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What is Set Point Theory & Can Surgery Change the Set Point?

What is Set Point Theory?

Maintaining weight can be really tough.

Set point theory is an explanation of body diversity. It explains why so many people regain weight within 3-5 years, after initial successful dieting attempts.

Obesity is linked to various health risks that include:

People follow various diet plans to lose weight. According to set point theory, how much the weight changes from the set point is limited. Some have higher weight set points as compared to others.

Weight is determined by inherited traits, environment, hormones and psychological and genetic elements.(1) It also depends on how much energy is burnt compared to calorie intake.

There is a regulatory system in the body that keeps the weight at a steady level or a set point. The hypothalamus present in the brain gets a signal from the fat cells. This triggers the hormones that include leptin (regulates hunger) and insulin. The metabolism of the body also regulates the up and down of weight based on the signals.

According to the set point theory, the weight would go up and down and would ultimately return to its normal set range.

Can A Set Point Weight Change?

Why do we gain weight beyond the set point??

It is believed that at times the reactive system stop working efficiently over time and leptin and insulin resistance develop, causing weight gain.(2)

There are certain external elements that contribute to weight gain. According to the set point theory, the body’s normal set point keeps adjusting upward.

In the fight to lose weight, we have to compete with our body that fights to maintain the higher set point by slowing down metabolism. This limits weight loss.

There is one more theory that influences weight. It suggests that our weight is influenced by more than one factor. Our food choices along with the biological traits and energy balance affect weight shift, over time.

Weight depends on the complex sets of internal and external factors i.e. a combination of environmental and biological factors.

This means according to the set point theory, we can change our set points.

In order to bring down the set point, it is proposed to go slow with the weight loss goals.

Can Surgery Change The Set Point?

There are a few studies that show that after surgery with an adjusted lifestyle choice including diet and exercise, the set point can be lowered for the long term.

A study on rodents showed success in keeping down weight post-surgery.(3) Few studies also suggest that post weight loss surgery one can be successful in lowering weight range.(4)

As time goes, after surgery, the body fights the change in energy intake and slows the metabolism and adjusts leptin signaling. If a person doesn’t have an active lifestyle, the weight may shift upward to the presurgery set point.

Set Point Theory and Disordered Eating

If the weight is below the set point, after a time the body would oppose reduced calorie intake by sending signals i.e. hunger pangs and slowing down metabolism to bring it back to the normal set point.

If someone has an eating disorder, he might fixate on food, hunger, and weight and lead to a negative loop. This can lead to binge eating disorder.

According to set point theory, the body and brain are in a struggle to regain the set point weight. It is important to make a smaller adjustment to weight rather than strict calorie restriction.


There are many reasons why many of us struggle to lose weight.

Set point theory is one concept that is undertaken to understand body weight. Weight can be managed by eating a balanced diet and maintaining an active lifestyle.

Those wanting to lose weight and are being unsuccessful in it can consult a nutritionist and a healthcare provider to look out or ways that can be helpful.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 23, 2020

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