How Your Genes Make You Fat
Do you think you can’t lose fat because of bad genetics? Well, you may be right. But it’s not as simple as blaming a few genes for your body weight.
In this article we discuss the role of DNA in weight loss. You'll also learn how to deal with bad genetics. There are more options than you suspect. Bad genes can’t prevent you from rocking a solid six-pack.
What Are Genes & How Do They Affect Your Weight?
Genes are the basic physical unit of heredity, subunits of DNA. They store and transfer information across generations. Most genes contain instructions on how to make different proteins molecules.
Proteins can be used as building blocks for structural elements like muscle or bone. Or help create functional elements like enzymes or hormones that govern bodily processes.
In short, genes determine how you look and how you function. Baseline weight and the rate of fat gain are all affected by your DNA.
Which Genes Make You Fat?
Scientists have identified a few genes they suspect may make people susceptible to weight gain. Unfortunately, whether you have or lack a certain “bad” gene can’t explain the obesity epidemic.
This is because:
- there are different variations of the same gene that act in different ways
- people have different copies of the same gene (having 1 vs 2 makes a difference)
- not every gene is expressed (just because you have it doesn’t mean your body is going to read it and produce the protein it codes for)
- genes code for different proteins, but in some case those proteins undergo additional (non-gene-related) changes
Even if you fully express the “wrong” version of a gene, that doesn’t mean a lot. Let’s say you have a genetically high appetite. But you also have naturally high levels of determination. Both qualities may end up canceling each other. You’ll often feel hungry, but have an easy time suppressing cravings.
Only a particularly bad combination of expressed genes is enough to label you as having “fat” genes.
Are DNA Tests Accurate?
The role of every human gene is not well-understood. How genes interact with each other is even more of a mystery.
There are still many gaps in our understanding of DNA. At this period in time, genetic testing is not a reliable tool. It has very few (if any) practical applications for nutrition and training.
Does Fat Run in Your Family?
If most of your family is overweight you may conclude it's a family trait. But this is probably not the case. Chances are your mom and dad express genes similar to 85-90% of the population. At least when it comes to body fat levels.
We humans evolved in a time of food scarcity. Natural selection was marked by periods of starvation. If you were able to conserve energy, you lived. If you couldn’t put on enough fat to survive the harsh winter, you died.
Contrary to popular belief, being “energy efficient” means to put on fat easily. Such people don’t waste energy. Today’s world is mostly populated by this type. Having “fat” genes is not a rare occurrence, it’s the norm.
Unfortunately, adaptations that were useful until recent history are considered a curse nowadays. Food availability pairs all too well with our natural inclination to over-consume. We can’t stop eating and gain too much weight.
But if we’re all so similar why is there such a big difference between people? Why can some stay lean year round, while others keep gaining pounds every passing year?
Lifestyle vs DNA: Which One Has More Impact on Weight?
Our genetic makeup didn’t change much in recent history. A few hundred (or even thousand) years are not enough to cause notable adaptations. However, we’ve experienced rapid changes in how we’ve been living in the past 30 years.
The current obesity epidemic is mostly a product of lifestyle changes. Though genetic variation also plays a notable role. It determines to what degree are individual people affected. Some are far more susceptible to environmental changes than others.
How to Lose Weight When You Have Extremely Bad Genetics
Think of your genes as a gun. The more prone you are to fat gain, the bigger and more dangerous the gun is. But it’s your lifestyle that pulls the trigger.
A heavy machine gun can do no harm if left untouched. A tiny revolver can cause a lot of damage in the hands of someone with a trigger finger.
Genes put a cap on the pace and extent to which changes occur in response to the environment. This doesn't mean your body can ignore external factors. That's why cultivating healthy habits is especially important if you're prone easy fat gain.
Let’s look at the most common scenarios:
- bad genes in a bad environment – a recipe for disaster
- good genes in a bad environment – eventual weight gain, but at a slower rate and less total fat gained compared to the first scenario
- bad genes in a good environment – some effort will be required to achieve weight loss, but keeping it off shouldn’t be a huge problem
- good genes in a good environment – maintaining a healthy body is almost effortless
Can You Turn Off the Genes that Make You Gain Weight?
As we already mentioned not every gene you carry is going to be expressed. There are people who are genetically predispositioned to be diabetic. But they never develop the disease.
Your environment and lifestyle can affect which genes will be expressed. Exercise and diet have that effect. You may have great genetics for building muscle, but unless start training regularly those genes will stay “dormant”.
People prone to fat gain can prevent some of their bad genes from “waking up”. This can happen by developing healthy dieting habits. An environment that doesn’t support overeating won’t trigger fat gain. Fat gain only happens when there’s an abundance of calories.
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Until next time!
~Niki, Fitness Mastery Coach