Why is it so hard to make permanent changes to your habits, your health, and your happiness? Some of the most difficult struggles in life involve losing weight (and keeping it off), overcoming addictions, and recovering from depression. Many diets and therapies deliver great short term results, but the most common pattern appears to be relapse. It often seems that you are destined to fulfill some biological program — that you are stuck with a high body weight set point or an addictive or depressive personality that cannot be escaped in the long run.
This pessimistic message is prevalent among those who have investigated the track records of the “helping” industries: the weight loss companies, the addiction recovery centers, and the various schools of psychology and psychiatry. Unlike the advocates, those who investigate them often find the results are less than what the practitioners might want you to believe. In the arena of dieting and weight loss, books such as “The Dieter’s Dilemma” (Bennett and Gurin, 1982), and “Rethinking Thin” (Kolata, 2008) echo the original set point theory first propounded by Gordon C. Kennedy in the 1950s; they conclude that your body weight is largely predetermined by a biological set point that is handed to you at birth, plus or minus about ten pounds. I do agree that sustained weight loss cannot be achieved through sheer will power alone, or simply by using diet and exercise in order to create a calorie deficit. Yet, while there is some plausibility to the set point theory, I am convinced that it is wrong because it overlooks some important factors. I’ve already given some of my reasons for my disagreement with set point theory in other posts on this blog (Flavor control diets, How to break through a plateau). But in this post I’ll present some strong evidence for an alternative theory, based on the homeostatic regulation of cellular receptors for hormones and neurotransmitters. This is a variable set point theory which I call the receptor control theory. This theory proposes a mechanism that controls appetite and body weight, as well as regulating the balance of energy and pleasure in your life. It provides practical tools to lose weight and keep it off, overcome addictions without relapse, and move out of depression into happiness.