weight and the actual truth about losing weight.
Calories In vs. Calories Out?
Most people think that losing weight is simply a matter of reducing calorie intake. If you reduce calories and/or exercise more to burn calories, you will create a calorie deficit and lose weight. That’s the accepted truth.
The actual truth is that many people are not able to lose weight with this approach, even when they actually follow through and do it to the letter. Those that do lose weight usually gain the weight back in less than two years, even if they manage to stay on the very programs used to lose the weight in the first place.
When it actually comes to losing weight, your odds of losing a substantial amount of weight (more than 10-20 pounds), and keeping it off for more than five years is actually less than 1 in 100. And this holds up in close scientific study, and is true of those who restrict fats from their diet, restrict carbohydrates from their diet, restrict calories from their diet, or dramatically increase their physical activity to burn more calories.
The reality is that standard approaches to weight loss don’t work. Not at all. In fact, the more a person attempts to lose weight intentionally, the more likely a person is to be obese, and have diabetes and heart disease.
“The more a person attempts to lose weight intentionally, the more likely a person is to be obese, and have diabetes and heart disease.”
That’s because all these attempts to manipulate the calories in/calories out equation are conscious attempts to regulate energy balance in the human body. This is as useless as trying to consciously regulate your oxygen levels, or just about any level of anything else really.
The systems in our bodies are far less under conscious control than we think. Our bodies come pre-programmed with a whole team of accountants. And these accountants do their best to balance the books in many areas, certainly our energy balance – how much energy we desire (appetite), how much of the energy we eat goes to producing body heat, how much goes to muscle production, how much goes to the production of physical energy for exercise, how much goes into blood, bone, and other systems and organs, how much gets packed away as body fat, and how much simply passes through and out the other end (all this is done by the hypothalamus and the chemical messengers it communicates with).
Basically, the body and brain determine the fate of the calories we eat. And the body and brain determine our appetite as well. More specifically, our hormones and neurotransmitters control these things, automatically. The elderly don’t have more body fat because they eat more, accidentally losing track of all the calories they eat.
They actually eat less than those who are far leaner than they are. They also have less energy for exercise, less muscle mass, lower body temperatures, less bone mass, less stool volume, and so on. Why? Because the hormonal changes that typically take place with aging favor more of the food eaten being used for fat storage than for other uses. Even if your body weight were to stay exactly the same your entire adult life, you will still see your body fat percentage eventually rise with age.
The point is that attempts to consciously control your energy intake and the number of calories you burn with exercise is really just a fantasy that most of the people of the world believe. But hey, most of what most people believe about most things is pretty moronic in my experience. We can’t help it though. We’re humans. It is our nature to feel like we know everything, be REALLY sure, and then find out later we were clueless. I’m very fortunate to have spent enough time learning to have outgrown some of this immaturity. Or so I tell myself.
The Weight Loss Dilemma
So how do you lose weight? What can you do? Nothing? Something?
Our bodies have what actual obesity researchers refer to as a weight set point, or “ponderstat.” Like a thermostat, at any given point in time it is set to a desired weight. If we try to willfully go below that level, the body fights hard to bring your weight up. You get cold, constipated, tired, sexually-flatlined, and hungry. Forcefully go above that weight and the body’s mechanisms for lowering weight start kicking in. You get hot, jittery, poop like a fiend, and start to lose your appetite.
The only way to change your weight without running into this Catch-22 is to lower your weight set point. How do you do that? Well, if I knew all the answers to that question I would probably be on a spaceship en route to the moon with Richard Branson and the Swedish bikini team – and of course my lengthy list of exotic 80’s tastes.
I’m thinking, like, half the cast from Willow (just the midgets, Val Kilmer is kinda creepy now), the guy who did the voice for Alf to make jokes after everything I say, and I don’t know. It would be cool to get the guy who played Ferris Bueller’s friend Cameron, so he could call me Ferris on demand.
And Member’s Only jackets in small sizes for the cast from Willow. That’s a snuggle with Teddy Ruxpin away from happiness if you ask me. Was thinking of getting the crew from Space Camp to countdown our launch into space, but realized Joaquin Phoenix was in that. I don’t want him within a mile of me since he started rapping. Youtube that sometime when you think you’ve lost your mind, and you will quickly feel sane again.
Anyway, I would be too busy, you see, to even write this article. I would have so much money from this weight set point lowering discovery. Enough to buy my own Alf. It would be that big.
But there are some clues about some things that MAY help SOME people lower their weight set point. I have seen it happen. There are probably dozens, most of them too obscure and neurosis-provoking to discuss here. Some of the big ones are…
1. What You Eat
More important than how much you eat is what you eat (over the long-term). The most weight-set-point-lowering thing you can eat is probably raw, uncooked, unprocessed food. Generally-speaking, the more of it you eat by percentage of your diet, the lower your weight goes. Raw food eaters were studied in Germany in a decent-sized study known as the Giessen Study. The more raw food one ate, the more likely he or she was to not just sidestep obesity, but be chronically and dangerously underweight .
Other, less extreme ways that you can probably achieve this effect is to simply eat less processed food, and more wholesome whole foods. We also know that certain substances like caffeine and salt can lower weight set point somewhat. Many anecdotally report effortless drops in body weight when cutting out common triggers of allergic or inflammatory reactions, like wheat or dairy products. There are a lot of possibilities here when it comes to changing what you eat or drink that can lower weight set point.
2. When You Eat
Breakfast eaters typically weigh less, with more muscle mass, than those who skip breakfast. I have had many people switch to eating more food early in the day instead of late at night and report spontaneous weight loss without weight regain. Others seem to have better luck eating heavy in the evening.
This is something you might try switching up and tinkering with if you have excess body fat. Another is to experiment with how frequently you eat. Instead of 3 medium-sized daily meals, try 2, or maybe even just one big feast. Or you could try nibbling throughout the day without any large meals.
Altering meal frequency and the time you eat can impact weight set point. Also, eating with regularity and consistency (breakfast same time every day, lunch same time every day, etc.) is another influential factor when it comes to weight set point. Try something new if you are very overweight and feel compelled to do something about it.
3. Sleep More
Sleep, as a therapeutic tool, is highly underrated in the day and age of exotic pills, powders, and potions. Increasing your daily sleep dose by a couple of hours can have a tremendous hormonal impact that favors muscle storage and fat loss, without any conscious change on your part otherwise.
That’s because sleep decreases our exposure to glucocorticoids, the most generally muscle-wasting and fat-storage promoting hormones known. But there are hundreds of ways you can achieve this hormonal effect – anything with a de-stressing effect can catapult your hormones in that direction, from sleeping with earplugs to walking on the ground barefoot. Sleep just happens to be the most powerful.
Exercise is a well-known way to lower your weight set point. But most people make the mistake of using it no differently from Weight Watchers – using it as a calorie-burning tool and trying to exercise as much as they can for maximum calorie deficit. Rather, exercise can be a powerful stimulus for convincing your body that you need more energy in your muscles and less in your fat cells.
Hard exercise like sprint intervals, circuit-training, and weight training appear to achieve this effect the best, increasing DHEA, growth hormone, testosterone, and other hormones known to favor athletic performance and leanness.
That’s just a small list of simple factors. It may be lacking in exotic-ness to actually convince you that these things are powerful, but they are. But that’s what I do.
I remind people of the big fundamental contributors to health and body composition and continue to hammer it into their brains again and again. There is a lot of confusion in the health world and obsessive focus on insignificant minutiae and miracle new cures for just 4 easy payments of $9.99. Focus on the big picture, the big fundamentals, and stick with it for years. That’s how you get lasting results.
Or as author Frank Forencich so efficiently put it…
“The only thing that really, truly works is frequent, vigorous movement combined with a sensible, food-based diet, sustained over years and decades.”
About The Author: Matt Stone is the author and independent health researcher behind 180DegreeHealth.com In 2005, he launched a full-scale independent investigation into human health through disciplines as diverse as nutrition, exercise, the culinary arts and traditional agriculture, to paleopathology and psychoneuroendocrinology.
It soon became clear that the typical ideas that the mainstream has about health don’t make much sense, are not congruent with history or even the most basic logic, and are often wildly misinformed. Thus was born 180DegreeHealth; the name implies both a 180 to our standard health advice and Matt’s aim of turning a 180 on the alarming health trends of today, including the dramatic and exponential rise of obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, crooked teeth, mental disorders of all kinds, autoimmune disease, allergies and asthma, heart disease, cancer, early puberty, and even nearsightedness.
His pledge to readers is to provide the most logical, unbiased, worthwhile, effective, and accurate discourse on human health in existence. Follow along with him and his life’s work, and together, help build the foundation of knowledge and understanding required to improve our own health while we ensure the well-being of many generations to come. It’ll be a fun ride!
For more on Matt’s innovative program to restore hormonal health, metabolism, mood and our relationship to food, check out Diet Recovery.
And for more about Matt’s research into lowering the set point naturally, check out 180 Metabolism here.