It’s been well reported that people’s body weight tends to remain settled within a certain range over the long term.
So, the question becomes:
Are we doomed? Is there no chance for us to stay lean for good once we’ve gotten there?
Well, fortunately there’s other research showing that about 20 % of people who starts dieting successfully reduce their body weight by at least 10%, and maintain their new weight for at least one year.
So, what’s actually going on here?
Why do some of us get down to 8-10 % body fat and successfully maintain an aesthetic looking physique, while most of us return back to where we started, or even above?
The answer is that successful people change where in the genetic body fat set point range their body weight and body fat percentage settles.
And in this post, you’re going to learn why your body fat has settled to its current level, and how you can change it in order to finally get, and more importantly stay lean for good.
Table of Contents
What Is Body Fat Set Point?
Bodily set point is a theory around which body weight and body fat percentage an individual gravitates towards.
A simple explanation of body fat set point would be that it works sort of like a “thermostat” or “cruise control” system for regulating body weight and body fat levels.
This is what researchers call a body fat set point. In other words, the body is programmed to regulate energy expenditure and appetite in an attempt to maintain a given body fat percentage.
Why Do We End Up At a Specific Body Fat Set Point?
It turns out that humans not only have a set point, but also something called a settling point.
The difference between these two is that set point refers to a body fat range where we’re genetically inclined to lie within, while settling point refers to where we actually end up depending on environment and habits.
Let’s look closer at these factors:
How Genetics Determine Our Set Point
Our genetics is what decide our biological set point, which for males generally lies between 7-18 % body fat.
If you try to get an individual very lean, then biologically the body will start fighting back by increasing appetite, decreasing metabolic rate and reducing spontaneous movements. The leaner you get, the stronger these adaptations will get as well.
On the other hand, if you overfeed an individual, the body will fight that off by decreasing appetite, increasing metabolic rate and increasing spontaneous movements.
This has been tested extensively in animal studies as well, where they’ve seen that animals effectively control their body weight within a very tight range.
For example, researchers have noticed that when you underfeed rats and reduce their body weight, once you give them free access to food again they quickly return to their ideal body weight.
Same was true on the opposite end as well. If you overfeed rats their bodies respond by increasing activity and decreasing appetite in order to defend against weight gain.
But unfortunately, the human body, as opposed to a rat body, defends against fat loss much more effectively than what it does against fat gain.
So, even though our bodies genetic code wants to keep us fairly lean, this is far from how it actually looks in our modern society.
Just look around, we as a species have gotten a lot fatter over the last few decades. It’s not uncommon to see people (barely) walking around with 30-40 % body fat.
So, what’s happening here? Have our genetics gotten screwed up? Or is it something else at play? No, this is a response to the other two factors, environment and habits:
How Environment and Habits Determine Our Settling Point
Let’s take a view into the life of a man from a modern hunter gatherer society in Africa:
This man is always on his feet, hunting and gathering food. The food he gets is scarce and he needs to feed his entire tribe with it.
What this does is keeping him at a very low body fat percentage, usually around 5-7 %. He’s not at this body fat percentage because he wants to, but because the high level of activity and low level of food keeps him below his set point.
Now, let’s put this man in America:
Here he will sit on his ass most of the day and have high rewarding food readily available whenever he wants it. Within a year in this new environment, it’s not unlikely that he’ll reach 20-25 % body fat, which is well above his set point.
This is shown to be true in rats as well. When researchers gave the rats a diet that was very tasty (far tastier than normal rat food) they noticed their body fat settled above their genetic set point. The desire for tasty food was simply stronger than the bodies impulse to stay lean.
Why Understanding Body Fat Set Point Is Important
Now you might say:
Okay Niklas, this is rather interesting and all, but what does it have to do with me staying ripped?
Well, I decided to cover this topic because I want to make you aware that the level of leanness you want to maintain, if you want to get ripped, is likely below what your body is programmed to maintain.
For example; if your genetic set point is 12 or 15% then you will have a tough time maintaining 8%. This means that you can’t, at least not initially, trust your hunger signals to stay at 8%.
So, in order to stay lean for good, you have to restrict your calories and fight your natural impulses that wants to bring you back to 12 or 15%, or wherever your genetic set point might be.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking:
Okay so that sucks. Essentially you’re telling me that I’m destined to not be able to maintain a lean physique at 8-10 % body fat?
Actually, no. You’ll be able to stay lean, but the key to do so is to change your environment and habits so that calorie restriction becomes very easy and enjoyable.
And eventually, once you’ve adapted to this process, you’re going to be able to maintain low levels of body fat relatively easy and develop a “resistance” to fat gain despite bouts of overfeeding.
Let’s look at how:
How to Change Your Body Fat Set Point to Stay Lean All Year Around
When it comes to changing anything with the body long-term, especially your body fat set point, then two things must take place:
- A physiological change
- A psychological change
One of the biggest reason that people fail to stay lean is because they focus solely on the physiological part of losing the fat and not the psychological part as well.
So, what follows now are a list of the seven most important physiological and psychological steps that you must work on if you truly want to stay lean long-term.
If you implement these things in your life, then you will successfully stay lean for good by changing your body fat set point.
Let’s get to it:
1. Get Down to Your Desired Level of Leanness
This is obviously the first thing to focus on. Your goal is to actually get lean, right? Then getting your body there is going to be objective number one!
Now, there’s a limit to how lean you can get, where if you go under, you won’t be able to sustain the level of leanness for long.
The lowest you should ever try to maintain would be around 8% body fat, as anything under this is below the natural set point for the majority of guys.
Want to know your body fat percentage? Check out this calculator after you’re done reading this post.
But don’t worry, here’s what 8-10 % body fat looks like with decent levels of muscularity (the guy to the right) and high levels of muscularity (the guy to the left):
Pretty awesome, right?
Getting down to around 8-10 % body fat is usually where people can maintain their body fat percentage, still eat plenty of food, not feel low levels of energy and look athletic with abs and good muscular separations on their entire body.
2. Get Lean in an Effortless and Enjoyable Way
This is very important, as you work your way down to a low body fat percentage, make sure you do it in the most effortless and enjoyable way possible!
If you use strategies that will allow you to do this, then staying lean once you get there will be a whole lot easier.
Just think about it, if you dread losing body fat, and can’t wait until it’s over, it just says itself, you will likely overindulge in food once you feel that you’re finally done.
I wrote extensively about these dieting strategies in this post. But here are a quick run down of the strategies that will help you get lean in an effortless and enjoyable way:
This is key, learning to count and track your calories and macros will allow you to include tasty things that you enjoy in moderation, while also seeing great results in the meantime. And this is extremely powerful when it comes to staying lean long-term.
Flexible dieting simply means being inclusive rather than exclusive with your food choices. And this removes one of the biggest factors behind why people fail with dieting, which is being too restrictive with the type of foods they can have.
Sure, restricting for example carbs, which is very common, can work for a little while. But unfortunately in the long run, the majority of people won’t be able to adhere to such a diet. I mean, how many of us will say, nope, that’s it, I will never ever eat carbs again! It’s just not realistic.
Not only that, an unbalanced intake of macronutrients usually leads to micronutrient deficiencies and other negative physiological processes in the body as well.
So, being too exclusive and restrictive is just not reasonable, as taking such an approach won’t be sustainable long-term.
By allowing yourself to eat from all food choices in moderation, and making sure that you track your intake, you’re well on your way to successfully stay lean long-term. As doing so will shift your mindset into thinking that you can have the cake and eat it too, because you can! As long as you learn how.
I can’t stress enough how incredibly easy intermittent fasting makes fat loss feel.
It’s not that there’s anything magical about it, it’s just a very good tool that makes staying in a caloric deficit required to lose fat a lot more enjoyable.
This is simply because of intermittent fastings hunger reducing effects and buffering of calories.
When you get used to intermittent fasting, which normally takes around 1-3 weeks depending on the individual, you will start noticing reduced hunger during the fasted period, especially in combination with these 8 intermittent fasting tricks.
What this does is allowing you to save up a huge budget of food for later in the day. So huge that you will feel extremely full, even while you’re in a caloric deficit working your way down to 8-10 % body fat.
If you’re looking for a way to get started with intermittent fasting, then watch this video (or read this article):
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3. Don’t Rush Fat Loss
If you got a fair amount of fat to lose, don’t rush it! If you lose it to fast, you’ll just make maintaining a lean physique once you’re done soo much harder.
If you lose fat to fast, you’ll send a strong signal to your brain that there’s low levels of food available.
This will immediately put it in defense mode, which will first of all, make it harder to actually lose fat, second, burn your muscle mass off, and third, make it extremely hard to maintain a lean physique even if you succeed to lose the fat.
So, here’s what to do:
Set up your caloric deficit based on your body fat percentage and change up your rate of fat loss as you get leaner overtime.
One very effective way to do this, without having to constantly recount your calories as you get leaner, is to add in consecutive day refeeds overtime. This will not only make the calorie counting easier, but also provide you with additional benefits associated with refeed days.
4. Have a Fixed Meal Pattern
Okay, so I recommended earlier that taking advantage of flexible dieting is extremely beneficial! But, one common problem I see, is that people tend to get burned out by counting their calories and macros.
This happens because they eat different foods, at different times, in different quantities every day. This is enjoyable at first because you get to eat all the foods that you love while getting great results in the meantime. But, eventually this turns into stress as you’ll constantly think about food.
The key to staying lean for good is to forget about your diet. If you don’t think much about it, suddenly the way you eat is just going to be normal. The way you do this is by having a fixed diet structure. This is when you have the same meal pattern every day, all that changes is what you eat.
This will provide you with peace of mind, while still allowing you to eat the foods that you enjoy most, and by doing this you’ll never feel the need to cheat.
5. Eat Satiating Foods in Your Main Meals
One of the biggest mistakes people make as they’re transitioning from cutting to maintaining or bulking, is that they drastically change the foods they eat.
Suddenly they stop eat whole foods like protein, fruit, vegetables and starches, and instead change this for a lot of junk food and snacks.
This causes satiety to decline, and they no longer feel full on the same number of calories. And as a result they end up eating more and regain the fat they’ve lost.
To fix this, make sure to always keep filling foods as the staple of your diet. This will allow you to manage hunger better, which is of utmost importance.
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t have tasty foods, I’m just saying that the staple in your diet should be filling foods, and then fun foods can make up the rest.
I’ve found that the 80/20 rule work exceptionally well here:
6. Add Muscle to Your Frame
Adding a substantial amount of muscle to your frame will help you maintain a lower body fat set point.
This is because the more muscle you have, the higher your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) will be. And a higher BMR will allow you to eat more food throughout your days without gaining fat.
In fact, research shows that the more muscle you have, the less fat you accumulate in response to (occasional) overfeeding. This means that the more muscle you have, the less “punished” you’ll get from eating too much.
This “leeway” works wonders for long-term adherence to the diet, because large amount of muscles allows you to regularly indulge in high-calorie foods with little-to-no consequences.
Simply put, the more muscular you get, the easier it’ll be to stay lean.
Not only that, with more muscle on your frame, you can keep a slightly higher body fat percentage while still looking extremely ripped. This is because muscle stretches your skin and even if you hold a bit more fat, the muscles will still take over your appearance.
7. Work On Your Self-Image
This one is crucial for staying lean. Seriously, this point is the most important in the entire post. The way you see yourself will determine your success long-term more than anything else. In other words, your self images is ultimately what stands for your results.
What is Self-Image?
I learned about self-image and how to change it from Radu’s ShredSmart Program and I can’t recommend it enough!
Self-image is how you perceive yourself in your own mind, on a subconscious level. How you behave, how productive you are, how much you earn, how you treat others, and of course, how you look all comes down to self-image.
Psychologists has discovered that you’ll never deviate from this image for long. If you see yourself fat in your mind, then even if you lose weight, you’ll go back to the image you subconsciously hold of yourself sooner or later.
In fact, self-image works exactly like a thermostat, if you deviate from your fixed image you’ll eventually start to compensate one way or another so you can get back to that image.
So, the only real way to make a lasting change is to change your self-image.
Knowing this, and you see just how possible it is to change your behavior and ultimately your long lasting results. But to do so, you must first see yourself consistently in your own mind exactly the way you want to become:
See Yourself As The Person You Want To Become Daily
Okay so here’s a question for you:
How do you see myself on the beach this summer, the next summer or the summer 5 years from now?
Really, picture yourself on that beach during these different time frames.
Now, what do this image look like?
If the image reflects yourself just like you are today, then it’s very likely that you’ll be exactly the same when that time arrives.
On the other hand, if you imagine yourself as lean, muscular and healthy, it’s a lot more likely you will do what it takes to achieve that very thought.
So, if you didn’t imagine yourself as more successful than you are today, take some time and do so now, I’ll wait for you.
Got an image? Great!
Now, remember this image, you will make use of it in a strategy called autosuggestion where you slowly change your self-image overtime, which we’ll look at soon.
But before doing that, let’s take a quick look at how self image really works, and how it can help you stay lean:
The Reticular Activating System (RAS)
In our brain we have a part called the reticular activating system (RAS). It sound fancy, but it’s nothing more than a group of nerves located at the base of the brain stem, however a very important group of nerves.
Essentially the RAS acts as a filter. Whenever something comes into the brain through one or more of our senses, the RAS determine if this is a piece of information that’s worth bringing to our attention.
If we didn’t have this system in place, we would be completely overwhelmed just by being in public from the constant bombardment of information.
A great example of the RAS in action, would be when you’ve first gotten interested in a specific thing, let’s say a car.
You research this car on the internet, follow this car on social media, then suddenly from nowhere, it seems like everyone is driving this car. And you can’t help but think, “Wow. This car has gotten so popular all of a sudden!”
But, the truth is that the car was always there. The car isn’t what’s new. You noticing it is what’s new.
Your awareness and focus on a subject is actually creating your experience in reality.
And this is where it gets interesting!
Working on your RAS is crucial If you want to successfully stay lean long-term (or whatever your goal might be.) The key is to tune your RAS into maintaining a lean and ripped physique.
And this my friend, is done through the technique I mentioned earlier, called autosuggestion:
Autosuggestion – The Key to Long Lasting Change
Autosuggestion is a fancy word for consistently focusing, bringing attention to, and prioritizing a certain thing in your conscious mind enough times so that it becomes subconscious.
The key when working with Autosuggestion is to repeat the image you have of, in this case your dream physique, enough times that it becomes second nature to you, like this:
When you start to repeatedly visualize yourself as who you want to become, eventually, you’ll become the person that you’ve thought about in your mind by subconsciously starting to do the things required to get there. This can be done in many different ways, such as with meditation and rituals etc.
But what I’ve been using is an incredibly valuable free tool called goal cards:
In this video from Radu I learned that creating a goal card, then looking at it daily is an incredibly powerful strategy to take advantage of my RAS to subconsciously changing my self-image.
Let me tell you how it works:
Two years back I created a goal card of who I wanted to become, I carried this card with me in my wallet, had it on my nightstand, and I looked at it a few times daily.
One year later I reached the goal I put on the card.
Now, that’s powerful!
It sounds simplistic I know, but it works, and it works well!
Obviously, I’m not carrying the same card with me, because I don’t need it anymore, since I reached my goal. But, I use another one with a bigger goal.
I’m not a fan of showing my deepest goals and visions because I like to keep some parts private, but since I’m not using the old goal card anymore, here’s a pre-print image of it:
Creating a goal card and making yourself look at it a few times every day is extremely powerful.
Now, the goal card can look just how you want it to, there’s no right or wrong here. Just use your imagination of what you want to achieve, put it down on a piece of paper and look at it every day, it’ll pay of I promise.
Changing your self-image is also a skill and a process that you will get better at the more you practice it. Especially with the help of the next step.
If you want to learn more how all of this works, check out this video:
Be Pro-Actively Conscious
This is so powerful!
By shifting your mindset into a proactive instead of a reactive one you’ll start to be conscious every time your mind starts deviating away from your goal.
When it comes to dieting, this is typically by your brain feeding you a story or excuse of how “good” you’ve been or that you’re “worth” eating this or that.
Instead of listening to this little devil, and just say, fuck it I’ll eat everything, think about how good you’ve been and that you can actually enjoy some of the things you like to eat, by using strategies previously mentioned.
But instead of eating these things right in the moment of weakness, you purposely postpone it and tell yourself that you can eat later if you so choose.
Thinking like this is so powerful because the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves don’t actually live on for more than a couple of minutes, if we just allow them to pass by. So, own your thoughts instead of them owning you!
Use Your Diet and Exercise Routine to Maintain Your Desired Physique
The longer you stay at a certain body weight/body fat percentage, as long as it’s not below 8-10 % body fat, the easier it gets to stay there overtime.
If you can control your calorie intake consistently for a longer period of time, you’ll eventually settle at a new body fat set point, which will then feel completely normal.
This is the ultimate goal, and it is possible to reach it, as long as you educate yourself and make the journey towards your goal as effortless and enjoyable as possible.
And remember that changing your mentality is just as important as changing your actual physical body if you want long-term results.
Are You Using Bulking and Cutting Cycles?
Before finishing up this post, I quickly want to touch on one important thing. If you’re using bulking and cutting cycles to build your physique, which I do recommend. Then you must have a well set up cutting to bulking transition plan. If not you’re at a much higher risk of fat regain. I recommend that you read this post if you want to learn how to set up this transition plan.
Okay, so you just learned the incredibly powerful 7 step formula for changing your body fat set point, which will allow you to stay lean for good. Awesome!
Now it’s time to start implementing. If you’re still not sure about where to start and the strategy that you should take to reach your goal, then I’m certain that my completely free guide: How to build an aesthetic physique will help you. You can read the guide here.