How To Change Your Body's Set Point
Sometimes it can feel like no matter how “good” I am (read: how many SoulCycle classes I make it to, how many hours of sleep I get, and how many snacks I DON'T eat in-between my luscious plant-based meals) those pounds ain’t budging. Don’t get me wrong — light fluctuation is definitely a thing. A handful of pounds here or there when my diet and exercise are super tight (#likemyabs), and then the minute I slip back into those 3pm (gluten free and vegan!) cookies or weekend margs, I’m back where I started. It’s like my body is totally on board at first, responding ever so kindly to my efforts by shedding those pounds and firming up those muscles. And then, out of the blue, it digs its heels and claws into the ground (FYI my body is laying horizontal to the ground, being dragged away forcefully and against its will if you’re a visual person and following along) and says, “Okay no more, we’re stopping here”, and I get frustrated with the sudden halt in progress regardless of my continued efforts. So...enter the cookies and weekend margs.
This, my friends, is what we in the science world call a “set point”: the number on the scale (or proverbial scale in my case since I threw mine out in 2009 and haven’t looked back) your weight normally hovers around, give or take a few pounds. This is not just the weight your body naturally falls at or gets comfortable with, but the weight your body actually fights to stay close to by adjusting your metabolism accordingly. In other words: the heels and the claws.
But, who and what determines said “set point”, and when, and how, and why god why? Well, I'm glad you asked.
Initially, your set point is determined by two things: your heredity (A.K.A. your genes) and the environmental factors involved at the moment of your conception (thanks mom, thanks dad). And truthfully, the latter makes the biggest difference. The microbiome that you begin to build from the moment you take your first breath sets your microbiome up for the remainder of your life. Yes, we can take action to cultivate good bacteria and banish the bad, but ultimately, what we get from our mother (and her milk and the food she first feeds us) regulates our hormones and sets our perfectly feminine bodies up to do what they were put on this planet to do — have children. And, when you think about it, that's all a body set point is, right? That inherent, highly intelligent weight and size that your body is fighting to survive in, in order to do what it is put on this planet to do — have children.
Let's go one step deeper into the nitty gritty, shall we?
According to recent studies by the NIH, the body establishes a “proportional feedback control system designed to regulate body weight to a constant ‘body-inherent’ weight,” (set point). Controlled primarily by genes, the expression of those genes and hormones (epigenetics) “adjusts food intake or energy expenditure (or both) in proportion to the difference between the current body weight and the set point weight.” These set points are loose, meaning they have an upper and bottom limit within which they fluctuate (hence those handful of pounds that are so easily lost and gained, lost and gained, lost and gained again at the beginning).
So like...why even try then, right?
Right. But before you throw in the towel (along with your gym membership and brand new juicer), I have some exciting news for you: research has also shown that it is actually possible to change your set point, and that once you succeed in doing so, it will be easier to maintain this new weight without any extra effort! Finding my best body and being able to stay at it with cookies and weekend margs still in the mix?? Yes, please, and I'll have another round, thank you.
How To Change Your Set Point:
- Lose 10% of weight at a time: Studies have shown that for most people, 10% is the magic number before your hormones starts to fight back. After you maintain your new weight for a few months, the boundaries of your set point will readjust, and you'll be able to lose another 10% before the fight recommences (the struggle is oh so real). Pause, dance, laugh, repeat.
- Focus on balancing your hormones: Hormones are every, every, everything in the human body. Though microscopic, they are the Kings and Queens of how our bodies build themselves, shape themselves, and conduct themselves in public (and, of course, home alone with the remote and take out menu), so it's time to show them a little respect. The hormones emitted and balanced by the hypothalamus, the pineal gland, the adrenal glands, and the thyroid gland tell your body what weight to hold onto and what weight to lose. So feed them, and not your boredom, sadness, or cravings.
- Focus on boosting your metabolism: Because your set point is naturally going to start to slowing your metabolism down as you reach that bottom limit of your set point, fight it back with nature's strongest boosters. This involves all the basics: plenty of water, plenty of sleep, and plenty of energy boosting plants (nuts and seeds, sprouted grains, greens, fruits and fats).
- Add variety into your exercise routine: This will ensure that your body continues to respond to all the effort you're putting in by a) continuing to evolve (a.k.a sculpt) different muscles in the body and b) keeping your metabolism boosted. There's also a whole psychological component to keep in mind: much like hormones, the subconscious mind rules everything and feeds your conscious mind. If traumatic (and I'm using that word very lightly here) experiences of working out have seeped into your quieter brain, then your much louder brain will most certainly not want to do that workout (or any workout) ever again. The subconscious mind also rules the energetic body, making you hold onto unhealthy resistance to certain workouts or ways of moving in your body. So please stop slaving on the treadmill and find unique ways that feel good, so that your getting all sorts of bang for each sweaty buck (you can catch me tomorrow morning at bari).
- Stop cutting calories already!!!: You know what happens when you cut calories? You're cutting your body's main energy source, which slows down your metabolism and makes it harder to lose more weight. Instead of cutting calories (are you really still counting them anyway!), increase your intake of plants and superfoods while decreasing your consumption of refined carbs and sugars. And, please stop being scared of fats. Begin to see fats as the energy and hormone-nourishing gods that they are. Healthy fats like coconut, avocado, and ghee are burned as energy, not kept for fat storage, and help keep that sexy beast of a metabolism roaring. They are also bioavailable and assimilated by the liver, which means they help bring blissful balance to your body, rather than beefing you up.
- Find something you can do for more than three days: This is where that whole "crash diets don't work" thing comes into play. In order for you to actually change your set point for good, you need to find a healthy lifestyle that you can adopt indefinitely. As in...realistic exercises that feel good, enough organic plant-based meals to make Whitney + Danielle proud, and, yes, the cookies and weekend margs. Enjoy this life, and enjoy this body - it's the only ones you got.