Is the Set Point Theory True?

Dart Hitting the Target
Let's take a closer look at the Set Point Theory
to see if it might be true.

Is overeating calories the only explanation possible for gaining weight on low-carb diets? There seems to be two theories. One is called the Fat Cell Theory and the other is the Set Point Theory. We look at both possibilities and try to relate these ideas to what we've seen going on in the low-carb community.

With so many people stalled or gaining weight on one of the many popular low-carb weight-loss diets today, I have a hard time believing that they are all overeating calories or fat. 

Maybe a lot of them are, especially if they are following the latest Atkins Nutritional Approach and believe it's a free-for-all because of their low-carb mindset, but come on. 

There has to be something else amiss. 

There just has to . . .

The Fat Cell Theory and the Set Point Theory

I've been wondering lately about something called The Set Point Theory. I don't know if it's real, or not, but there are several physicians who believe in it.

Ruth A. Roth and Carolyn E. Townsend, for example, wrote a book called "Nutrition and Diet Therapy." In that book, they claimed that there are only two popular theories about weight loss: 

1) the fat-cell theory; and
2) the set-point theory

In fat-cell theory, obesity results when the size of the fat cell increases. When the fat cell decreases, such as during or after dieting, you are driven to eat, so your fat cells can fill back up and return to their former state.

Man Hungrily Eating Yogurt and Fruit
Fat Cell Theory says your body struggles to regain
lost fat after you stop dieting.

In set-point theory, everyone has a set point -- a natural weight at which the body is so comfortable that it doesn't want to deviate from that weight. 

To keep you there, the body increases or decreases your metabolism, as necessary, so the energy you take in and the energy you spend stays in balance. Hunger increases or decreases to keep your weight stable. 

It is believed that the only way to break through that set point and lower it permanently is to exercise for three to five times a week.

I can't help but wonder if there's some truth to this.

Set-Point Theory Ignores Biological Individuality 

If lowering carbohydrates works biologically the way Dr. Atkins told us it did, if it truly lowers insulin levels and unlocks the doors to your fat cells like Dr. Eades says, then why doesn't that biological pathway work in the same way for everyone? 

Why does the metabolism speed up for some folks when they overeat, but the body chooses to pack on the pounds for others? 

Why do some people stay insulin resistant, even after months or years on the Atkins Diet? 

Carbs or not, it just doesn't make sense to me.

Even Dr. Agatston from the South Beach Diet speaks about lowered insulin levels and greater blood glucose control being the answer to permanent weight management. Yet, not everyone who is overweight or even obese has metabolic issues. 

Hubby's blood glucose never goes over 100 ml/dl regardless of how much sugar he eats. Never.

Do insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome only apply for those who have a broken metabolism and everyone entering into the low-carb community just believes that they have insulin resistance?

Set Point Differs for Everyone

In set-point theory, the body maintains its weight within a very narrow range -- something like 5 or 10 pounds -- but the set point is different for everyone. 

In those who have a low set point, you would be able to use any diet you wanted to, including moderate-carb diets, and make it all the way to goal weight without a lot of effort.

If you have a mid-range set point, you would stall part way to goal and just have to be satisfied and grateful for whatever amount of weight you managed to get off. 

If you had a high set point, you ought to just give up the fight now because the body isn't going to let you be thinner no matter what you do. Eventually, the body will figure out a way to refill its fat cells.

What I See Within the Low-Carb Community

If you look at the low-carb community as a whole, you can actually see this type of thing going on. There are those who make it all the way to goal, and therefore, they don't understand the rest of us who don't. 

There are those who stall part way to goal, and they can't seem to bust through some sort of barrier -- no matter what they do. And then, there are those who can't even get out of the starting gate. Few, but they do exist.

For the most part, those who can get past their food cravings and emotional eating tendencies generally fall into the mid-range category. They stall part way to goal, and they don't seem to be able to get anything going again. 

But does that mean the set point theory is true? 

I Stalled on the Old Weight Watcher's Exchange Plan at the Exact Same Place I Stalled on the Atkins Diet!

Years ago, I followed the old Weight Watcher's plan, back when it was an exchange program with lists and daily serving amounts that you had to follow religiously. You didn't have to count calories or carbs, but it was a lower-carb plan. 

Weight Watchers Exchange Program was what the Atkins followers would call a low-fat, moderate-carb diet. It contained less than half of the carbs found in a typical American diet. 

It worked very well for me. 

Up . . . until . . . 

I got down to the size I am right now. That's where Weight Watchers failed me, and exactly where the Atkins Diet failed me too. It's a bit startling to look at that now. 

My hunger went through the roof. My energy levels crashed. I started thinking about food non-stop, where I didn't give food a passing glance before.



  1. People aren't simple machines, so they don't really behave exactly the same.

    The human body is vastly more complex that is a supercomputer, and the supercomputer is well understood by humans because humans designed and manufactured(with the aid of other machines) everything in the computer.

    We observe the human body and try to deduce how it works. For machines, we basically have not had to resort to such random poking and responding.

    You talk in the above as if humans resembled cars, pretty much the same even though there are some differences, and we should immediately understand the differences. Even though, in many cases, we don't understand the normal case at all.

    Human dietary science is relatively miserable, and so is the usual analysis and advice.

    My understanding begins with constantly remembering the complexity, and my often inadequate or oversimplified understanding.

    Not everybody admits their limitations of understanding and insists that somehow, they can make sense of whatever is in front of them with just the few tools they have in their brain.


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