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Chapter 8. Nutrition > Weight Control and Your Setpoint

Weight Control and Your Setpoint

The first thing you need to understand is that your body has a weight control system controlled by your hypothalamus. Your body weight is determined by a regulating mechanism known as a setpoint (Leveille, 1985). Your setpoint is analogous to the thermostat in your home. After setting the house thermostat at a certain temperature, say 72°, your furnace then shuts off when the house is warm and turns on when the house cools off. The whole system is geared toward maintaining 72°. Your body works the same way in terms of body weight and metabolic rate. Each of us has our own biologically determined setpoint for weight and our body works to keep us at our particular setpoint, a process known as homeostasis. When you go below your setpoint (such as after a diet), your metabolic rate naturally slows down, calories are burned more slowly to conserve fuel, and you tend to gain weight until you return to your setpoint. This is why diets so often fail, especially when it comes to maintaining weight loss. Most diets, even the most outlandish and faddish, will work in the short run given reasonable motivation on the part of the dieter. But once you go below your setpoint, homeostasis sets in, thereby lowering your metabolism and returning you to your setpoint. This often occurs even if you are eating in moderation.

There is no magic way to lose weight. Quick-weight-loss diets are not recommended, because in the long run they simply do not work. Chronic dieting can also be hazardous to your health. Men who perpetually diet were found to have dramatically higher rates of heart disease and diabetes than men who never or rarely diet. And individuals who have widely fluctuating weights over long periods of time were found to have higher health risks than those whose weight was steady, providing yet another reason not to diet (Shapiro, 1997).


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