Weight Set Point: What does it mean?

naturopathic medicine weight portlandMany of us are concerned about our weight. We have tried diets, lifestyle changes, exercise, pills, and surgery, yet we don’t lose weight and keep it off.

Why is that?

It is because of something called a weight set point.

Our weight set point is the weight range that our bodies gravitate to in optimal conditions, usually a 10-20lb range. This set point is just like our  temperature, our bodies try to maintain that weight fiercely. Studies have shown that when significant weight is lost, the body slows down our metabolism to conserve energy and when significant weight is gained, the body speeds up metabolism to use energy.

As a side note, there are different health conditions that can significantly affect weight, and likely the weight set point as well, but they will not be addressed in this article.

There are different factors that go into our weight set points.

Genetics can be significant, but environmental factors, prenatal environment, and others also have an influence. Generally, attempts to change the weight set point are ineffective. Around 5-10% of people seem to be able to change their weight significantly, though it is uncertain whether their set point has changed or if they are returning to a set point. Regardless, a change in weight beyond the set point is very difficult to maintain long term.

But all is not lost! If a weight change is desirable, there is good news and bad news.

The bad news? We don’t really know how to change set point permanently

Doctors, researchers, and others involved in the issue have been trying to get to the bottom of this for decades and have been largely unsuccessful. In fact, importantly, it seems that our set points inch upward the more we weight cycle and diet! That yo-yo dieting really is causing more problems than it is solving.

The good news? If you turn your focus to healthy habits, you can get healthier, whether or not your weight changes!

Healthy habits are definitely within our control. Eating foods that nourish our bodies, moving in ways that make our bodies feel good, getting sufficient, quality sleep, solid social support, and reduced stress are just some of the things that we can do to support our health.

It is important for our physical and mental health to shift our focus away from the scale or tape measure and work with our bodies, not against them. Healthy bodies will maintain a stable weight, and normal bodies come in a range of shapes and sizes. Healthy does not always equal “thin,” though our media culture obviously sends some different messages…

To learn more about my approach to healthy weight, you might want to take a look at my article about the Health at Every Size approach to healthcare. If you’re ready to implement a perspective like this, get on my schedule – I’m excited to work with you to find a healthy balance.

Written by DeAun Nelson


My philosophy is that we are all in this together. If you have compassion and care for yourself, that compassion and care will extend to those around you. Naturopathic medicine is all about treating the whole person. In my mind, this means treating not just individuals, but communities. We all have incredible bodies that do incredible things, even when we are suffering. We live, breath, laugh, and love. You are an important being who deserves respect and judgement-free care.