Set point theory studies

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Prisoner study

One man in particular actually stopped gaining weight even though he was eating up to 10,000 calories a day.

One group of researchers looked to the effects of overeating and weight gain.  Obviously to get participants for this proved very difficult (after all we are a weight obsessed culture). Researchers therefore asked prisoners to partake in the study.

This study would not be allowed to be carried out these days as it would be considered unethical.

The prisoners were given delicious food in return for taking part in the study. The agreement was for the prisoners to gain 20 – 25% of their body weight and to eat double their normal intake for six months.

Initially the men gained weight; however it was shown that after a while their bodies soon resisted further weight gain.  One man in particular actually stopped gaining weight even though he was eating up to 10,000 calories a day.

In response to the extra calories the men were consuming, it was noted that the men’s metabolism noticeably increased. Their bodies were burning off excess calories through as increase in body temperature and increase of perspiration.

Overtime the prisoners reported that their overeating became more and more unpleasant. Some of the men became physically ill after each meal and many wanted to withdraw from the study (Sims 1976).


Despite continually overeating, not all the men were able to gain the 20 percent that was planned. This was believed to be due to an increase in the the mens metabolism - whereby the body was burning off excess calories at a faster rate.

After the experiment most of the men rapidly lost the weight they had gained.  All men (except the men who where naturally at a higher set-point weight) returned to their original weight set points.

The study suggests some people are designed to be naturally bigger than others!


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