Change Your Set-Point and Reach Your Fitness Goals Faster

Maintaining your ideal weight is easier than you think

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

Do you find it difficult to lose body fat or gain muscle? You’re not alone—maintaining body composition goals over time can be challenging. According to Professor Ormsbee, though, it’s not impossible.

Group of runners warming up and stretching before a jog
With exercise and diet, we can still achieve our body composition goals although set-point theory says our bodies have a pre-set body weight that they try to maintain. Photo By Halfpoint / Shutterstock

Can You Change Your Set-Point?

According to set-point theory, you have a set weight where your body is most comfortable—making it difficult to achieve your body composition goals. According to Professor Ormsbee, though, you can change your set-point.

Some studies that followed men and women on a weight-loss diet showed that while they did lose weight, the diet also lowered their metabolic rates. Thus, they eventually gained the weight back.

However, these studies gave some drastic calorie changes and then, at the end of the study, just stopped. Most of them also don’t include a major quality portion for the diets; they only take quantity of food into account. 

Most don’t include smart exercise either. It makes sense that if you can re-establish normal hormone functioning and a normal energy balance at the lower or higher target weight—by eating high-quality foods and exercising in a smart way—then your new body weight can be maintained. 

If you make the right choices to fuel yourself well with nutrient-dense, high-quality foods and live an active and healthy lifestyle, your body simply regulates your body composition for you. Maybe you just need to consistently choose foods that work with your body composition rather than against them. 

“Is this all it takes to burst through a plateau or prevent weight regain?” Professor Ormsbee said. “It might just be that easy.”

Developing New Habits 

Despite the challenge of losing fat and keeping it off, plenty of success stories exist. You probably know at least a few people who have found one method that works.

How do you re-set your set-point? One theory is that if you focus on quality foods, then you have a chance to fix the hormones that were not serving you well and begin to automatically regain control. 

The specific hormones involved are insulin and leptin. Insulin is the blood-glucose-lowering and fat-storing hormone and leptin is viewed as the stop-eating hormone. 

Unfortunately, people can become resistant to both of them. With obesity, you have a greater risk for these hormones, among others, to not work properly, and you can become resistant to their regular metabolic actions. This means that even with more insulin or more leptin, the normal physiological responses of clearing blood glucose and stopping your hunger do not happen easily.

Studies in animals have shown that the quality of the food they eat has a major influence on body weight and body composition—and the hormone changes that occur. The research evidence suggests that both eating more nourishing, high-quality foods and exercising can restore normal functioning of hormones like insulin and leptin and improve metabolic functioning and overall health.

Finding Your “Why”

To break through a plateau, you need to find a personal reason for why you care about feeling your best, looking your best, and performing your best. In order to remain focused on your body composition goals amidst the busy times of everyday life, you need a strong driving purpose to stay motivated.

Maybe you can set a small bet with a friend to start the ball rolling. For example, challenge your neighbor over taking their garbage cans out or washing their car. This challenge keeps you accountable and motivated.

Without a doubt, you need to set some behavioral goals, too. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment by checking off the goal of working out three times per week instead of just focusing on the long-term goals of improving your muscle mass by five pounds or losing 10 pounds of fat.

By simply focusing on the things you can control—like what you eat, how much you eat, how often you eat, and how much you exercise—you can immediately have achievable goals. These goals can be easier to stick with than some lofty weight-loss goal or body composition change. As with most things, half the battle can just be getting started.

“When it comes to having time to exercise, I’ll let you know a little secret,” Professor Ormsbee said. “None of us have time to workout, eat well, plan ahead, or make this a priority. But, all of us can make time.”

You might not be able to attend to your diet and exercise goals every day, but you can still get dressed a little faster, check a few less emails, or turn off the TV. That alone might get you the 30 minutes you didn’t have before. Eventually, you can change your set-point, making it easier to lose fat and gain muscle.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

About Kate Findley 450 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.