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How Much Weight Can You Really Lose?

How Much Weight Can You Really Lose (and Keep Off)?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the latest gimmicky diet (I’m looking at you, Paleo and IIFYM!) or herbal pill will be thing that helps you drop weight and keep it off FOREVER.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to believe that one small(ish) change can make a world of difference in your waistline? Unfortunately, all of the dieting in the world probably won’t change your weight that much, and that’s because of your friend the weight set point.

Biologically speaking, set points are actually a fabulous thing: They allowed the bodies of our ancestors to hold onto weight during a famine, which allowed them to stay alive and continue the species (that includes you).

The possibility of a famine these days? Not so much. But our bodies just haven’t gotten the memo.

I’ve read different books that state different theories about how wide the set point range is, with Dr. Traci Mann stating that it’s a range of 30 pounds in her book Secrets from the Eating Lab and Dr. Linda Bacon saying it’s more like a 15 pound range in her book Body Respect. They both agree, however, that getting below it and maintaining that lower weight is…well, pretty much impossible.

And there’s more kinda bad news, which is that you can push your set point up without that much effort, but lowering it isn’t usually possible. In neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt’s fabulous TED talk on giving up dieting, she states that if you gain weight and hold onto it for a couple of years, then your brain will begin to think that’s your new happy weight, and rearrange your set point so that you stay up there, even if you diet (lucky you!).

The news isn’t all bad, though. Aamodt goes on to say that regardless of your weight, the more of the following healthy behaviors you participate in, the healthier you are: eating enough fruits and veggies, exercising moderately a few times a week, not smoking, and drinking in moderation. And the kicker is that for people who do all four, risk of death is almost exactly the same, even for those in the obese category.

There’s more good news, too. According to Dr. Traci Mann, you can do a number of things to hang out in the lower end of that range your body naturally wants to stay in, no fad diet required:

  1. Always start your meals with a vegetable all by itself. You see, when we’re alone with vegetables, we eat way more of them than if they’re next to other, more tempting foods, plus they fill us up so we’re likely to eat fewer total calories.
  2. Make healthier foods incredibly easy to get to. Put those fresh cut carrots front and center in your fridge, fill your fruit bowl with easy to peel and eat fruit right where you can see it, and buy pre-made, easy to eat healthy food. The easier it is to eat, the more likely you are to eat it.
  3. On the flip side, make less healthy foods harder to get to. If you have a tempting food in the house, say freshly baked brownies, remove that knife you’ve been using to cut sliver after sliver (after sliver), wrap them up in tin foil and put them behind something. Seems silly, but we really are lazy creatures, and the harder it is to find or eat something, the less likely we are to eat it.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • aymd84
    4 years ago

    I also say this is a load of crap. I’ve lost 150 pounds and kept it off over 5 years. I did it without surgery, drugs,special foods,or going to meetings. This article is depressing, discouraging, and just plain wrong! Can’t lose weight and keep it off? HA! Just watch me!

  • Jen Picicci author
    4 years ago

    Hi aymd84, I definitely did not mean for this to be depressing! I found it fascinating that the research shows regardless of your weight, there are ways to improve your health, and that weight isn’t necessarily the most important factor in health. Thanks for your feedback!

  • Kelly McNamara moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi aymd84. Thanks for the feedback and for being a part of our community! We hear you on the research coming off as a bit depressing. But, I think the positive here is while sometimes the fad diets and special foods don’t necessarily always work following healthy behaviors does pay off. And, it sounds like you’re a great example of this!

    Kelly, Community Manager

  • WunderWoman
    4 years ago

    I think this is a load of crap. For over a year now I’ve been dieting and I’m down 105 lbs with 40 more to go. This just sounds like people should give up. Don’t. Never accept defeat!

  • Jen Picicci author
    4 years ago

    Hi WunderWoman, so happy you’re achieving your goals! My intention definitely was not to encourage people to give up, just to focus on the factors that can lead to health, regardless of weight. Good luck on your journey!

  • WunderWoman
    4 years ago

    Oh, and this is by diet alone..I do not excersize.

  • WunderWoman
    4 years ago

    Oh, and just to clarify, I was overweight for about 10 to 15 years.

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