I’ve got one friend who manages to stay fit and thin against the odds. She’s not into sports, she’s never heard of a burpee, much less visited a gym. And while I’m stuck eating nutritionally-balanced, portion-controlled salads (and worrying about the calories in dressing), she’s helping herself to a second cheeseburger, followed by a black forest gateau. I watch on longingly. Sometimes, life isn’t fair.
But am I exaggerating? Is it really easier for some people to stay thin? Or am I just making excuses while others are busy following that famous advice to eat less and move more?
Well, the truth can be revealed by an examination of genetic research.
Do some people get a genetic head-start?
You may find it reassuring to learn that there are some people whose genes protect them, to some extent, from putting on too much weight. Their PPARG gene has a variation that means they don’t store extra calories as fat. But that protective aspect can eventually be broken if they continue to overeat. So, if you’ve got a friend like mine, you might want to check how they fare later in life.
What if you don’t win the DNA lottery?
And what about those of us who discover that we have a variation in our FTO gene (a.k.a. the “fat gene”) that means we have higher levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin in our blood? This means we can take longer to feel like we’ve eaten enough, and we might feel hungry sooner than others. We seem to prefer high-calorie foods and struggle to say no to seconds a bit more than we’d like. The combined effect can lead to regrettable encounter with a packet of Tim Tams. And in turn, some unwanted extra kilos.
So, if you find out that you have an unwanted version of the FTO gene, what should you do? Give up, because your genes are your destiny? Of course not.
How much influence does our DNA have?
Ever since Darwin kicked off the nature versus nurture debate with his theory of evolution, we’ve been arguing about how much control we have over our minds and bodies. Are we simply the product of our environment and experiences, or are we helpless marionettes made powerless by our genes? Science says it’s a bit more complicated.
Do I look fat in these genes?
As far as the bathroom scales go, there are certainly genes that can shift the balance. On a global scale, people with a variation in their FTO gene tend to be a bit heavier than those who have the ‘normal’ version of the gene.
Another gene, called ADIPOQ, influences how easily you can lose weight by determining how much of a hormone called adiponectin you produce. This hormone tells your body to start breaking down fat and it also affects where you store fat in the first place. So, if you make less adiponectin, you might take longer to lose weight, and you might find that you carry more fat around your belly.
What can I do about it?
Even if you haven’t won the genetic lottery, when it comes to staying slim, there’s no need to give up hope. Because, although we can’t change our genes, we can change our habits. Even doing just 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day can decrease the effects of the FTO gene on weight gain by almost 30%. And if the gym’s not an option because you’re run off your feet looking after children or working long hours, making small life-style changes— particularly to your diet— might be enough to shed those extra kilos.
For those with the FTO gene variation, adding more protein to your diet can help you to feel full and will make it easier for you to put an end to overeating. And although exercise (especially cardio) is still important for people with the ADIPOQ gene variation because it helps them to produce more adiponectin, keeping an eye on your total calorie intake can also be beneficial. It might also be reassuring to know that the more weight you lose, the more adiponectin you produce, so once you start losing weight, it’s easier to stay on the right track.
A myDNA Nutrition Test can help you to learn about your genes so that you can work smarter, not harder, to reach your goals. There’s no silver bullet for weight loss, but we’re also not slaves to our genes. A little self-knowledge plus a little self-determination can lead to a happier, healthier you.