It’s common knowledge that genes influence every aspect of human physiology, development, and adaptation.
But how much do they influence regarding weight?
If you’re like most people, you probably assume that being overweight has something to do with genetics. Obesity runs in families, and it’s not just because people in the same family tend to eat a similar diet. For example, studies on adopted children have found that the children have a BMI closer to their birth parents’ BMI than their adoptive parents’ BMI, even if they’ve never met their birth parents.
But a sizeable chunk of obesity risk also seems to be genetically hard-coded in ways that don’t change regardless of environment. Are some people genetically wired to become obese? If so, is this dependent on a certain type of environment? Is it behavioral (dependent on hunger, which you could theoretically ignore) or metabolic (regardless of what you eat) or both? Here’s a look at what we know.
Is There an Obesity Gene?
It’s tempting to look for a gene that “causes obesity,” but this doesn’t make much sense if you’re talking about the rapid increase in rates of obesity since the 1970s. No gene could spread through the population that fast, even if it were really advantageous (which it obviously isn’t). Our genes have not changed appreciably in the last 40 years, but during that time we’ve seen an explosion in the rates of obesity. This suggests that genetics are not the primary driver of obesity. However, we do know that there are genes that predispose some people to obesity more than others, and that not everyone is equally affected by exposure to the same environment.
Every human on Earth is fortunate enough to be born with the same 3.5 billion year old genetic code that knows howand wants to create a healthy body.
“No, obesity runs in my family – my mom was overweight and diabetic and my grandmother and aunts are too.”
This type of family health blame passed through generations does have some truth to it – you may indeed be predisposed to diabetes, breast cancer, or other conditions that have strong genetic influences. However, it is more likely that some of your lifestyle choices (perhaps learned from your parents) have programmed your genes to respond in unfavorable ways, rather than some unseen hand of fate slapping you simply because you “chose your parents” unwisely.
The Real Problem Causer
Diseases of weight gain are not genetic inevitabilities, but self-inflicted conditions as a result of how we eat and how we live. That being said:
We are not stuck with the genes we inherit!
We have the power to influence genetic expression by taking control of the environment around us. Lifestyle factors like how you eat, where you live, and how you move are each inputs of information your body uses to turn certain genes on or off – they do not turn on or off by themselves, but only do so in response to signals they receive from their immediate environment. Genes don’t know – or care – whether these environmental signals promote, or compromise, your long-term health; they simply react to each stimulus in effort to sustain short term survival.
“Genes may load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.”
– Chris Kresser
The recognition that environment, not genetics, is the primary driver of human health and disease carries with it a strong message of personal empowerment and responsibility. If our genes were the only determinant of our health, there wouldn’t be much motivation to optimize our environment. But since we know that the choices we make in our lifetime predict 90 percent of our risk of disease and early death, we have a strong reason to take action to improve our health.
Changing “Fat Genes” to “Skinny Genes:
We have the power to influence genetic expression by taking control of the environment around us. But where do you start? With so many possible environmental influences, ranging from diet to chemical exposure to air pollution to personal care products, where do you get the biggest bang for your buck?
Our genetic recipe for a long life of excellent health:
- Eat Clean: Focus on fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean meats. Avoid processed foods and drinks.
- Move Everyday: Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity every. single. day.
- Get Some Fresh Air: Spend at least 30-60 minutes outside every day
- Sleep Soundly: Aim for 7-9 Hours every night
- Hydrate: Water is the only liquid your body needs so give it at least 64 oz every day.
So, GOOD NEWS! You can influence their genes and aren’t doomed to being overweight because of your heredity. For many people, this means changing long-standing ways of thinking or acting, and that can be difficult — but it’s far from impossible, and the benefits last a lifetime.
If you’re ready to have an enrolling conversation with your genes, these are some actions you can take to help communicate with your genes and get them to change their behavior — we talk to them all the time through our nutritional choices and the patterns of our emotions, whether we realize it or not. Where our metabolism and weight are concerned, we can start by having a conversation with our body — paying attention to our lifestyle, our nutrition, and our exercise.
“We are all predisposed to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and today’s leading lifestyle related health problems if we mismanage our genes with the wrong diet, exercise, and myriad other lifestyle behaviors.” – Mark Sisson
The Primal Blueprint by: Mark Sisson