The term “set point weight” is a popular term that is often misunderstood. This post will tell you what a set point weight is, why you should work to find yours and how to do it!
The Set Point Theory
Essentially, a set point weight is the weight that our bodies want to be at in order to function optimally. Not too high, not too low, just right. This set point weight is determined by our bodies genetics, metabolism, energy intake, energy expenditure and other various factors. A complex variety of bodily systems are constantly at work to maintain the set point, including metabolism and hunger.
At your set point weight, you FEEL your best- mentally and physically. Your body is in balance. Your energy intake in naturally matches out, which makes for a stable weight without major fluctuation. A weight you can maintain effortlessly and feel amazing at.
Sounds pretty great, huh?
Everyone has a set point and set points vary from person to person. For example, you and your fav running buddy are the same height but can absolutely have different set points depending on genetics, body composition, and frame.
Think about it like this: just as you have no control over your height, eye color or hair color, your body has it’s desired set point and that weight might not match what you want the scale to say. The body will maintain this weight range unless an extreme circumstance acts on the body, such as dieting (which the body interprets as starvation or famine!), illness, pregnancy, or chronically under-fueling for the miles that you’re running.
What can Change Your Set Point?
Now, your set point weight can change over time. One of the biggest influences of this is dieting. Dieting is the biggest predictor of weight gain, it’s the natural body’s response to dieting. Actually, only 10% of those who lose weight keep it off for over a year. Crazy right? And may feel a bit scary too if you’re not feeling comfortable in your body right now.
Let’s talk thru this. When you “diet”, you’re essentially putting your body in a state of semi-starvation, many times of which is extreme compared to what your body needs every day. When we do this our bodies think “WHOA! Food is scarce! I better keep a little extra weight on me to have as back up energy!” So, it does just that. This is why so many who diet regain the lost weight and then some. It’s your body trying to protect itself.
How your Body Responds to Dieting
Let’s say that you are ramping up your miles but trying REALLY hard to not eat more in hopes of slimming down to hit a certain scale number. What could go wrong?! First, HUNGER or as I like to call it, RUN-ger. When you go below your body’s natural set point, both appetite and metabolism adjust to try to return you to your set point. Your metabolism may slow down to try and conserve energy. Your body will start to sense it’s in a state of semi-starvation and will try to use the few calories it receives more effectively.
You may start to fatigue earlier in your runs and want to sleep more, your body temperature will drop and you’ll start to feel more cold, and after too much weight loss you might experience the loss of your menstrual cycle. When body fat is lost, appetite revs up. As this happens, you might think about food ALL THE TIME and have uncontrollable urges to binge. That is because your body is asking for more food than is being provided in order to function properly.
Just as your metabolism will slow down when you go under your body’s set point, it will also increase if you go above it. The body will try to fight against the weight gain by increasing its metabolic rate and raising its temperature to try and burn off the unwanted calories.
With each subsequent diet, the thought is your set point weight can increase further. This is why it is SO important to live a life being fearlessly fueled. Kick that dieting trap to the curb!
How do I Know if I’m at my Happy Weight for Running?
First, let’s think about where you may fall around your set point weight. You may be above, below, or at your set point weight. That being said, some may gain weight, some may lose weight, and some may maintain their weight. None of these outcomes are bad. What I always say is: How do you FEEL in your body? If you don’t FEEL great, chances are you’re not at your set point weight.
Here are a few other questions you can ask yourself to see if you might be above or below your set point weight:
- Is it hard for you to recognize your hunger and fullness cues?
- Do you eat past fullness often, feeling stuffed at the end of a meal?
- Do you go through periods of restricting food and then eating in excess?
- Are you often skipping meals and then find yourself having one meal where you continually eat past fullness?
- Do you eat to cope with emotions like stress, anxiety, or boredom?
- Are you always bouncing back and forth between diets or plans to lose weight or be “healthy”?
If you said yes to any of those, you may be above your set point weight. Now, take a look at these questions:
- Do you feel like you’re always thinking about food and obsessing over it?
- Are you feeling more and more fatigued in your runs?
- Has your period stopped or become very light or irregular?
- Do you find yourself overexercising or running to “burn off” what you’ve eaten?
- Do you feel like you’ve lost all hunger and fullness cues?
If you answered yes to any of these, you may be below your set point weight.
Now, these questions are not a definitive answer to if you’re above or below your set point weight, they’re just to give you an idea.
How do I Find my Set Point Weight?
When you start to listen to your body and fearlessly fuel your body, you’ll find your set point weight. If that doesn’t feel possible quite yet, I have plenty of confidence for both of us!
So, here are a few practical steps that you can take to truly start listening to your body, eating in a way that feels good, and finding the weight that you feel empowered at – mentally and physically!
Strategies for finding a Runner’s Set Point Weight:
- HUNGER SCALE: Using the hunger scale is HUGE. It’s one of my favorite tools and honestly was a game changer when I started using it. In a nutshell, you’re working to understand when to start and stop eating. The goal is to avoid extremes so you FEEL better and give your body the appropriate amount of food to do so.
- REFLECT ON YOUR FOOD CHOICES: look back on the day and practice asking “What food made me feel good and what didn’t?” How can you add in more of those feel-good options?
- SMASH THE SCALE AND CALORIE COUNTING APP: It all needs to go! It will feel scary but it’s influencing the way you eat and how you feel about your food. It keeps you in a “burn to earn” mentality and that will keep you stuck.
- REPLENISH AND SUPPORT YOUR BODY BEFORE AND AFTER RUNS: listening to your body also goes hand-in-hand with some practical fueling strategies to keep your running muscles fresh and strong. And you can rock both intuitive eating with practical sports nutrition to run stronger and more energized!
Ok, gorgeous, how are you feeling about all of this?? It can feel scary to step away from diets but, I promise, it will be the BEST self-care you’ve ever given yourself and you will feel AH-MAZING! Are you ready to start fearlessly fueling your body so you can rock all of your running goals?! Drop me a quick comment shouting “I’M READY!!!!”
Fearlessly fuel and run with joy!!