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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Set Point ~ Settling Point Part I: Just some thoughts

There's quite a bit of discussion going on over this topic in the comments HERE.

Archibald posted a link to Issues and Misconceptions About Obesity, the infamous Flatt paper.

Since this part was "hot" right now, I decided to blog on this, also because the issue has come up in other recent comments.

9. Conditions for body weight stability: “settling point” vs. “set point”
Although less obvious than the fact that energy intake must be equal to energy expenditure, weight stability also requires that the substrate mixture oxidized be equivalent, on average, to the composition of the nutrient mix consumed. When “substrate balance” is not achieved, changes in body composition occur, which in time are bound to elicit adjustments in food intake.  Weight maintenance thus tends to become established for a particular body composition in a given individual living under a particular set of circumstances. This corresponds to a “settling point”. Such a view accommodates the fact that circumstances cause weight stability to occur for various degrees of adiposity. Thus it seems to fit reality much better than the concept of a “set point” or “ponderostat” often invoked to explain weight stability. In fact, such a concept would seem to be utterly inconsistent with the rise in the preponderance of obesity, since set-points would have to be seen as preventing the impact of changing circumstances. It has sometimes been considered that “set-points” are reset for different conditions, but in effect this argument reduces the set-point phenomenon to a settling point.
In Part II I'll address the concept of substrate balance eluded to in this excerpt and expanded upon in the remaining paragraphs of this section.  For now, however I have some thoughts and questions on the concepts of set point vs. settling point in general.  The set point concept basically states that our bodies have a fixed weight that is set/programmed genetically.  This is supported by experiments of overfeeding and underfeeding normal animals and their weight returning to the initial weight pre-intervention.  In humans, such experiments tend to be done on lean young males.  What I get from these results is that if you remove a lot of the other factors at play, there is no doubt that all animals have an innate homeostatic system in place that maintains a relatively stable body size/composition.  Perturb that system and it wants to return to baseline.

But I juxtapose this with my own experience.  I am a genetically lean person.  Not ectomorph skinny, but I am not genetically predisposed towards obesity or flab.  I was a somewhat skinny kid and a late bloomer and I think my body probably would have wanted to be somewhere in the 120-130 lb range.   And perhaps with the normal changes of aging, I imagine I'd probably weigh in the 130's now and not more than 150.  Puberty spurt coincided with a bit more freedom and money in my pocket and I ate lunch at Burger King a few too many times.  I "pudged" a bit over a year or so of doing this.  I was always active playing various sports, etc.  I believe my high weight was 139 which was far from obese but I was wearing size 11 jeans and having to buy 13's in one style was a shocker.  (Yes, with size inflation, and the fact that these were juniors sizes,  these pants would be too small for me today)  

So what caused my shifted set point if it exists?  My BK meals surely contained more calories than a usual lunch, but I wasn't stuffing my pie hole.  Why did not my innate homeostatic mechanism just kick in and have me eat less at dinner?  I think, based on his recent posts, Stephan Guyenet would make a food reward argument.  But, although the diet my Mom fed me growing up was rather plain and simple, there were yummy things in the home that I could partake in especially when Mom went back to work part time around age 11.  There's food reward to be found in that yummy white crystalline clover honey and butter on oatmeal bread!!  Why didn't that reset my set point?  

OK ... so I overreacted, went on rather a crash diet, and lost down to 105-110 lbs.  Clearly below my original set point.  I suppose the binge disorders that resulted were my body's way of fighting against me trying to maintain too low a weight.  But why when I got to around 125 or even that 140 lb weight did my body not stop me from binging more?  Spring semester of freshman year I binged my way up to ... gasp! ... around 165 lbs.  I do not see how set point theory can mesh with this experience.  And while many surely don't experience the same extremes, I would note that most of my classmates gained some weight that they did not take off until years later after graduation.  If there's something about the college environment that resets the setpoint, why didn't everyone revert back to their thinner selves over the summer breaks?  Those who did, like me to some extent, did so with deliberate efforts:  aka going on a diet.  Why would my body have reset my setpoint way up higher than I ever weighed before, and well above a "normal" weight for me?

Here is where this whole theory just falls apart for me.  When I "sobered up" from my binge, why didn't my body just revert itself back to at least that 139-ish mark?  

I agree with Flatt and those commenters who point out that the whole notion of shifting set points is inconsistent with the theory at its very basis.  

Now on to settling point.  Now this makes more sense to me because most people are relatively weight stable as adults.  They may be obese or lean, but despite diet-mania and whack jobs like me who cycled wildly, most of my friends I've known through the years have not spent most of their adult lives gaining or losing weight, rather they weigh about what they weigh ... and perhaps a few pounds creep on over the years as we age, slow down (and this can simply be sedentary job to pay the bills!), etc.  So most have a semi-homeostatic settling point at which they are in energy balance.  

It would seem that our bodies don't have a great capacity to distinguish 40 extra pounds from 140 extra pounds in terms of "reserves".  The "last 10" are always hard to lose b/c our bodies do seem to sense this small amount of excess -- if they see it as "excess" at all.  But I think the body lets go of 20-30-40 lbs *relatively* easily but after that it sort of panics from sensing deficit for so long.  I don't think our bodies realize we have perhaps another 20-30-40--100 lbs more in the tank!  

I do find it interesting that -- although size/distribution is different -- I've probably spent the most time of my adult life weighing what I currently do.  This used to be around my max weight backstop for all the yo yos pre-1997 Atkins stint.  And it's about the weight I got down to in 2004 on stint 2.  I spent most of 2009 and early 2010 trying to get away from this "settling point".  I finally sort of gave up last summer.  More just giving myself a break.  So a year of not trying for the most part here and I'm hoping this means my body may be more willing to give up that excess weight when I make a new push.

In Part II, I'll address body composition and substrate balance issues in terms of this settling point concept.  I'm not convinced by that argument and I'll go into the reasons why.  But I am more open to the settling point concept in general than I am to a set point.  Call it a "sweet spot", of which there can be several, for every body exposed to varying environments.  And since I went into the personal stuff quite a bit, I will add that in my opinion, the whole diet mentality is an eating disorder in and of itself.  I am interested in academic discussions of body weight regulation, and I agree with Kurt Harris that humans were not meant to count calories.   For the human raised in a non-obesogenic environment or who for whatever reason remains lean through their 30th birthday, this may well be their "luck" to have an intact homeostatic system.  But this system just seems so DARNED EASY to override.  Be it being guilted into overeating (in my youth it was the starving kids in Ethiopia), societal/cultural pressures (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), body image issues (for me it was being more JLo/Fergie/Beyonce in the era of Cheryl Tiegs and Farrah), drinking or eating being integral to socializing, laziness in food selection ... etc.etc.  -- it doesn't take much to throw it all off.  And although I will not go so far as to say this has "damaged" the metabolism, it sure has thrown off the natural homeostasis.  I consider myself lucky to have at least been able to re-establish a "sane" homeostasis at my current considerably reduced weight and size.  


Kindke said...

"Spring semester of freshman year I binged my way up to ... gasp! ... around 165 lbs."

I can relate alot to that. The few times in my life where I gained huge amounts of weight quickly were also periods I went through major depression episodes.

The first being when I didnt get the grades I needed to get into univeristy, (+50lbs), and another time a bit later in life when I got rejected by a girl I really liked (+70lbs).

I was able to lose most of the weight via atkins induction but couldnt get the last 20lbs to budge. Ive been oscillating up and down about 15lbs from that +20lbs "settling point" ever since.

What i've noticed is that once youve been severely obese, you have to conciously monitor what you eat for the rest of your life if you want to maintain that diet induced weight loss.

This is unlike naturally lean people, who eat whatever they want and can completely rely on thier bodies unconcious signals to keep them from over-eating and keep them lean.

Beth@WeightMaven said...

I was going thru the various presentations of the 2009 Obesity and Food Addiction summit and came across an interesting discussion re the role of alternating sugar intake and deprivation leading to binge eating behavior:

Makes me wonder if I would have wound up where I did had I not been doing the various restrictive diets I did (including one of the first liquid protein diets in the mid 70s and Nutrasystem -- which was then a ketogenic diet -- in the late 70s).

Diana said...

Yes - it occurred to me in the discussion on set point in the HAES thread that it should work both ways. If we have a set point that makes us unable to punch through a certain lower plateau, then why doesn't set point prevent us from gaining? Doesn't make sense.

Thomas said...

Humans are "meant" to count calories about as much as they are to lift weights, go jogging or sit all day for work. But these are realities of the modern world, something our bodies were not designed to experience. So everything now, although we were not "meant" to do it, is done artificially-exercise, diet, etc. In a world of food abundance and being sedentary, we have to think about and plan out things that were normal, common experiences during most of human history. We must plan to move (exercise) and we must plan our times of famine (diet and yes, for some, calorie counting). To think otherwise in this day and age is a recipe for failure IMO.

RRX said...

I agree that settling-point seems like a much better idea for the observations as a whole that we have. I agree with Diana's thought on it.

I also agree with you Thomas. It doesn't do any of us any good to lament (which I am not saying everyone is doing) about how we evolved and the environments we used to run around in. That really doesn't change that the reality of our environment today is much different and has different demands that are particular to it. In this case, those demands may be sedentary jobs to pay the bills, thus structured activity (aka exercise) and "planned famines" (aka dieting). It seems crappy, but hey, at least we get to pick the famines and how drastic they are!

Diana said...

When my father was inducted into the US Army in 1942, he weighed 125 pounds. (He was 5'8 1/2" tall.) And that was actually up from his Depression weight, because at that point he'd been working in a restaurant for 4 years - where got free steaks.

His "famine" was called "poverty." I guess it hurt to go hungry, but it certainly made for a very lean and aesthetic looking man.

It just doesn't work that way anymore. I was at Ikea Brooklyn the other day. In the 1st floor "bistro" they were selling 6 cinnamon buns for $4 - over 2800 calories. (I got a cup of coffee.)

They don't make poor people like they used to anymore! (Skinny and hungry.)

In a way that's a good thing. In another, bad.

Jim said...

I am yet another person who thinks Thomas is right. I tried for years to find simple rules-of-thumb that would work and failed. I concluded that if I wanted to minimize fat mass and maximize lean mass I had to count calories based on what the bathroom scale says. And if the result was hunger or poor mood, I was eating the wrong foods or the wrong macronutrient ratios.

CarbSane said...

Great responses folks!

Yes Kindke, I think anyone who has been significantly overweight will likely have to be somewhat mindful about their eating for the rest of their lives. But ya know what? I'm not really sure that's all that different than lean folks especially as we age. When I was in my 20's I had thin friends who seemed to be able to eat anything and stay that way, but as we progressed into our 30's and 40's I don't think I know anyone of them who hasn't either packed on a few pounds or "watches their weight" to remain slim. So perhaps we're not all that different in the end ...

The other comments echo how I feel when never-overweight folks speak academically about obesity. I agree we shouldn't have to count calories and all that, but the reality is for many of us we just do. They aren't wrong in their beliefs, it's just that those only get us so far in practice. Sure, there's the odd person who switches to LC or Paleo and "effortlessly" drops weight and maintains. But the implication that just that will work for everyone has me taking a very jaded view of proponents at this point.

Diana said...

"I'm not really sure that's all that different than lean folks especially as we age."

It really isn't. Some people obsess about it and do it publicly, some people just "cut back" or say, "I'm full" w/out making a huge fuss over it. The fact is that most thin or normal weight people really aren't shoving food down their throats.

There is a whole dieting mythology about the holidays, the food saboteurs, everyone who is out there trying to make us fat. Look, maybe there really are evil mothers who are shoving food down their fat kids' mouths, but for the most part, it just isn't so. If all I ever overate was Thanksgiving dinner and a few Christmas cookies, I'd never have gotten fat. It was the day-in day-out large portions, supplemented by the regular binges, that did it!

I find that although lean people (esp. women) may not count calories, they do roughly measure portion size. Perhaps that's is true weight loss/maintenance success: when you can manage a smaller portion size and not feel deprived either physically or psychologically.

I say "esp. women" because it seems to me that lean guys can manage huge portion sizes better than women. Using my father as an example, he would eat quite large portions, which I think became part of my own problem. Thing is, he had an active job, he was a guy and had more muscle mass than his daughter, and oh, after eating his big meal, he didn't eat for quite a few hours, until he was truly hungry again. Also, he rarely ate sweets. He was one of those "one Mallomar" types. I can't understand how a person can eat just one Mallomar.

Andrea said...

This is the first time I've heard of a settling point and it's quite interesting and makes a lot of sense.

As far as any system being easy to override (whether set-point or settling point) I gather that's the nature of the system. To maintain weight the body has basically only two cues to work with: control intake via hunger/satiety cue or control output via get up and move/sit on your butt. But each of those is easily overridden because of the conscious mind and free will. The brain may send out a "you're not hungry now, don't eat" when I'm at a social gathering but there are times I choose to eat anyway for a variety of reasons: obligation, food reward, etc. Similarly, perhaps my brain is cuing me to move more but I'm stuck at a desk all day working and can't get up and move around. By the time I'm home after a long day, I'm too tired at that point.

Also, brain cues aren't necessarily constant. You receive a cue, you either honor it or you don't, but if you don't honor it, it usually passes after a bit of time.

I've read studies which showed that overweight/obese are more likely not to honor body cues of hunger/satiety. In a sense, they have become divorced from their body, for any number of reasons: food reward, emotional eating, psych issues, dieting mentality/history of dieting and weight cycling, etc.

I also think it's important to keep in mind that a large number of Americans are now medicated with pharmaceuticals which have weight gain as known side effect (i.e., antidepressants, certain high BP meds, steroids, etc.) or which may impact body weight homeostasis cues.

eulerandothers said...

'To maintain weight the body has basically only two cues to work with: control intake via hunger/satiety cue or control output via get up and move/sit on your butt. But each of those is easily overridden because of the conscious mind and free will.'

Yes! The conscious mind can actually say, 'No' to more calories, and 'Yes' to more physical activity. Getting from those decisions (mind,thought) to action (the body,action) is a HUGE thing.

The conscious mind can actually spin its wheels, bringing emotion into the mix, basically asking (over and over), 'But WHY should I have to do those things! Not fair! When I was xx years old, I didn't have to do that. SHE (pointing to other person) doesn't have to do that. Last year, before I gained this weight, I didn't have to do that...' And so on and so on, looking for that 'loophole' that will make the solution different.

RRX said...


Over the last year, I have taken notice of and talked to "thin" and "lean" people/friends about their eating and weight patterns. I am finding that they may not count calories specifically, but they do tend to have some sort of accounting practice going on with their eating. Even if it's just a portion size kind of thing, they seem to mindfully limit their intake. Me thinks one key difference in their case is that they seem to have less of a sense of hunger (or more/longer sense of satiety when they do eat) than I or other overweight people I know have.

RRX said...


I laughed when I read your comment after I posted mine about our observations of thin people's eating habits.

In my case, your comment about the possibility of maintenance coming from portion control has been a big part of my maintenance. When I stopped doing low carb and tried out just a daily calorie cap, I was mindful of my portions and "practiced" letting myself feel hunger (or rather the thing that I thought was hunger but I have come to think of more as just what it feels like to not have food in my stomach). That turned into weaning myself away from snacks and just eating actual meals only throughout the day. The research really helped me go down that road. There's so many marketing claims geared towards men about how easy it is to lose muscle and yadda yadda yadda. After reading enough studies that showed how BS all those claims are, I was willing to "risk it" and make a go of a "normal" eating pattern. The fasting studies also went a long way to convince me to try it out.

Here I am over half a year later, maintaining exactly and much easier than low carb ever was to me. And I didn't lose any lean body mass!

As for better handling of the odd huge meals, I do what your father did in not eating for longer after to some degree. Otherwise, I have found that those odd large meals just help my training in the gym (I powerlift, which benefits a lot from big eating - hence most powerlifters being 220-300 lbs). That benefit in training, I think, means I expend more energy that makes up for the random large meal here and there.

Also, I don't mean to knock on low carb. I spent a solid 8 years maintaining 180-190 lbs on low carb (took 2 years to get there from 300 lbs). I am just saying that my switch last Fall (I decided after nearly 10 years since I was at 300 lbs, I would enjoy the Fall bounty of New England. Carbs be damned!) to acknowledging calories resulted in an "easy" leaning out in 2 months (yeah, I leaned out while enjoying all the Fall foods, Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas treats) to 165 lbs and easily maintaining it since.

Of course...maybe this was my set-point all along! :-P I would say it's more my "settling" point. :-)

Stephan Guyenet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi CarbSane,

I read that paper and I can't say I agreed with all of it.

Proponents of the "settling point" idea often leave out the fact that we have already characterized a negative feedback loop that homeostatically regulates body fatness. It's not just an abstract idea; we know what the machinery is that carries it out.

The modern idea of the setpoint is not quite what you described, and that's the source of a lot of confusion. The argument "my weight changed, therefore there's no setpoint" doesn't hold water, because the setpoint is not a genetically determined level of fat mass that never changes throughout life. It responds to prevailing conditions, including food reward and hormonal state (e.g., menopause).

Also, the mechanism itself can probably be damaged, resetting it at a higher level. All you need is a bit of leptin resistance, and your setpoint will increase accordingly. If some of the damage is permanent (just as insulin resistance is difficult to completely reverse when it's severe) then returning to the previous diet will not completely reverse the change. There's also some evidence that the amount of leptin produced per unit fat mass may decrease with prolonged obesity, such that even if leptin sensitivity returns to baseline, not all of the fat will be lost.

Again, these are not abstract ideas-- it's already been studied and published on (in rodents), with several research groups continuing to study it intensely.

I continue to maintain that the setpoint concept is the best fit for the evidence, you just have to view the hypothesis in a nuanced manner.

bentleyj74 said...

I'm inclined to agree with the set point but I'd be really interested to hear more about the prevailing conditions.

Muata said...

I was wondering is the "set point" or "settling point" the same for gains in lean mass (i.e., muscles tissue)?

I'm asking because the lead actors in Thor and Captain America were only able to keep their mass for the duration of each film's shoot. The extra calories (mainly protein shakes), and resistance training (heavy weight & low reps), were too much for them to "solidify" their gains, so they dropped a lot of the extra bulk once filming was over.

No, they didn't gain fat, and they were lean to begin with; nevertheless, I was wondering if the fact that they lost the extra muscle plays into these two hypotheses?

Here's a link to an interview with Chris Hensworth's (Thor):

Sanjeev said...

I tried to post something similar to Stephan yesterday but google wouldn't let me - trying again.

the analogy to human industrial and residential set points is not really appropriate for a free-living organism with much less control over the environment. The analogy can help understanding but IMHO one needs to think about setpoints a little differently.

But even within the industrial analogy I can give you examples I've seen or used to read about in the chemical industry trade rags where set points need to be changed.

YOu're running a plastic factory and one of your suppliers sends you a batch that has a lower smoke point than normal. If you don't want 6 month sof down time where you have to clean out tons of burnt tar you better reduce your temperature set points and maybe increase heat times.

Or a higher viscosity batch than normal comes in. You have to increase some temperature set points to get the stuff to flow through the pipes and heat exchangers and extruders and dies properly (assuming the usual temperature-viscosity response).

Or some dirtier stock comes in. Maybe higher sulfur. You have to change flowrate setpoints so your catalyst doesn't foul too quickly.

Sanjeev said...

at the same time of course those analogies are a good starting point in many cases, like dissolved mineral concentration control in various body compartments

RRX said...


Drugs. Considering how many actors/action heroes of the past have been open about using them, actors of that size of today are in the boat guilty until proven innocent as far as I'm concerned (especially when such dramatic changes occur and then go away so quickly - which is stereotypical of doing short bursts of them).

malpaz said...

interesting arguments...i was a fat kid, and fat adolescent, i used low carb and exercise to maintain my high school weight around 125-130. then went to college and first semester gained up to easily 165+. thats when i was told i was fat which had happened most my life however this time i didnt 'see it' and some switch turned in my head and over the next 4 years i got down to 88lbs. i lived 2 years in the low 100's and fluctuated between 105-130. so for over 7 years i have been in the lower 110-120 range with spouts real low.

i have heard the argument once you get fat and stay there long enough your body does adjust to it, as stephan pointed out, and i have also heard the same arguement about being lean. when youve been lean for a while your body adjusts energy expenditure and usage(argans and such) to match your exercise/lifting.

i dunno about the set point though b/c mental illness caused my weight loss. i suppose though my setpoint is high as i had always been a chub ball up until i got sick but that included lots of beer and fast food too.

i am personally curious to see what my body does weight wise as the years go

Diana said...

@Muata, RRX,

Re: drugs. I was going to say the same thing. Drugs are rampant in Hollywood. It's not some right-wing slander. It's fact. With all that money on the line?

"It responds to prevailing conditions, including food reward and hormonal state (e.g., menopause)."

If setpoint isn't genetically determined, then I have a hard time accepting the idea that it's a setpoint.

Muata said...

@ RRX and Diana - People have made similar transformations and for the record that kind of transformation does not "automatically" means that someone is juicing.

OK, forget about those two superheroes and let's use Steve Reeves as an example. I chose him because he built his physique before steroids was invented, and was a skinny kid, so the genetics argument can't be used. His muscles came through hard work and good food, with very few if any food supplements.

Now, back to my question about lean mass and the set point theory because Steve clearly pushed past his genetically determined set point ...

Sanjeev said...

> If setpoint isn't genetically determined, then I have a hard time accepting the idea that it's a setpoint.

genetic determination is not that simple.

There's a great discussion of heritability in the wonderful book

50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior
by Lilienfeld , Barry L. Beyerstein , Steven Jay Lynn , John Ruscio

one small discussion of heritability and what it implies for changing an inherited trait

CarbSane said...

@Stephan: I addressed some of your comments in my Part II, but I have a few more thoughts to add here. The existence of a homeostatic system -- something I think few would deny -- doesn't seem to have much meaning in the end if it is so easy to perturb in some. Why did my friend John's setpoint not get perturbed by Dominos pizza, but my friend Mike's did? Why were more of us young ladies gifted with ultra sensitive set point mechanisms while most of the young men could push the limits w/o consequence?

I can see how eating bland foods might well regulate intake spontaneously, but how does this explain Giada v. Paula Deene?

To me the "settling point" is whatever weight that CI = CO in the end.

CarbSane said...

@Diana and all: I agree that, if set point is not at least predominantly genetic, of what use is this concept. I didn't get chubby overnight around age 16, I slowly added on some pounds from eating more fast food. I have a very hard time accepting some homeostatic feedback loop being meaningful if it does not "work" to defend a set point in the face of relatively minor perturbations. Isn't that SUPPOSED to be the point of that?

@Mal, I also relate to having other issues that trumped everything else with respect to weight. I also believe once a person becomes truly obese, especially for a period of time, it "changes things". The vast majority of obese speak to "emotional eating".

Andrea said...

"I have a very hard time accepting some homeostatic feedback loop being meaningful if it does not "work" to defend a set point in the face of relatively minor perturbations."

I think it works to defend a setpoint to the extent that a satiety cue is sent to a person but the person can and does override it because of environmental cues.

For example, let's say I've overeaten the night before. I wake up in the morning and I have no desire to eat. But, because I'm trying to be "healthy" and I want to lose weight, I make sure to eat breakfast because every single piece of nutritional advice out there says I need to eat breakfast and that skipping breakfast is associated with obesity. Result: cue overridden by conscious mind.

Similarly, look at all the emphasis today on snacking for health as well as making sure one doesn't get "hungry" before they eat. Also, look at the number of people, even the overweight/obese, who are told to "pre-fuel" before exercising as well as make sure they get in a healthful post-exercise snack, once again to "fuel" the body. In these instances, rarely is the eating done to a body signal of "feed me." Rather it's done in response to an external environmental cue. The more often you disregard the physical cues, the easier it becomes to do so creating a vicious cycle.

And then there's emotional eating, food addictions, and the easy overconsumption of hyperpalatable foods added in to the mix, not to mention a large population of medicated people with weight gain as a possible side effect.

Lean people appear to be more in tune with their cues. I have a sister who has been 112 lbs. for all her adult life. She boggles my mind because there's so little if any fluctuation. She also responds to her physical cues much better than I do with my history of dieting. If she has a large dinner, usually the next day she won't eat all day until the evening when she'll have something "light." In the past, I had always been of the mindset that I had to get my meals in and stoke that metabolism or else I'd end up fatter than ever. Following that advice made managing my weight much more difficult.

In the past six months or so, since reading HAES, I've moved away from eating in response to environmental cues and food reward, and am trying to hone in on really listening to and understanding physical hunger/satiety cues. It's not easy by any means because a lifetime of dieting has caused me to lose touch with those signals. Avoiding highly palatable foods and focusing on quality whole foods seems to help me hone on in those cues better, as well. I've also stopped listening to the nutritional advice which says if I don't eat I'm going to go into "starvation mode" and gain weight.

Gee, my posts are so long. I'm sorry!

RRX said...


To be clear, I was not saying one literally meant the other. I was saying that one means my opinion is the other. That is, like I said, they are guilty until proven innocent IMO. Possibilities abound, under specific circumstances, for sure. But none of us can ever know for certain that they did not use them. They can say what they want. I will not be chasing their "methods" with the hope of achieving their change that has been admitted so many times in the past to be drug-induced.

That's what I was saying.

RRX said...

Regarding Steve Reeves, when did he have a sudden and dramatic physical change as an adult? My understanding is that THAT is what we're talking about with male actors "bulking up" for film roles.

Diana said...

RRX, Muata,

Steve Reeves is widely suspected of being one of the pioneer juicers.

I'm no expert on the history of steroids, but I believe they have been around since at least post-WWII era. Kurt Marnul, Arnold's boyhood trainer, claims he learned about roids from Reeves.

Larry Scott also stated on record that Reeves intro'd him to (I enjoy this name) "dianabol."

Yeah, gossip, but I believe it.

I have learned to distinguish natural muscular development from fake, and what Reeves shows is, to me, fake.

Natural muscle development here:

What a gorgeous man, what a gorgeous body.

All natural. All man.

People talk about unreal body images for girls, well, I think it is worse for boys, because you can become "model skinny" just by extreme dieting, you can't get muscular development like that just by diet and exercise. You must juice.

I could rant until next week about how modern life is making people physically incompetent, but replacing induced physical incompetence with fantasy images of bodybuilders isn't any better.

Diana said...

Evelyn, Sanjeev,

"@Diana and all: I agree that, if set point is not at least predominantly genetic, of what use is this concept."

I will look at the book you suggested, Sanjeev.

Just for fun, there is also the issue of epigenetics, that is, how our genes are modified by our environment. It's a very complex subject but briefly - our genes can actually be expressed (turned on, or off) by environmental cues. Not all of them, obviously. But depending on certain circumstances, a gene can be expressed this way, that way, or not at all.

I gave the example of my skinny, semi-starved father because he was representative of hundreds of thousands of lean and hungry street kids whose weights were recorded for induction into the Army. (Note, my father knew what he weighed cos he was a boxer in the 20s, but if he hadn't been, he wouldn't have weighed himself.)

If he had been born in 1955, instead of 1911, to middle-class parents, he still would have been skinny. But he would not have been starved as well (I doubt he ever ate more than two skimpy meals a day growing up.) His so-called setpoint would have been 10-20 pounds higher.

So, where's the setpoint? Or rather, what is the setpoint? It's this slippery concept that seems to change as the environment changes.

About food cues. No one loves a sugary treat more than I do. I mean, NO ONE. Trust me. I'll fight you over it. But I was recently at Ikea Brooklyn, where they sell cinnamon buns for a buck. 480 calories. I can honestly say that on one level, of course I wanted one. I'm still thinking of it, which tells you something. But right now I've got my goal in sight, and looking around at all that jiggling modern American flesh, the rampant obesity, was enough to put me off.

Sanjeev said...

I stumbled across this new book while searching for Lilienfeld's discussion from "50 Great Myths", hoping they had put parts of the myths book online.

the book I linked to looks like the whole book is devoted to the topic.

the myths book discusses the topic for a couple of pages

Muata said...

OK, I think my initial question is getting lost in the whole steroid issue, so I'll use an even older and definitely pre-steroid lifter.

Mark Berry was a skinny strong man of the early 1900s. He eventually added 100 pounds to his strong, yet skinny, frame in one year's time on a schedule of lots of milk and heavy squats. And if any says he was a juicer, they don't know their iron game history because "dianabol" clearly didn't exist in Berry's time.

Now, back to my initial question. Berry was an adult when he gained this weight. He had been the same weight for many years until he found out about the GOMAD (gallon of milk a day) and squats.

I know that we are talking about a person getting "fat" and pushing pass their set-point. I'm just wondering does the same hold true for those who push pass their set-point with lean mass instead of fat?

Sorry about using recent, possibly steroid aided, transformations. But, I have many many other lifters who have made similar gains in lean mass all BEFORE Dr. Ziegler's little pills ...

Muata said...

Diana said, "People talk about unreal body images for girls, well, I think it is worse for boys, because you can become "model skinny" just by extreme dieting, you can't get muscular development like that just by diet and exercise. You must juice."

Which transformation are you talking about Diana? The guy from the movie Thor or Steve Reeves? Actually, all of the guys I've mentioned have developed physiques that most definitely can be achieved without steroids ... now, if we're talking about Jay Cutler, or any other IFBB pro, then that's another story ;)

Flavia said...

"This is unlike naturally lean people, who eat whatever they want and can completely rely on thier bodies unconcious signals to keep them from over-eating and keep them lean."

Boo. Hiss. No. Wrong. No. No. No. Wrong. Super wrong.

Lean people are lean because most of them actively watch their input and exercise. I have a large group of female friends, all of whom are thin (myself included) and we ALL to some extent, make conscious efforts to avoid fattening foods and exercise. It's not magic.
Also we have a different "set point" where we diet. I generally fluctuate between 119-125, and if I ever get up to 129-130 I diet or cut back to get back down to my normal weight. We're not blessed, just more mindful.

CarbSane said...

So Muata, are you asking if the GOMAD/squat stopped the GOMAD and squats, would his body revert to its original size?

This is interesting b/c in some ways I don't think it will/can based on my personal experience. Now I gained a lot of fat, but clearly my bone structure changed too. And I'm somehow stronger now than I was at this weight before and I can only attribute that to building some lean tissue to carry the weight but not losing all (or perhaps even most?) of it.

So perhaps he would revert somewhat but I imagine those muscles would perhaps cause him to crave the protein to sustain them?

CarbSane said...

@Diana: Re eating for your genes, I recall a while back -- perhaps a year ago -- Jimmy commented that he was going to do one of those genetic tests folks were discussing at the time. He never did share the results. Wonder if they said he should be eating high carb/low fat >:)

Sanjeev said...

> Lean people are lean because most of them actively watch their input and exercise.
yes, I definitely would like to meet some of these people who can supposedly pay zero attention to food and rely completely on their "natural control mechanisms" t maintain fat level.

no one I've ever met who had a societally stamped "great body" had it unconsciously.

I bet these unconsciously slim people emit rainbows for flatulence, myrrh for underarm sweat and Ben & Jerry's and Montreal maccarons (not macaroons) for feces.


Sanjeev said...

> no one I've ever met who had a societally stamped "great body" had it unconsciously.

I have, though, met out of shape people who claimed "I used to be able to eat anything ..."

and in fact that was me, too, for that one year I was riding my bike couple of hours every day.

Sanjeev said...

Muata, the only argument I can see pointing to a muscle set point is that lots of folks report that re-gaining muscle and strength after an injury is very easy compared to the time and work it took to gain it the first time.

I don't know if that would count as an argument FOR a muscle/strength setpoint versus a "the pathways have been established" kind of phenomenon.

Muata said...

Exactly Evie! And that's why I used the guy that played Thor.

He is obviously an ectomorph, so he literally force fed himself and trained for X amount of months to build up the mass. To me, guys that put on mass quickly have a more bloated look. Kind of reminds me of Tim Ferris's physique when he did his quick mass building experiment.

Anyway, once the stimulus and extra calories stop, these guys (usually ectomorphs to begin with) lose that extra mass rather quickly. Most can't keep up the amount of calories the new mass requires.

However, in Berry's case and many other old school strongmen, there was a level of maintenance (diet and training) that had to be maintained if one wanted to keep the mass.

I guess what I'm not clear about is that if there is a settling point(s) is it based on our total body weight, FFM, or fat?

Muata said...

@Sanjeev - very good point, which makes me think how similar this is to folks who regain weight after a big loss.

I'm a little familiar with the "pathways being established" as it relates to muscle/strength building, but I've never considered the same thing for fat re-gain.

I don't want to hijack the comment section on this post, so I thank all of you for chiming in. It's just that in my non-scientific mind there has to be some sort of link between the two.

CarbSane said...

Y'know, my brother was a scrawny kid and could eat a ton well into his 20's. I don't know if this would have changed were he not to have taken medications for a non-weight related condition. But his metabolism definitely slowed in his 30's to where he got rather heavy in his late 30's. He was not really an exerciser except for some weight lifting in college, but he wasn't sedentary either. Active, not as sportsy as me though.

Y'all raise a related point I was often confronted with in discussions on low carb boards. That was talking of folks like Denise Austin or Jillian Michaels. As the story goes, since these two have careers that rely on their looks, they are able to somehow maintain them on their craaaazy hunger inducing stupid low fat diets. Somehow *they* don't count as it working for some. But why not? We all have our motivations for at least improving maintaining our physiques, don't we?

Diana said...


Denise Austin and Jillian Michaels are actresses who play fitness experts on TV. They maintain their figures by God Knows How (I suspect strategic starvation). But I realize that your point is: it works.


"Which transformation are you talking about Diana? The guy from the movie Thor or Steve Reeves? Actually, all of the guys I've mentioned have developed physiques that most definitely can be achieved without steroids"

Yes, Reeves is an unrealistic and bad example for boys to follow, because he juiced. I don't know about the Thor actor, because I no longer follow pop culture much, and do not want to.

I looked up Berry, not being familiar w/his name and found:

Yep, he's massively muscular, but he he doesn't look freakishly ripped the way modern body builders do.

But it does take an awful lot of obsessive work to look that way. And not everyone who works out obsessively will look that way. Maybe a 100 other guys trained along with Berry and didn't get those results.

In any case, there are muscular development genes. No one denies this. Work hard, eat right and you'll reach your genetic potential.

Regarding set point and adiposity, I don't have a problem that our genes affect our propensity to put on fat. But the words "set" and "point" don't sit well with me because they are so carved in stone. It's such a moving target. And how can a moving target be "set"?

Diana said...

Re: Jimmy and genes. I'm actually amazed that he hasn't done this and published the results. I'm way behind the curve but this was all the rage in late 2010. I strongly suspect that Jimmy took the test and it came out too carby for him to publicize. HAHA. In any case I'd love to know. If I had an extra $150 I'd take it myself.

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