Maintaining and managing weight can be tough. Over 42 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of children and adolescents in the United States have obesity.

Overweight and obesity may be associated with health risks, such as:

Many people try numerous diet programs for weight management.

Set point theory states that our bodies have a preset weight baseline hardwired into our DNA. According to this theory, our weight and how much it changes from that set point might be limited.

The theory says some of us have higher weight set points than others and our bodies fight to stay within these ranges.

Recent studies point to body weight being affected by a combination of factors. Weight is determined by inherited traits, the environment, and by hormonal, psychological, and genetic elements. Weight also depends on energy burned compared to what’s taken in from calories.

The set point model relies on the concept of a genetic preset weight range that’s controlled by biological signals. The body has a regulatory system that keeps you at a steady-state level, or set point.

Your hypothalamus, which is in your brain, gets signals from fat cells. Hormones like leptin, which regulates hunger, and insulin are triggered at certain times. Your metabolism also constantly adjusts up or down based on a variety of signals.

The set point theory suggests that your weight may go up or down temporarily but will ultimately return to its normal set range. The signaling system helps maintain weight.

However, it’s important to realize that some scientists believe the set point may not actually be a useful concept for understanding human body weight.

Are you wondering why weight climbs beyond a few pounds if we have a set point?

Some researchers believe that one reason may be that the reactive signal system stops working efficiently over time and leptin and insulin resistance develop, causing us to gain weight.

External elements also contribute to weight gain over time. Gradually, according to set point theory, the normal body set point keeps adjusting upward.

When we try to lose weight, our body fights to maintain the higher set point weight by slowing down metabolism. This can limit weight loss.

There’s a second theory for weight called the “settling point” model. This concept suggests our weight is influenced by more than just one factor. How we navigate our food choices together with our biological traits and our energy balance affects weight shifts over time.

Overall, evidence indicates that weight isn’t based on a one-dimensional aspect but rather on a complex set of internal and external signals — a combination of environmental and biological factors.

Can we change our set point weight? According to set point theory, yes.

In order to reset our set point to a lower level, set point theory proponents recommend going slowly with weight loss goals. A gradual 10 percent step-down weight loss approach with persistent maintenance at each stage can help prepare the body to accept the new lower set point.

One study in rodents has shown promise in keeping weight down post weight loss surgery. It’s unclear whether this would translate to humans since lifestyle choices including diet and exercise play a role in weight.

In some cases, studies indicate weight loss surgery is successful in getting weight to a permanently lower range in the long term.

Scientists believe surgery success depends on complex behavioral and physiological factors. Right after surgery, weight loss is rapid from extreme calorie restriction.

As time goes by, the body fights the change in energy intake (fewer calories) by slowing metabolism and adjusting leptin signaling. In addition, when surgery isn’t coupled with an active lifestyle, weight may ultimately shift upward to the presurgery set point, according to set point theory.

We’ve been talking about weight above a set point, but what about weight below the set point?

According to set point theory, after a time, your body will fight reduced calorie intake by sending signals (hunger pangs) and slowing down your metabolism to attempt to bring you back to your normal set point.

Someone with an eating disorder may fixate on food, hunger, and weight, creating a negative loop. This can also lead to binge eating disorder and cycling through various diet programs.

Set point theory believes your body and brain are in a struggle to regain a set point weight. Based on this, it’s more helpful to implement smaller adjustments to weight rather than strict calorie restrictions with large energy burns from exercise.

If you have questions or concerns about disordered eating, check in with your healthcare provider.

There’s still a lot we don’t understand about why our weight shifts. Scientists believe understanding individual factors is crucial. Genetics, hormones, and environment all play a role.

The set point theory is just one concept researchers are studying to understand body weight. There are many reasons some of us struggle to lose weight.

Effective weight loss programs should balance the importance of individual genetic markers with other components.

Eating a balanced diet and maintaining an active lifestyle are proven to help manage weight.

Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t been successful with maintaining your weight. It’s not a dial we can simply turn up or down to get to the desired level.

If you want to lose weight, your healthcare provider can help guide you in choosing a plan that works for you. There are also blogs and apps that use cognitive behavior models that may help with reaching weight goals.

Tips to manage your weight:

  • ask questions of experts and your healthcare provider
  • go slowly
  • try different approaches
  • have a positive mindset
  • set realistic goals