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Do you have a mental set point for your weight?

I once watched a Ted talk in which the speaker claimed we have a mental set point for our weight (it was Why dieting doesn't usually work by Sandra Aamodt).

It was an interesting talk and I found the idea of a 'set point' fascinating. I've noticed it in other people and also in myself. We all have image of ourselves in our heads. Within that image we seem to have a threshold for how big or small we ought to be. You'll know this yourself and you probably have an idea of what dress/clothing size this is. You might become aware of it when you wear a particular item of clothing that doesn't look right when we've put on weight. 

I remember one time when I was ill over a period of many months. My weight ballooned to the biggest I've ever been. I was quite content to go up the dress sizes (or at least I was in denial) but when I had to buy some items in a size 20 that seemed to be my breaking point. That's the point where I felt so disgusted with myself I took action. Now I'm not saying size 20 is bad or anyone at that size should feel how I felt but, for me that was the threshold. Size 18 felt very uncomfortable and size 20 was unbearable for me.  

It works the other way too. We seem to have a threshold which we won't go below. Once we get there we are happy and we don't feel the need to go any lower regardless of whether this weight is deemed healthy or not, it just fits our idea of how we should look. 

Now where I disagree with the Ted talk is that I believe these are not a predetermined parameters. Your mental set point can be changed. If you've been in the same size clothing for a long time you are used it and you probably believe that's your size-that's your 'normal'. But ask yourself:

  • Were you always this size? 
  • What was 'normal' at 20yrs old?
  • What was your normal 5 years ago?

Look back through some old photos-has your normal changed? Do you always go back to the exact same size? 

Chances are if you've been a certain size over time can't you even see yourself as being the size you want. You want it, but do you believe 'it's you'. 


Your mental set point can be reset. 

How do I know this when a neuroscientist on a Ted talk says otherwise? Because I've experienced it myself and seen it in countless others. Your mental set point is in your head, it's to do with your self image and the good news is that this can be changed.  

First of all, you have to challenge your own ideas of what 'normal' is for you. You have to be prepared to try on a new size in your head and be comfortable with it. What if you were the size you want to be? How would that be? What would stop you being comfortable with that?  Any size could be normal for you if you wanted but you need to accept that.

The nest thing is to get rid of the limiting beliefs and the excuses we tell ourselves. Every dress size from 10-20 has been normal for me at some point in my adult life so clearly none of them were fixed. At the time I would have sworn they were but in reality it was just my own self-image. 

Another great way to shift your set point to just get on and change it! Seeing is believing. My first weight loss goal was to get inside the healthy BMI range. That was new territory for me. I hadn't been in healthy range for 15 years and I wasn't convinced I ever could be.  When I got there I realised I had aimed too low. I looked at myself in the mirror and could see the potential for the body I always wanted and by that point I knew how to get it. 

I also knew how to weigh up your fantasy image of you with your values and lifestyle. I'm happy in the middle of the healthy BMI range. I'm happy with my body and that I can maintain this weight whilst still enjoying a few drinks or occasional meals out. But it wasn't until I saw the results that I began to believe. At some point you just have to start. 

Your set point isn't a conscious thing for most of us but it's always there. You experience it in the little voice that says, "better not have any more" or "I need a few healthy days now". It presents itself in lots of little unconscious choices. By becoming more aware of these and we make choices to change them and start to address some of the beliefs that hold us back.


Check it out for yourself

Try and recognise your set point. What size is your upper and lower range?  Are you happy with that?

Look back over old photos. Has your set point changed? By how much? Could you change it again if you wanted?

Do you consciously choose it or do you wait to until you hit your upper threshold to act?


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