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Let’s Talk About Your Setpoint

What is a setpoint?

I hear a lot of talk about your “setpoint”, which is the weight you gravitate towards over time. What I just said should tell you it is not one number. People started talking about it when they started to explore yo-yo dieting and people who regain weight after losing it. It also crops up when people have trouble losing weight.

Ok, but what is it?

First, let’s establish what it is not. It is not some mysterious, metabolic force that you have no control over. I cannot stress enough, our bodies are governed by physics. The laws of thermodynamics, meaning energy in = energy out, apply to us. This means you cannot be living on air and not losing weight. I guarantee if I locked you up and starved you, you would lose weight. However, we aren’t starving, and some people are more active than others. This means we tend to follow our preferences. If I eat ice cream every afternoon, followed by a nap, I will weigh more than someone who doesn’t do those things. So your set point is where you end up, following your preferences.

So what can I do about it?

This is the easiest hardest part. Just change your preferences. Or ignore them. This is where diets are made or broken. This is everything about weight loss and the weight loss industry. All that talk about “diets don’t work” comes down to this. You can’t start some kind of diet that ignores your preferences, and expect it to work. You’ll only stick to it for a short while, and when your motivation wanes, you’ll be start eating like you used to, and gain the weight back.

The prescription to change your preferences.

Now this part you’ve hopefully heard before. What counts is how you personalize it.  Stop looking at it like “I want to lose 10 lbs by Christmas”. Instead, look at it like, “what is one choice I can change today, that I can live with?” Make small permanent changes that can add up over time. You didn’t decide to gain weight by a certain date, those small choices just added up. Put that effortless power to work for you. Every meal is a new opportunity to do something right.  Reading diet tips or diets to see what changes you can incorporate is extremely helpful. I can personally recommend Sparkpeople.com or myfitnesspal.com or fooducate.com. Slow weight loss is ideal, because that is what will be permanent.

Exercise

Adding exercise makes it even easier. First, it burns more calories, second it increases your stamina so you can move more the rest of the day, third it increases your lean muscle mass. Have you seen older people who have trouble walking from the car to the house? If that’s you, you are not burning a lot of calories. There are a lot of great BMR calculators out there, so pick on if you want a ball park figure of how many calories you burn just sitting on your butt. Some people say a really rough estimate is to multiply your weight by 10 for your total calorie usage. Calorie counting is more art than science. Unless you are in a lab, or completely obsessed and weighing every mouthful, it is only an estimation. In any case, the more you move, all day long, the more calories you burn. So find exercises you can stick with. I don’t care about the intensity, or how you “feel the burn”, the crux of it is whether you will stick with it. Remember, we are in this for the long-term, which will change your setpoint. It can be walking, playing bocce, hiking, swimming, etc, etc. Now, if you say mowing the lawn is yours, and you only mow once a week, that isn’t enough. It has to be something you do at least three times a week, for half an hour, minimum. Increasing your walking is the easiest and most readily available for most of us.

Add it up for the best results.

So make those small permanent changes  in both your exercise and eating, and you should see permanent weight changes. Of course, that means your health will improve as well. Hopefully, those small changes will lead to other small changes, on and on. That is what causes continued weight loss.

Boost Your Metabolism

boost your metabolismOk, now that I have your attention.

This is what everyone wants to hear, right? “I want to burn more calories, without changing what I’m doing.” But can we be honest, and talk about what metabolism is, and what we are doing when we are “burning calories” ?

Metabolism is just the sum of all the chemical reactions that happen to make you alive and mobile. Your metabolism consists of your cells dividing, your heart pumping, your lungs breathing, tiny muscular contractions keeping you upright, secretions being produced, etc. Approximately 90-99% of all the calories you burn each day are spent just keeping you alive. All large skeletal movements are added to that, so the more you move, the more calories you use one top of the basic ones.

You are not above the law.

The math is pretty basic. The laws of thermodynamics do apply to living things. However, all measurements are approximate as we are all a bit different. For example, most measurements are based on men having more muscle mass than women. That may or may not be true. Most good calorie trackers currently tie into fitness trackers or allow you to put your activity range in, allowing them to dial in better. Until we get to the point where we can perfectly register every bite you put in your mouth and all your exertions, there will be some discrepancy. Having said all that, I will not believe you if you tell me you are eating 12oo calories a day and not losing weight. (Unless you are a child or child sized.)

Eeek! Starvation mode!

Which brings me to my next point. Actually, to my whole point in writing this. When we talk about “starvation mode”, or raising or lowering our metabolism, what we are actually talking about is increasing or decreasing movement. Remember the last time you were literally starving? Like after having the flu, or when you fasted? You feel like you can’t move. The effort to lift an arm feels like too much. That is all we mean when we talk about lowering your metabolism. If your body doesn’t have enough for the “keeping you alive” part, you certainly won’t have the energy for a 20 minute cardio workout. So you want to eat enough to feel capable of doing exercise. (Willingness is another issue.) Your metabolism isn’t some magic engine that is revving up while you are sitting in front of the computer. It is you deciding to walk to work, run on your lunch, hike after work, or get to the gym. Your metabolism revs up as it is required to, by moving. You can’t make your cells divide faster, or secrete more, the only part of your metabolism you have control over is skeletal movement.  And, if I may speak from personal experience, moving makes you more energetic. No one gets more energized by sitting on the couch. People who say “I’m resting up” don’t ever seem to get rested enough to do anything.

Take home message:

Use a decent calorie tracker, know your limits and move, Move, MOVE! (And don’t fall for hype. If you take something to “boost your metabolism”, then use it to move!)

(But don’t take anything to boost your metabolism, they are generally useless.)

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