My current interest in Set Point Theory 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 the scale has not gone lower from week to week. We’ve all been frustrated by this experience and wonder “why?”
Many people are acquainted with the scientific concept that, as we attempt to eat a restricted-calorie, balanced diet, as recommended by mainstream medicine, our metabolism “adjusts” (slows down). Our body senses that we are in “semi-starvation mode,” and hormonal changes beyond our conscious control initiate this change. Our body decides, independently of our intention, to conserve (use less) energy as a survival mechanism. That is why it is so hard to lose weight. Our body fights us “tooth and nail” to maintain our weight. And our body wins every time.
Until recently, my own experience has been that this “slowing down mechanism” doesn’t 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 eating Very Low Carb, allowed my body to access body fat for energy. The body got the “low insulin” signal from the absence of carbs in my diet for energy. On that signal, it mobilized the breakdown of body fat to maintain my energy balance.
And since I had plenty of fat in “storage,” and my survival was not threatened, my metabolism didn’t slow down!
My body was not being starved because it got all the nutrients it needed from the reduced level of protein and fat that I ate plus the body fat it needed to supplement my energy needs – so long as I ate Very Low Carb.
I also try to avoid all grains and as much fructose and “vegetable” (seed and legume) oils as I can, to avoid harm. When I do, my body is “happy,” and I “feel great,” and I lose weight. So, why has my weight plateaued?
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” to create a little “calorie confusion.” Hmmm…
That comment reminded me of a diet called “The 8-hour Diet,” in which you eat all your food in any day within an 8-hour “window.” 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. That would certainly create a state of “calorie confusion,” wouldn’t it?
That idea led me to a New Year’s Resolution idea from a few years ago from the now deceased blogger David Mendoza. His suggested “weight loss tip” was that whenever your weight drifts above “target,” you skip dinner that day. That’s not as hard as it sounds because you’re not hungry on a VLCKD. In fact, I did it 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 ramblings and ruminations is: Fasting, so long as you are in fat burning mode (in ketosis) 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.” Homeostasis (energy balance) has many under-understood aspects.Perhaps J. Stanton at gnolls.org said it best: "It's tempting to talk about ‘set point’ 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 -- in the words of the great mid-19th century French physiologist Clause Bernard, the “milieu intérieur.” So, to answer the “why” of those pesky set points stalls, try “calorie confusion,” using a mix of intermittent fasting protocols.