How to Lower Your Body’s Weight Set-Point
A body weight set-point is a number—your weight—that your body maintains within a narrow range through a feed-back and control system just like the thermostat in your home.
The body the set point involves your brain, gastrointestinal tract, circulating hormones, and fat cell mass.
What is known is that in adults, body weight is maintained at a relatively stable level for long periods (1). This observation is the basis for the set-point theory.
Information from the body is sent to a central controller located in an area in the brain’s forefront called the hypothalamus. The controller uses this information to change or maintain food intake (hunger), energy expenditure (metabolic rate) to correct any changes in body weight from this set-point. This involves hormone signals from the hypothalamus, fat cell mass, and gastrointestinal tract.
The set point management of body weight is more effective in response to weight loss than to weight gain (1).
During weight loss, the body’s metabolic rate—energy expenditure—decreases (2).
After weight loss, changes in the circulating levels of several peripheral hormones, including the hunger hormone Grehlin, increase (4). These hormone changes may remain in place for over one year (3).
These data help to explain the results of the Minnesota starvation study (5) during which subjects decreased calorie intake by 68.9% and lost 66% of their initial fat mass after 24 weeks of dieting. After a period of re-feeding with no restrictions, the subjects regained 145% of their original fat mass.
This is also the reason that diets alone will fail because the hypothalamus continues to counter the lower calorie intake by decreasing the metabolic rate and increasing the hunger hormone Grehlin.
In the Minnesota study, it took more than a year for some subjects to decrease their fat mass to within 5% of the initial value. These results suggest that in the USA, on a western diet, the body regulation of calorie deprivation is powerful, long lasting, and loosely controlled.
It is common for obese people on a diet to fail because they do not adhere to the diet. Most diets with no other intervention eventually fail .
Leptin is another regulator of body weight or fat mass (7). Leptin is made in fat cells and is proportional to the amount of fat present in the body. The hypothalamus uses this information to regulate the hunger hormone, Grehlin, and the metabolic rate to maintain the set point (1). This is a very simple explanation.
There is a theory that pregnant women program the developing baby’s appetite regulatory centers in the brain. 
This idea is supported by a study that compared the weight in the babies of obese mothers who had pre-pregnancy by-pass surgery and lost weight to obese mothers who did not. The mothers who lost weight had 52% fewer overweight babies .
Increasing energy expenditure can increase calorie intake, whereas increasing calorie intake does not increase energy expenditure [activity] .
The metabolic response to underfeeding and overfeeding is complex and involves: specific metabolic rates in individual organs (heart, liver, kidneys, skeletal muscle, and brain); sympathetic nervous system activity; plasma concentrations of thyroid hormones and leptin; and insulin sensitivity .
In the long term, carbohydrate balance is tightly regulated .
By contrast, fat imbalances are not tightly regulated. Fat intake does not stimulate fat use as a source of energy .
These data show that variation in body weight is due to the fat content of the diet.
Leptin derived proportionally from fat cells is an important signal in body weight feedback and control. .
The blood level of leptin signals the hypothalamus to regulate energy intake and energy expenditure and maintains a “set point” of body weight. Current evidence suggests that leptin protects more for fat loss than for fat gain. .
This control system explains why it is easier to gain weight than to lose.
The body apparently does not compensate well to western high fat and high sugar diets as seen in the recent epidemic of obesity.
By contrast, a traditional Cameroonian diet containing high fiber carbohydrates and low fat led to a rapid return to initial body weight after massive over-feeding . The set pint regulation of body weight appears more effective in non-western diets.
Can you change your weight set point?
There is no prospective controlled scientific studies that directly addresses this point. It is very difficult to completely control all the variables in humans.
Most articles on set point change recommend a long slow process of gradual weight loss. Medical weight loss programs with diet and prescription medication can counter act your brain’s set point as long as you take the drug.
A good example of this is the drug Phendimetrazine, which increases your metabolic rate because it is a stimulant and decreases your hunger. This effectively counter acts your brain. This method, like diet alone, will fail when the pill is no longer taken.
My answer is that exercise and low fat, low glycemic diets are the missing ingredients. With exercise and diet the set point will change because exercise will increase your metabolic rate and decrease your hunger and a low fat, low glycemic diet will enable your leptin-grehlin feedback system to work efficiently. This is another way of stating that your life style must change.
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F1000 Med Rep. 2010; 2: 59.
Published online 2010 Aug 9. doi: [10.3410/M2-59