Have you noticed that your body weight stays relatively stable, although perhaps a little higher than what you feel is comfortable? Many of my clients say to me “if I could just lose 2-5 kilos I would be at my ideal weight”. If this rings a bell you might be encountering your set point weight.


What is a Set Point?

Set point is an evidence-based theory that the human body tries to maintain its weight within a preferred range. It’s a little complex so let me explain.


Womens feet on a scale that reads "HELP"

Just as our blood pressure, blood glucose, body temperature and pH are governed by homeostasis, research suggests that the amount that we weigh may also be governed by an ‘unconscious homeostatic control’, whereby our body maintains a narrow bandwidth of body weight. This is called our weight set point. 

Think about it, when our core temperature changes too much, our body will work to correct it. Set point works in the same way. When we reduce calorie intake through diet and/or increase energy use through exercise in sufficient quantities our body will typically lose fat. However, evidence suggests that our body will execute physiological and behavioural responses to recalibrate our body weight back to its set point – and as quickly as possible.

The end game is that we end up in an on-again-off-again struggle with our body’s systems where we try to lose fat and it tries to maintain the status quo. In a battle where your only weapons are motivation and willpower, it’s little wonder so many of us struggle to lose those extra kilos.

Is There Evidence For a Set Point That Regulates Our Body Weight? 

2 famous studies may help to explain the phenomenon of the set point. Please note, BOTH of these studies are NOT ethical, however, they do provide us with some useful insights from the point of view of the set point. 

The first, the Minnesota Starvation experiment took place during world war two. It was undertaken on healthy male volunteers who were conscientious objectors. They were placed on a semi-starvation diet for 6 months because there were fears that the nation would need to severely ration food supplies. The study set out to investigate the feasibility of subsisting on 50% of a normal caloric intake. This is an example of when the body is pushed below its set point.

The results of the study were insightful. The men who lost a significant amount of weight due to calorie restriction, unsurprisingly saw their basal metabolic rate drop at the same time.

During this semi-starved state the men were obsessed with food – these behaviours included:  hoarding cooking utensils and dreaming about food, amongst other things. 

Once the study was over, their mind and their bodies had one intent – to put back on the weight that they had lost. They gorged themselves! Their appetite was insatiable until they reached a key point – you guessed it – their pre-study weight. 

Another unusual study that looks at the other end of the spectrum is the Vermont Prison overfeeding study. This is an example of when weight is pushed above the ‘set point’ and the ‘defence’ the body elicits against this.

This study recruited inmates with a promise of early parole. The aim of the study was to investigate changes in fat cells. They did this by overfeeding the inmates, with amounts reaching 33,472-41,840 kilojoules (8,000-10,000 calories) per day. 

During the experiment, the inmates’ basal metabolic rate skyrocketed to make up for this increase in energy. Once the overfeeding was completed, the study notes that the inmates barely ate and had little hunger. Once again the set point kicked in and they lost all of the gained weight. 

Can I change my set point?

The above studies demonstrate how the body will adjust its energy output and its appetite to restore fat mass back to its ‘set point’. So the question becomes how can we change this set point in order to achieve sustainable long-term fat loss? 

Making incremental changes over time and losing weight gradually allows your body systems to adapt to the new circumstances and reset. To put it simply, your body will stop trying to return you to your previous “normal” weight. With the right practices and patience, your body will come to understand that your new lower weight is permanent and try to keep you there instead.

Changing your set point is no easy feat. While it’s certainly possible to go it alone and achieve results, most experts agree that it’s best to enlist the help of an experienced nutritionist to ensure your approach is healthy and sustainable.

If you’re interested in getting support in lowering your set point, please feel free to get in touch. As a degree-certified nutritional therapist, I take a holistic approach using proven methods to make shifts in the set point for real, long-term results where your weight is not oscillating.

 I teach you how to:

  • Ensure you’re not undereating 
  • Stop endless dieting 
  • Stop over-exercising 

My personalised, down-to-earth approach, supports you to be less stressed and less overwhelmed whilst meeting your fat loss and well-being goals. 

If you are wanting support for fat loss that includes lowering your set point, book an intro chat with me to see if we are a good fit! 

Sonya Reynolds, nutritionist and wellness coach portrait

About Sonya 

Sonya Reynolds is a Sydney-based degree certified Nutritionist and Life Coach with over 16 years of experience. Sonya uses a holistic approach to help her clients achieve their health and wellbeing goals by combining natural nutrition and wellness coaching.

Sonya provides holistic online nutrition and coaching consultation to clients in Sydney and throughout Australia.