If you’ve been trying without success to lose weight long-term, you’re not alone. According to the most recently published National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), more than 73% of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. (1)
This data is interesting considering the weight loss and diet control market in the U.S. is a staggering $72 billion per year and that 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. (2,3) Why, then, are so many Americans overweight or obese? Well, we need to consider one more statistic; namely, studies show that approximately 65% of dieters regain all weight lost within three years. (4)
So, it’s clear that millions of people are routinely trying to lose weight, but it just won’t stay gone. For them, the hard part isn’t losing weight — it’s keeping it off. They need a better way to lose weight!
Why Losing Weight Permanently is so Hard
There are numerous reason’s why you haven’t been able to obtain a healthy weight long term, and most of them intentionally cutting calories.
Focusing on Calorie Intake
A calorie is a unit of heat energy first explained by Nicolas Clément around 1824 when referring to heat engines. The nutritional calorie, however, was not fully defined until early in the 20th century. (5) It didn’t take long for calorie consumption to be linked to body weight.
Indeed, counting calories became a popular weight control method in 1918 with Diet & Health: With Key to the Calories, written by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters. This, the first dieting book to become a bestseller, emphasized balancing calorie intake with the energy used. The book also recommended that women consume no more than 1,200 calories per day for weight control. (6)
Thus began the calorie counting craze, which continues today based on the calorie-deficit theory of weight loss. The idea that a calorie deficit leads to weight loss makes sense, and indeed, we know it does work. However, studies show that calorie restriction typically leads to only temporary weight loss, with most dieters regaining most of it back within one to two years. (7)
Cutting Calories Can Lead to Weight Gain!
Indeed, research shows that eating less food is worse for your weight than doing nothing. Why? After our fat metabolism system is starved, its number one priority is restoring all the body fat lost and then protecting us from starving in the future. Guess how it does that? Storing additional body fat. Researchers call this “fat super accumulation.” (8)
From researcher E.A. Young at the University of Texas: “These and other studies…strongly suggest that fat super accumulation…after energy restriction is a major factor contributing to relapsing obesity, so often observed in humans.” (9)
In other words, calorie-restrictive dieting encourages the body to store not lose fat.
Though calories are important for weight loss, it’s your body’s job to balance calorie intake with energy expenditure, which it does automatically when you make a few lifestyle changes.
Lowering Your Setpoint Weight — the Only Way to Lose Weight and Keep the Weight Off!
Just as your body has a set point for body temperature, blood glucose levels, and heart rate, it has a set point for your body weight. (10) Your body strives to keep you within 10-15 pounds of this weight. So, it doesn’t matter how little you eat or how much you exercise, your body will fight you for every pound you try to lose if it threatens your set point.
The only way to lose weight is not by slashing your calories but by lowering your set point weight!
Factors that Raise Set Point Weight
Are you wondering how you became overweight or obese when your body’s supposed to keep you near your set point? Well, gradually, over time, certain lifestyle habits can elevate your set point weight.
Here are a few of the most common factors that raise set point weight.
- Poor-quality diet. Routinely eating heavily processed foods, fast foods, trans fats, and sugar creates a hormonal clog that raises your set point weight.
- Chronic stress. A little stress is normal and healthy. However, chronic stress leads to constantly circulating cortisol in your bloodstream that contributes to an elevated set point weight.
- Sleep deprivation. Most of us burn the candle at both ends and sacrifice sleep, but this raises your set point.
- Medications. Antidepressants and other drugs are known to cause weight gain.
- Brain inflammation. Chronic brain inflammation prevents your brain from receiving hormonal signals that you have enough body fat. Since your body doesn’t know how much body fat you need, it raises your set point weight.
- Poor gut health. Your gut microbes have a HUGE effect on set point weight. After all, these bacteria are responsible for a variety of tasks. For example, they help extract calories from what you eat and store these calories for later use, factors that significantly influence your body weight. Plus, research suggests they also play a significant role in the foods you crave.
Tips for Successful Weight Loss
Here are a few ways to lower your set point weight to reach your weight loss goals.
Improve Diet Quality
Nutritional science shows us that all calories are NOT the same. Studies show that calories work differently in the body depending upon which foods they come from.
Putting 1,000 calories of low-quality foods like chips and soda into your body has radically different effects on your weight than ingesting the same quantity of high-quality calories like salmon and avocado. The more high-quality calories you eat, the lower your setpoint.
Low-quality calories flood your body with glucose and promote fat storage. Unfortunately, they also leave you feeling hungry shortly after a meal, which triggers overeating.
Low-quality foods include:
- Ultra-processed foods, i.e., breakfast cereals, instant noodles, soda, chips. As these foods contain no fiber, they are converted to glucose quickly, causing spikes in blood glucose levels.
- Sugar. Most heavily processed foods contain added sugar, even ones that don’t taste sweet. Sugar is terrible for set point weight, as it triggers systemic inflammation.
- Starchy carbohydrates, i.e., bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. Starchy carbs — even whole grain ones like wheat bread — significantly elevate blood glucose levels.
To achieve your weight loss goals, try to avoid low-quality foods while filling up on nutritious, satiating high-quality ones discussed in the next section.
High-Quality Foods that Lower Set Point Weight
High-quality foods have a gentle effect on blood glucose levels. They are digested slowly, promoting a gradual rise in blood sugar leading to long-term satiety. In other words, these foods keep you full for a LONG time.
Do you want to know what else they do? High-quality foods also help reduce brain inflammation and improve gut health, two significant factors increasing set point weight.
High-quality in this sense generally means whole foods and include:
Nonstarchy veggies are those you can eat raw if desired (think salad vegetables.) Examples include spinach, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, carrots, and Brussels Sprouts.
These veggies are low in calories yet loaded with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs to be healthy. Nonstarchy vegetables are also complex carbs that provide a steady release of energy.
For long-term weight loss and overall health, try to eat 10+ servings of nonstarchy vegetables per day. (If you’re not used to a high-fiber diet, please start slowly, gradually increasing the number of servings every few days.) A great way to ensure you’re getting enough of this food category is to fill half of a regular dinner-sized plate with different colored nonstarchy vegetables.
And, of course, forget about counting calories!
Studies show that protein is the most filling (satiating) macronutrient, partly because it decreases secretions of the hunger hormone ghrelin. (11) It also helps build lean muscle mass, increasing resting metabolic rate. (12) Both of these factors are essential for lowering set point weight.
Try to consume three to six 30 gram servings of nutrient-dense protein, about the size of your palm, every day.
Nutrient-dense proteins include salmon, liver, cottage cheese, egg, grass-fed beef, and plain nonfat Greek yogurt. If you’re vegetarian, choose plant-based proteins like spinach, kale, broccoli, and pea protein powder.
Whole Food Fats
Like nonstarchy veggies and nutrient-dense proteins, whole fats are filling. But they have an added benefit; namely, they have almost zero effect on blood glucose levels!
However, to take full advantage of their health benefits, you should eat them in their whole-food form instead of just the oil. That’s because whole-food fats contain nutrients and fiber that your body needs to lower your set point weight.
Try to consume three to six servings of whole-food fats per day. Examples include olives, salmon, coconut, avocado, flax seeds, chia seeds, almonds, and coconut milk.
Get the Right Type of Exercise
Numerous studies detail the health benefits of physical activity and cardiorespiratory exercise. For example, high levels of physical activity and cardiovascular exercise are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality. (13) Several studies even suggest that exercise can reduce the health risks of obesity. (14, 15, 16)
However, the weight loss and other health benefits of aerobic exercise are amplified with high-intensity interval training, a type of exercise that involves repeatedly exercising at high intensity for 30 seconds or more, separated by a recovery period of one to five minutes. The recovery period either involves resting or performing a low-intensity exercise. (17)
Why isn’t steady exercise performed continuously for an extended period as effective as high-intensity interval training? Well, one reason is that it activates negative hormonal changes that can raise your set point weight.
You see, traditional exercise suppresses the production of the thyroid hormone T3 (an essential hormone in determining if your body can “burn more” instead of store more — when faced with excess calories), especially in women. So the last thing you want is for exercise to harm T3 production, slow down your metabolism, and cause your body to store more fat!
To lower your set point weight, you should create an exercise routine that incorporates these three types of exercises:
- High-intensity interval training
- Eccentric exercise, a type of movement that accentuates the lowering part of the movement
- Restorative activity that relaxes the body and reduces stress, such as leisurely walking or yoga
Get Better Sleep
Studies show that sleep deprivation increases serum cortisol levels, elevating the set point if it becomes chronic. Therefore, sleep is critical to losing weight long-term.
You can sleep your way to a lower set point by removing many of the obstacles that prevent many people from getting a good night’s rest. Some suggestions:
- Stop using technology such as your cell phone, laptop, or computer at least one hour before bedtime.
- Create a calm environment by darkening your room, as the absence of light helps raise sleep-inducing melatonin levels.
- Turn your LED alarm clock to the wall (because of the light).
- Limit any caffeine consumption to early in the day, if at all.
- Meditate, take a warm bath, or read a good book to help you relax and get ready for bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool (around 65 to 68 degrees).
- Set a consistent bedtime rather than varying your routine every night. Consistency helps prepare your body and your mind for a restful night’s sleep. So, try to maintain the same sleep schedule every day (even on weekends) for best results.
Try to perform restorative activities every day to reduce stress, which will lower your set point weight over time.
- Tai Chi
- Gentle stretching
- Seated meditation
- Leisurely walking
- Having a massage
- Snuggling with your dog
- Listening to soothing music
- Practicing breathing exercises
- Watching a comedy movie or TV show
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