Have you heard of the “Fat Set Point’?

The body weight set point theory is simple: it suggests that the body uses hormones, hunger, behavior changes, and other physiological mechanisms to “defend” a certain range of body weight (and body fat in particular).  A simple way to think of this is as a “thermostat” or “cruise control” system for body weight and fat levels. Whatever numbers are set are what your body strives to maintain.  But is this true?

The human body is able to adapt to situations of excess or insufficient energy intake (food). Several studies have shown that not only eating habits, but also genetics determine adult body size. For adults who do not consciously try to control their body size, weight is remarkably stable over time. These three factors together have led to the description of a “set point” – a reference point around which the body tries to keep a weight stable. An example of another set point is body temperature – if temperatures go above or below 37ºC (for example, from infection or exposure to a cold environment) there are a variety of physical mechanisms that “kick in” to try to get back to, and
maintain normal body temperature.

Each individual may have a genetically determined set point for adult weight. If weight is gained it has been shown that some people experience an increase in metabolism so that excess energy is wasted. Following this period of weight gain, it is relatively easy to revert to the previous set point weight. However, trying to go below the set point weight has the opposite affect. Metabolism can slow down as less food is eaten or exercise is increased. This leads to a slow down in weight loss, a plateau, or even weight regain on few calories. This is your body’s attempt to keep your weight stable.

These mechanisms have been used to explain why few people are able to maintain any weight loss following a reducing diet. Those who do maintain a lower weight were probably above their set point when they started the diet. They lost weight down to their set point and were able to maintain at their set point without constant restriction. However, for those already at their set-point, but above “average” weight, a reducing diet attempts to get them below set-point, resulting in slower metabolism and quick regain on few calories, as the body attempts to keep the physically “normal”, but culturally “high” weight. Your set point, unlike your brain, does not care about current fashion. You may say that a weight of 175 lbs is too high for how you would like to look, higher than the height/weight tables tell you to be and, indeed, higher than your family doctor tells you to be. However, it may be exactly what your genes are telling you to be. This creates a real conflict.

One frustration with the concept of set point is that there is no direct way to measure it. You cannot say that your set point is 150 lbs. You can only estimate that you are at set point if you have been eating “normally” and participating in moderate exercise for about a year. It is estimated that it takes that long, free of dieting, to allow your metabolism and weight to return to what is normal for you. Of course, this applies to adults. The concept cannot be applied before growth has stopped. One other observation to make is to look at your family of origin. What size were your parents, their siblings or their parents? Predisposition to be a certain size “runs in the family”.

There is controversy about what alters set point. Pregnancy, for example, increases the amount of body fat as well as weight. It is an area of research interest, looking at why a group of women revert immediately to their pre-pregnancy weight, and other women never do. Some researchers say that factors such as repeated dieting or certain drugs permanently elevate the set point, meaning that you will likely stay at this new higher “natural” weight. Others say that you are “artificially above set point” and will revert to your “natural” weight in time. At present, there are more questions than answers.

So what does this mean? Does this mean you can never be thin? Does it mean that you can eat whatever you want and never gain weight? You can lose weight; you can gain weight. However, the implication of the set-point concept is that the farther you get from your set-point, the more difficult it is to continue, and your body will try to revert to your “natural” weight. Allowing your weight to remain stable, at your own set point, is healthier than the diet-regain cycle.

It means that you should consider weight as you consider height. Just as people have the genetic background to be short, average or tall, they have the genetic predisposition to be thin, average or large.

To summarize, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that you do not have to keep beating yourself for being “weak-willed” or “lazy” as reasons for your inability to maintain weight loss. The bad news is that we are living in a culture which highly values thinness in women. We need to learn to accept ourselves and others at whatever they natural weight and to challenge the notion that thin people are necessarily happier, smarter and have more fun.

Resource: Donna Ciliska, R.N., Ph.D

 

Appetite Control and Leptin

Appetite Control and Leptin

Leptin, the “satiety hormone”, discovered in just 1994 is a hormone made by fat cells that helps to regulate hunger.  After you eat, leptin is released into the bloodstream where it travels to the brain telling you to stop eating because you’re full.  Without leptin we could continue to eat until we explode.  Some people have what’s called leptin resistance where the brain is unable to pick up its signals causing mindless eating and overeating.  It’s also a cycle where the more you eat, the more engorged your fat cells, and the greater the risk of worsening your leptin resistance because it is your fat cells that make this hormone.  The more you gain, the more sensitive your body becomes to leptin.  Leptin resistance is associated with certain other medical conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, thyroid issues, and elevated triglycerides in the bloodstream.  Leptin’s main role is long-term regulation of energy balance… the amount of calories we eat and expend, and how much fat we store on our bodies

People with leptin resistance may find that they have frequent or even constant cravings or feelings of hunger. Researchers are still working to fully understand and develop effective treatments for leptin resistance, but for now, controlling cravings is the key to combating the effects of this condition.  If you’re eating lots of sugar/carbs, or if you’re very stressed or sleep deprived, you’re more likely to feel like you have an appetite you just can’t satisfy. To beat your cravings, protein and fiber are the keys as they both keep you very full for a long time.

Reversing Leptin Resistance:  How do you know if you’re leptin resistant?  There is no set blood test done to determine leptin levels. The best test to do to determine if you are leptin resistant is to look in the mirror.  If you have a lot of body fat, especially in the belly area then you are almost certainly leptin resistant.  Leptin resistance occurs years before insulin resistance and full blown diabetes.

So what can we do?  The low carb, gluten free diet will help you tremendously!

  • Cut out grains, refined sugars and processed foods and replace them with “slow burn” foods like protein and fats so you avoid leptin spikes that cause leptin resistance
  • Increase the good fats in your diet including avocados, coconut oil, MCT oil, fish oils, butter, ghee and olive oil. Take 2,000mg-3,000mg Omega 3 (fish oils)
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Increase fiber in your diet. I recommend taking fiber supplements 30 minutes before each meal
  • Always have protein with each meal
  • Eat 3 meals per day and not snacking all day stabilizes leptin levels and avoids spikes
  • Exercise like resistance training increases leptin sensitivity so the signals can reach your brain that you’re full
  • Reduce your stress levels and get plenty of sleep

So here is yet another reason to follow a low carb, gluten free lifestyle.  Eating real low carb/sugar food, exercising and sleeping well are all lifelong endeavours that require a shift in lifestyle.