The Maintenance Library - Book Review: Break Through Your Set Point by George Blackburn

02-07-2009, 05:49 PM
Break Through Your Set Point: How to Finally Lose the Weight You Want and Keep It Off, by George L. Blackburn, M.D., Ph.D, with Julie Corliss

Blackburn is the Associate Director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School, with three decades of research and clinical practice. Break Through Your Set Point combines his research with that of others in the field to produce a book on the practical aspects of how to lose weight and keep it off. “Set a reasonable goal to lose about 10% of your initial body weight. Then hold steady at your new weight without regaining any weight for at least six months, which will reset your body’s set point (or typical body weight).” Repeat as needed.

The book begins with a review of the scientific studies on the set point, which is a weight that your body tends to hover around without too much effort. It then discusses how our “toxic” environment conspires with our biology to move our set points into the overweight and obese realms. Next up is the “10% solution” or why 10% is a good amount of weight to lose from both set point and general health perspective.

The next chapters of the book get practical and deal with how to lose that 10% and get it off, starting with getting ready, and finishing with pulling it all together. There are five basic components: eating less, eating healthy, exercising, getting enough rest, and dealing with stress. Eating less is a calorie-based approach, without strict calorie counting, using an RKO scale for Regular Reducing, Keeping it off, and Off Plan ratings for each day. Eating well involves the simple plate method; half should be veggies, a quarter devoted to lean proteins, and the rest starches, preferably of the whole grain or starchy vegetable variety, with some discussion of the Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid developed by Walter Willett (see Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy). The exercise chapter discusses the benefits of exercise and includes, among other things, a three phase plan to get sedentary people up off the couch and exercising. Sleep is covered next, and given its importance to weight loss, subjects from time management to prescription sleep medications are all discussed. Stress management is up next with lots of suggestions, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mind-body techniques, and behavior chains. The final chapter pulls it together with results from the National Weight Control Registry studies.

The book has lots of selected references to the original literature at the end, but no footnotes in the text. It also has good online resources for people looking for more information.

I was just blown away by this book! It pretty much contains all the things I believe to be true about weight loss and a lot I suspected. Almost every one of my own successful strategies is covered here and many more as well. I was always a little skeptical of the set point theory, but the research behind it is compelling and it explains pretty well why some of the successful maintainers around here are the exception rather than the rule. The breadth of information is impressive, and alternatives from weight loss shakes, supplements, surgery, different diets are all discussed and their appropriate uses detailed. From page xii, “Most importantly, I never give any weight-loss patient the exact same advice, because each person has unique reasons for gaining weight and making lifestyle and behavior changes.” This philosophy is obvious in the book.

This approach is slow, but gentle, and for that reason probably not of interest to many dieters. It is also not clear if the flexible approach will help someone transform from a morbidly obese person into a fashion model. But the emphasis is on healthy, sustainable weight loss, and Break Through Your Set Point has a lot of intelligent and practical things to say about achieving that. I highly recommend this book on that basis.


02-07-2009, 06:19 PM
Anne, thank you for such a detailed and informative review! I wasn't familiar with the book but after reading your review, it definitely sounds worth checking out. I'm especially interested in the research about setpoints, along with the science of obesity and weight loss generally.

We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and good heavens, it's not like you have any free time. Gosh, Anne, do you ever sleep? :lol:

02-07-2009, 06:29 PM
I just ordered a copy (through the Amazon 3FC link, of course!)

02-07-2009, 08:02 PM
Thanks for the great review. I am a big believer in set points. My body seemed to like 204, cause that was my high point when I started and also right where I regained to when I regained twice. I thought 175 was a set point cause that I where I lost to twice and had difficulty breaking through (weight lifting and clean eating killed that potential set point with this last effort). And I think I am at a set point now, cause whether I am perfectly on plan or horribly off plan, I hang out in a 5 lb range. My goal is to break this set point just to see if I can. Resetting it to 5-10 lbs lower might be more trouble than it is worth, but I am just curious what my body will do.

Interesting that he posited it takes 6 months to establish a new set point. I read a thread on 3FC where a student said her professor put that at 2 years. I wonder if any of the longer term maintainers feel that their bodies are at a new set point yet? I've been at this latest set point since August so maybe now is an ideal time to bust its chops!

02-07-2009, 08:22 PM
Gosh, Anne, do you ever sleep? :lol:

:lol3: You really don't want to know. Unfortunately the chapter on sleep did not include instructions for drugging my children, my husband and the dog.


02-07-2009, 08:26 PM
BTW: I have no idea when set points get reset. This claimed at least six months (emphasis mine). I remember freezing all the time for a while, and then I was fine, so it probably happened to me at some point. But I never did break out of the weight I maintained at. I did want to go lower, but I never could (or was willing to) push my lifestyle that far, and then preggo, and then again. Maybe it'll happen this time, with some patience. Fortunately, according to this book, the postpartum period is sort of a free time, since the body seems hormonally ready to accept bigger changes. And I didn't figure out if that was supported by research or a hypothesis without footnotes.


02-08-2009, 04:35 AM
Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Anne, as well as for the thorough review.

I'm drawn to this book because I've long believed in some mechanism like the set point due to overwhelming anecdotal evidence - many people stay at the same weight for decades which makes little sense when 10 calories per day should move their weight a pound a year. But I have no intuitive grasp of the mechanism or how to take advantage of it to stay at my maintenance weight.

So, I'm off to Amazon myself a copy.

02-09-2009, 06:06 AM
I may get a copy someday, when I have spare cash again, because it seems intriguing and interesting.

About 11-12 years ago, when I first went to uni, I 'easily' lost 10kgs just because I went into a healthier lifestyle without even realizing it (non-expensive sports room, walking every day, balanced meals at the campus restaurant, etc.). I remained at such a weight, about 62-63 kgs, for a few years. I piled on pounds again after a while, when I moved to the country and started working part-time, although with hindsight, I now wonder if it wasn't because I sort of fell into some kind of depression without knowing it, and ate to compensate or something. Whatever.

Then, in 2005, I came to 3FC, started developing healthier food habits again, all that stuff. The road hasn't been without its bumps, but reading this thread about this book has suddenly made me realize that, come to think of it, the weight I now have (the CW under my avatar, about 59 kgs) is something I managed to go to, an maintain, 'easily' again--'easily' for me means that as long as I don't binge, which is all in all a pretty normal and not a diet-like attitude, I can maintain that without hassle.

So now I really wonder... is that a proof of that 'reset setpoint' thing? Or is it just that I didn't do enough 10 years ago to reach an ever lower weight?

02-20-2009, 11:23 AM
Thanks so much Anne!