Week One: The Science of Set Point

BIDMC Contributor

OCTOBER 12, 2017

Step 1: Read Lesson

Your body weight set point is the number on the scale your weight normally hovers around, give or take a few pounds.

What determines your set point?

Your heredity and your environment-starting back at the moment of your conception-determine your set point.Over the long term, excess food and insufficient exercise will override your body's natural tendency to stay at its set point and lead to a higher, less healthy set point.

A slow, gradual weight gain, (a 20-pound weight gain over several decades) will fool your body into thinking that your set point should be higher -and in fact, that does reset your set point. Then, when you try to lose weight, your body defends that higher weight, making weight loss more difficult.

But just as it's possible to reset your set point to a higher point, it's also possible to lower it. The secret is to work with, not against, your body's natural tendencies and lose weight slowly, one silhouette at a time.

Internal Controls vs. Environmental Factors

There are internal controls that govern this complex process. These controls include a tiny structure deep within the brain, nerves that run between the brain and stomach, and a host of hormones, but ultimately, your behavior-how you respond to the environment-trumps your physiology, or your body's inner workings.

  • Oversized portions of high-calorie (and often inexpensive) foods are readily available, day and night.
  • Modern conveniences -everything from electric toothbrushes to leaf-blowers to cars-mean we don't have as many opportunities to exercise.
The 10% Solution

Scientific evidence supports losing no more than 10% of your body weight at a time. It turns out that the body's set point and its many regulatory hormones dictate the effectiveness of the 10% loss. That's the amount of weight you can lose before your body starts to fight back. Many clinical studies have confirmed this phenomenon. Of course, some people can lose more than 10% at a time, but precious few can then maintain that loss.

After you maintain your new, lower weight for 6 months, you can repeat the cycle and reset your set point again by losing another 10%. Through small, gradual changes in your daily habits, you'll be able to stay at that new, lower weight for the rest of your life. This prescription is vital to outsmarting the body's natural tendencies to regain weight.

BTYSP Principles

Resetting your set point requires you to learn new habits that overtime become second nature. Over the next so many weeks we will focus on learning how to:

  • Eat Less and Shed Pounds
  • Eat Well and Be Healthy
  • Move More and Feel Great
  • Sleep More
  • Stress Less

In each lesson you will not only learn more about each BTYSP principle, but you will also complete activities that will provide you with the skills you need to use these principles in your everyday life.

Take 5 to Get 10 Set Point Tool Box
  • An accurate scale-weighing daily will help you achieve your goal.
  • Journal, ideally with a calendar-RKO method of tracking your lifestyle habits.
  • Timepiece (watch, sportwatch, clock)
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Pedometer (optional)

At the start of any new program, it is important to take stock in what you are eating and look at how many total calories you typically take in. Eventually you may not have to record every food item you eat and the R-K-O method will become your fast and simple way to take stock of your eating and exercise efforts from the previous day by stepping on the scale.

The R-K-O Method

R: Each day that you follow a healthful diet and get enough physical activity is an "R" day of "regular reducing." You should see the effects of this on the scale, which should remain the same or go down, particularly if you have several R days in a row.

K: What if you manage to keep your eating in check but don't get any exercise? That counts as a "K" day for "keeping it off." The same goes for when you exercise enough but eat more than you planned. Your weight will likely stay the same.

O: Days when you splurge (particularly during holiday season) are "O" days for "off." The number on the scale will go up, because you ate too much and/or didn't get enough physical activity.

The winning formula is a one-month review showing that the "R" days outnumber "K" days, and "K" days outnumber "O" days. You see an example of this in one of your post lesson activities.

Food Journal

There are different methods of keeping a food journal. Everybody finds the one that works best for them. R-K-O is the BTYSP standard form of journaling, but if you are interested in learning more about how many calories you eat in a day so that you can cut back if you need to, you can keep a more detailed journal using the tips below or an online food database that helps you calculate the calories in your diet.

Keeping a food journal can be time consuming. In order to make it more fun and easier for you, we have created a meal by meal "balanced plate" food diary form. You simply write down the veggie/fruit, protein and starch you had at the meal. As you move through the program you will have a better understanding of the food groups and where they fit. The picture of the divided plate is there for you to remember to fill the biggest portion of your plate with vegetables and fruits, the next biggest section with lean protein and the smallest section with starch.

Using the BTYSP Food Diary

You will see this icon symbolizing the "balanced plate":


Understanding portion sizes is an essential piece of information when keeping a food journal to calculate the calories you consume. This may require you to get your measuring cups out! Make it an experiment and if you have children, get them involved too!

Monday, 8:00 a.m.

  • Veggies/Fruit: ½ cup sliced berries
  • Protein: 2 hard boiled eggs
  • Starch: 2 slices whole wheat bread with jam
Hunger and Fullness Rating

You will also see a spot to write how hungry you are and how full or "satiated" you feel after you have eaten. Knowing this is essential to assessing the food patterns that may be keeping you from reaching and maintaining your set point. In the diary, simply put the number that corresponds to the level you feel at that moment.


Step 2: Watch Video

Step 3: Review and Complete Activities

Step 4: Listen to Podcast

Step 5: Take Quiz

Step 6: Perform Weekly Tasks

» Keep track of your daily intake and assess R-K-O status daily
» Weigh yourself to get a starting measurement

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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