“Set Point Theory” gets almost 100 million hits in Google. I’m not going there. This piece is simply ramblings on the recent convergence of a few thoughts about Set Point Theory and where I think the research is going.
My current interest was spurred by my own (n=1) experience. I’ve been working on losing weight (as always) and recently reached another weight loss “plateau.” I eat a Very Low Carb Ketogenic Diet, and for the last two weeks my weight hasn’t changed. It goes up or down a pound or two (of water weight) daily, but has not gone lower from week to week. We’ve all been frustrated by this experience and wonder why and what can we do about it.
A number of years ago the public came to be acquainted with the scientific concept that our metabolisms “adjust” (slow down) as we attempt to eat a restricted-calorie, balanced diet, as recommended by mainstream medicine. It senses that we are in “semi-starvation mode,” and hormonal changes beyond our conscious control initiate this change. The “body” decides, independently of our intention, to conserve energy as a survival mechanism. That is why, we are told today, it is so hard to lose weight. Our body fights us “tooth and nail” to preserve our weight. And “it” wins every time.
My own recent experience has been that this “slowed metabolism” did not apply to me. I find that my energy level is elevated when I diet. The reason is that all of my weight loss (170 pounds during my initial loss) was attributable to Very Low Carb (VLC) eating in which low serum insulin, a consequence of the VLC Way of Eating (WOE), allowed my body to access body fat for energy. The body got the signal (from the absence of carbohydrate intake) that fat storage had to be mobilized to maintain homeostasis. And since I had plenty of fat in “storage,” my body did not sense it was threatened.
Thus, the high-fat dietary intake of the VLC diet was thus supplemented by lipolysis, the breakdown of body fat for energy, enabling the body not to sense “semi-starvation” because it was not being starved. It got all the nutrients it needed from a combination of fatty food ingested and fat broken down – so long as I ate the right foods to satisfy every aspect of my macro and micro nutritional needs. Kudos to the Jaminets in “Perfect Health Diet” for that “needs” insight.
What your body’s total needs are, and the mechanisms that detect and respond to them, is still a mystery. It is also why many of us eat a diet of mixed “real foods.” It is also the reason we eschew completely all grains and as much fructose and seed oils as we possibly can, to avoid harm. If we do, our body will be “happy” and we will “feel great” (in the words of J. Stanton) – and lose weight. So, why have I plateaued this time? Some thoughts.
My wife related how she remembered this subject when she was low-carbing “before Atkins.” (I wonder if she realizes how much she is dating herself.) Her response over breakfast today was, “Be patient, it (weight loss) will start up again,” and “You may just need to ‘jump start’ it by fasting. That reminded me of a suggestion from Holly on the Bernstein Forum that she remembers back in the late 80’s and early 90s a concept called “calorie confusion” in which you vary the total calorie content from meal to meal to trick your body into thinking you have a deficit. Who knows? Just sayin’.
And that reminded me of a diet I read and wrote about here called “The 8-hour Diet,” in which you eat all your food in any day within an 8-hour “fed” period. The theory is that gives your body a chance to get into “fasting” mode for 16 hours a day, when it will burn body fat for energy. I like this idea but how it relates here is that the author suggests doing it only 3 times a week. Sounds to me like “calorie confusion,” Intermittent Fasting, and lack of commitment combined!
That idea led me to a New Year’s Resolution idea last January from David Mendoza from his blog here. His suggested “weight loss tip” was that whenever your weight drifts above “target,” you skip dinner that day. That would be a 19 hour fast for me. I could probably do that several days every week. I’m not hungry on my VLCKD. And I did do that recently two days in a row. I actually ate only breakfast for two days and my weight dropped like a stone.
So, the common thread of all these rambling thoughts is that fasting, so long as you are in fat burning mode to begin with, and thus not experiencing hunger or any mysterious drives or cravings, is an effective way to jump start weight loss again. The inescapable conclusion, however, is that set-points can even set in when you are ketogenic. Your body gets “happy” to be in a “constant” state of ketosis instead of a “dynamic” state. Homeostasis has many under-understood aspects. Perhaps J. Stanton on a post at gnolls.org said it best: "It's tempting to talk about “set points” and leave the discussion there — but as I've said before, “A 'set point' is just a homeostasis we don't understand.” The trillions of cells in our bodies each have metabolic requirements for macro- and micro-nutrients, as well as a functional hormonal environment (the “milieu intérieur”).** “Milieu intérieur” is a reference to a seminal concept of the mid-19th French physiologist Claude Bernard, “one of the greatest of all men of science.” This concept has come to be known in English today as homeostasis. Look him up here!