Our metabolism keeps us at our set-point the same way it does everything else: hormones. The two most commonly talked about are insulin and leptin. Insulin determines whether we are storing or burning body fat. Leptin regulates how much food we eat, how much energy we burn, and the amount of body fat specified by our set-point.
Let’s assume our metabolism is working properly. When our weight starts rising above our set-point, hormonal signals cause our metabolism to go up, our appetite to go down, and our body fat to get burned. This prevents excess body fat from sticking around for long. We stay at our set-point without trying.
But when we fill our body with low-quality foods, our metabolism gets clogged. It is unable to effectively respond to these hormones. Without those hormonal “burn body fat” signals getting through, the metabolic processes that otherwise automatically keep us thin do not happen.
Once our metabolism is not effectively responding to hormones like leptin and insulin, we are clogged. When the current level of hormones do not get the job done, our body produces more of them. Chronically high levels of these hormones make our metabolism think that an abnormally high level of body fat is normal. Since our metabolism automatically keeps us at what it thinks is normal, it keeps us at an abnormally high level of body fat. By eating poorly, we can raise our set-point.
Raised Set-Point: Abnormal levels of hormones making our metabolism think abnormal levels of body fat are normal.
The set-point won’t go back down to normal until we get our hormone levels back to normal. We do that by repairing our metabolism. That means increasing the quality of our eating and exercise. And increasing the quality of our eating and exercise is easy when we eat more and exercise less—smarter.
University of Wisconsin researcher R.E. Keesey makes this point more academically: “If the goal is substantial and sustainable weight loss…a more promising approach would be one based upon a strategy of directly altering the set-point…The physiologic adjustments that ordinarily act to resist weight change…would instead facilitate the achievement and subsequent maintenance of a lower weight.”
The set-point can be frustrating. It’s why eating less of our current diet and doing more traditional exercise doesn’t work 95% of the time. But by understanding the science of the set-point, it can become our ultimate source of hope. Instead of fighting against our raised set-point by working harder, we can eat and exercise smarter, repair our metabolism, lower our set-point, and enable our metabolism to burn body fat for us automatically like the metabolism of a naturally thin person. In the next post we’ll start to explore how we do that.
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