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BMI vs set point weight – There’s a clear winner

Set Point Weight vs BMI - there's a clear winner

Person standing on asphalt holding a dumbbell in each hand.
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With the cold precision of a calculator, BMI has long dominated the weight loss world for those obsessed with metrics and measurements. Yet, a new way to represent your weight emerges, a concept that’s not only more nuanced but perhaps more accurate— set point weight. So, what’s the difference between the two?

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What is BMI?

BMI stands for body mass index. It is a numerical value derived from your weight and height, providing a quick glimpse into whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. 

Calculating your BMI is straightforward: take your weight in kilograms and divide it by your height in meters squared (kg/m²). The result slots you into one of the BMI categories, which can be a wake-up call or a pat on the back regarding your fitness journey.

While BMI takes into account factors such as height and weight, it does not take into account body fat percentage, muscle mass, or overall composition. As a result, it does not provide an accurate measure of an individual’s overall health.

Man at the gym with a towel around his neck and woman riding stationary bike behind him.
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What is your set point weight?

Set point weight is the theory that your body has a natural weight range that it is genetically predisposed to maintain. This weight range is regulated by a complex network of hormones, genetics, and brain signals. It’s where your body feels most “at home,” and it will resist changes from this range, whether they are higher or lower.

So, which one is better? The evidence suggests that while BMI can serve as a preliminary screening tool, it’s set point weight that takes the gold for personal health and wellness. It’s not about discarding BMI entirely but rather understanding its limitations and complementing it with a more holistic view of health.

Close up of a hand with glove on holding a test tube full of blue liquid
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Factors that determine your set point weight

Your set point weight is deeply entrenched in your genetic makeup, with studies suggesting that your risk of obesity is determined by genes. However, this isn’t a life sentence; lifestyle choices and environmental factors have the power to influence these genes, potentially allowing for better weight management. Just like the color of your eyes or your natural hair texture, your genes play a pivotal role in determining your set point weight. 

Hormones play a pivotal role in this complex system as well. Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” can ramp up your appetite during periods of calorie restriction, while leptin, which signals satiety, may not function optimally in individuals with obesity, leading to a challenge in feeling full. 

Your environment, including diet, physical activity, stress levels, and sleep quality, interacts with your genetics and hormones, further influencing your set point weight. Staying active and practicing mindfulness can reduce stress levels and potentially lead to increased weight loss. 

Additionally, cortisol, the stress hormone, can lead to a slower metabolism and increased visceral fat when chronically elevated. By understanding these hormonal influences, you can take steps to manage stress, improve sleep, and eat a balanced diet to support a more favorable hormonal balance.

Calculating your set point weight: Is there a formula?

Have you ever wondered why some people can eat seemingly without consequence while others merely glance at a pastry and feel the scale tip? It’s not magic; it’s biology. While there is no simple calculation to determine your set point weight, understanding the factors that influence it can guide you in making adjustments that could potentially alter your body’s preferred weight range. It’s about identifying the interplay between your genetics, hormone levels, and lifestyle factors. 

wooden serving tray of healthy food
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Working with your biology, not against it

Although you can’t directly change your set point weight, there are strategies to work within its confines. By adopting healthy habits, you might “turn on” or “turn off” certain genes that influence weight, thereby nudging your set point in a favorable direction.

Comprehensive weight loss programs that offer medical and behavioral support are designed to align with your body’s biology. These programs, sometimes supplemented by prescription weight-loss medication, have shown promising results, with nearly half of the participants in one study losing an average of at least 10 percent of their body weight and maintaining it for up to five years.

Understanding the complexity of your set point weight is like unlocking a secret code to weight management. It’s a call to action, inviting you to harmonize with your biology so that you can make knowledgeable choices that align with your health goals. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it’s the power to potentially alter the course of your body’s weight trajectory, leading you to a healthier, more vibrant life.

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Brittney Bertagna, RN
Brittney is a graduate of California State University, Chico, where she completed a Bachelor's degree in Business. Her…
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