January 20, 2011

Your Parents Made You Fat, Do Something About It

As we move into the latter half of January, the initial rush of the New Years resolution crowd is already starting to slow in gyms everywhere. This yearly phenomenon of “gym dropout” coincided eerily well with a new article published in the Globe and Mail entitled, “Skinny Genes: How DNA shapes weight-loss success“.

The entire piece centered around the role played by genetics in our struggles to lose weight and how misguided universal weight loss recommendations tends to be.

Although the entire piece was well written (a rarity these days when it comes to diet/weight loss reporting by the mainstream media), I would like to highlight one particular part. The point that really caught my eye, was a quote of how genetics may account for anywhere between 60-85% of an individual’s BMI.

Like Father, Like Son

In case numbers aren’t your strong suit, that is a huge amount to attribute to genetics… and a number I would agree with 100%. However, I do feel there needs to be a caveat added to that claim: genetics account for 60-85% of BMI in the absence of a structured physical activity and nutrition program.

While an innate capacity for weight gain might be largely due to genetic factors, attributing weight loss failure to “bad genes” is a serious cop-out. Also mentioned in the article was a point about how as many as 50% of all people of European decent carry a particular gene that predisposes them to excess fat storage.

In other words, crappy genes really aren’t an exception at all!

Think about that for a second: if other people with crappy genes can get their act in gear and figure out how to drop weight and keep it off, surely you can as well.

Is this glass half prone to getting fat or prone to staying lean?

The importance of nature vs. nurture will always exist when discussing weight loss. Although genetics clearly play a strong role in determining whether you will have an easy time or a difficult time managing weight over the course of your lifespan, the reality remains that you alone are responsible for your health and your physique.

Admittedly, you may need to work harder than a peer to look lean year round, but that’s the luck of the draw. Not everyone is as bright as Stephen Hawking, nor is everyone blessed with being 7 feet tall like NBA legend Shaquille Oneal.

While advanced physics, NBA stardom, or year-round washboard abs might be out of our grasp, we can all become more intelligent by studying, better basketball players by practicing or much fitter by following a properly constructed exercise and diet program.

Remember, genes are merely a predisposition, not a death sentence. But even the best genes in the world can’t make a couple weeks worth of exercise undo 30 years of bad diet decisions.

Now stop browsing the web and go do something positive for your health!

Till next time, train hard and eat clean!


Meade says:

My parents were both very thin. I was an obese child. My mother died when I was young, and I did turn to food more for comfort. I was never really taught about nutrition. I wasn’t completely inactive, however. I did some sports and I did things. Ironically, I didnt eat much more than the average teenaged boy. But I was much heavier. I was amazed at how the lean kids at school could put away pizza and hamburgers and cokes, and still stayed lean, while I was heavy and at the same as they did, basically. Obviously, my parents carried a gene for obesity, but it skipped them and was passed to me. None of my siblings were overweight either. I wasn’t adopted. I think genetics are funny that way. I have lost weight, but I still struggle just to maintain a weight still considered “obese”. At 5’11 and 225 lbs. I do exercise and weight lifting as well. Its just harder for some people. I do lots of exercise and I cut out junk food. I guess its just a never ending struggle. Some people just don’t get it because its easy for them.

Elaine McMeekin via Facebook says:

so I guess I will stop saying: I wish I was born with a skinny gene and keep on working hard!! Always enjoy your articles Graeme!! :)

That’s very much the case. Just because diabetes or heart disease runs in your family, doesn’t mean that you are bound to be stricken with the disease. All it means is that you have a greater likelihood of developing it, particularly if you don’t take the proper lifestyle management steps.

Proper environmental interventions (diet, exercise, stress reduction) can definitely override genetic predisposition for various disease states. Of course, certain things you can’t change (for example, a genetic defect in a heart valve leading to a fatal MI). However, I’d argue that if you eat well and train regularly, the quality of life you do lead up until that point is far superior than someone who is just a sloth.

I must say, in all my time coaching/training, I’ve really only ever encountered 1 person I’d qualify as nutrition and diet changes not being a strong enough stimulus to markedly change their physique.

Christian Habib via Facebook says:

I’ll have to find a source for it but I recently read an article that dealt with gene expression which basically said that recent research is mostly getting away from the nature vs. nurture debate. Basically, the idea was that if your environment (incl. nutrition, exercise, etc.) is good, those bad genes won’t get expressed the same way (or at all, for that matter).