set point

Why eating less and exercising more can never work? Part 1 – The concept of set point

The moment we put on weight, we start eating less and exercising more. This drastic step is more out of guilt than any other scientific logic and reasoning. To make matters worse almost all diet plans out there work on the principle of calorie restrict. Starving is almost definitely on the table.

Here is what happens. After the initial weight loss there comes a plateau. If you start eating regular, then you get back to your old weight or maybe a couple of Kgs more.

Understanding set point

Human body is a reservoir and resources come from food. In ancient times food was scarce at times and we had to depend on stored resources for survival. About 50 lakh years ago, humans started evolving from chimps, apes and gorillas. There was no single straight line of evolution as they show on a graph in school text books. It was rather an intense maze from which one one dominant species, homo sapiens emerged 1 lakh years ago. Modern humans appeared 50,000 years ago. Finally 10,000 years ago we came out of caves and ventured on open lands for agriculture.

Those lakhs of years of evolution was aimed at just one thing – survival by storing resources inside the body.

Set Point is the range of body weight decided by your body where it feels safe that sufficient resources have been stored within the body.

If your body weight falls below the set point due to any reason, your body will do anything that it needs because now it will feel that the very survival is at threat. If your body weight rises, it will shed resources to come back to the set point.

What is Metabolic Rate

Base Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy required by the body when it is resting. That is calculated by multiplying 22 with body weight in Kgs.

Metabolic Rate is the base metabolic rate plus calories consumed during the day.

Your daily energy requirements come from the food you eat or from the resources you have stored. If you are fasting, then your body is going to tap the resources stored.

Calorie restricted diet and Time restricted diet

Time restricted feeding is another name for Intermittent fasting which has gained immense popularity in recent times due to the guaranteed weight loss results it provides.

Intermittent fasting is not a diet but it limits the number of times you eat in a day. If you are having two meals a day within a span of 8 hours, so you have a fasting window of 16 hours and eating window of 8 hours. This plan is good for anyone starting into the world of fasting. If you need to eat more, then you can even accommodate three meals within that 8 hours.

But intermittent fasting is one of its kind. Rest all diet plans rely on eating less or a calorie restricted diet. Many diet plans also encourage you to go out there and exercise.

You have to eat less and at the same time you exercise more to burn more calories, thereby creating a net calorie deficit.

How does the body react

As the calorie deficit starts building up, the body starts recording the pattern. It senses immediate danger since your body is now starving of key minerals and nutrients. What is getting deprived and why is the body scared.

Our body needs these three types of nutrients.

  • Vitamins – These are organic compounds which help keep many processes going on in the body. We get abundant beta carotene from all those coloured vegetables. That is converted to Vitamin A with the help of enzymes by the liver. This vitamin A is stored in the fat cells for future use. Vitamin A is crucial for night vision, immunity, growth and reproduction. We all are aware that deficiency of Vitamin A leads to loss of night vision. Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E & K are stored in the fat cells and rest of the vitamins are water soluble which are stored in the one water molecule which is trapped between two fat molecules.
  • Minerals – Calcium, manganese, magnesium, selenium, potassium, zinc, iron, iodine and so on are called trace minerals. Some say there are 16 essential minerals, others say it is 102! Mineral deficiency can cause serious problems in the body. Women in India across all age and income groups suffer from iron deficiency.
  • Phytonutrients – Also called as anti-oxidants, these are useful for essential functions like growth, reproduction, hormonal balance, etc.

Starving helps building calorie deficit but at the same time induces panic in our body because of lack of nutrients. Clubbed that with the most popular option that people adopt is the low fat diet. This is really the last nail in the coffin.

From here on it is just will power for maybe another few weeks.

At this point of time, the body starts taking corrective action by reducing the calorie expenditure by allocating less resources for your daily activity.

The plateau and tipping point

At this point of time you may not notice but slowly you will start getting more tired from exercise and will not be able to keep up with the pace set at the start point of your weight loss journey. You will also not notice that the recovery period is also increasing. But as the body slows down the metabolic rate, you calorie deficit will start to reduce and you will hit a plateau.

Yes you must have definitely lost weight but at some point it will stop losing weight. There are people who break the plateau but that is in rare circumstances. For the less fortunate others, it only manages to break your will power because you think, everything has stopped working.

It is at this point that you start eating normally and body keeps storing resources till it reaches the set point weight. This is how you gain back all the lost weight.

The body also decides to increase the set point weight by a few kgs to cater for any such adventure in the future.

Why is time restricted feeding or intermittent fasting so successful

Because this does not involve starving. Never during the period of intermittent fasting ever is the body threatened. In fact the correct way of intermittent fasting and keto is eating stomach full every meal.

People get scared and put off by the word “fasting” in Intermittent Fasting. To set the record straight, fasting is different from starving. Human body reacts different to fasting and differently to starving.


This article is in a two part series with link to Part 2 shared below.

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