Chapter 6 Myth #2: It’s Not About Our Genetics

Regardless of the different ways that your body deals with excess energy, and all the other amazing biological processes I’m about to discuss, you began life with a set of genes that sent you down a specific path.

 As our ancestors struggled with their environments, developing processes that aided in their survival, and as they had lots of children, successful genes were passed on. Generation after generation of successful genes eventually formed to create you. You are who you are because of your parents’ parents, and their parents, stretching back to before written history. While each of us has similar processes for taking in, burning, and storing energy, the different eras have created a lot of variety in our genetic make-up.

 With all this genetic variety, why would there be a single path to weight loss? What works for me, probably won’t work for you. And what worked for this person, won’t work for that person. Yes, there are many body processes that go into weight gain and weight loss, and yet, our individual struggles can ultimately be blamed on our parents.

 For instance, I took after my mother’s side. I have a thin biology. My brothers took after our father’s side. They struggle with their weight. Same parents. We grew up eating the same meals and getting similar amounts of physical activity, but I’ve never had to struggle with my weight like my brothers have.

 Mother Nature wants to make sure the best survival genes are passed from parents to children so that our species will thrive. In general, we are programmed to put on weight when food is available. Why? Because if we can store energy, we’ll survive the long winters and dry summers. And if we use that energy efficiently, we’ll also be able to make the long journey to a more hospitable place.

 This means that those with a thin biology like me are lucky to be here. In harsh circumstances, we would not have been able to survive. We wouldn’t have enough fat to stay alive if we got stuck in a cave for a couple days, waiting for the blizzard to clear. And the way thin biology people burn energy would ensure they wouldn’t be able to help out

Myth #2: It’s Not About Our Genetics

in the hunt. Our ancestors who had a thin biology didn’t live very long, and they certainly weren’t healthy enough to produce many children.

 So, if you have a heavy biology, be thankful. You’ve received the genes that ensured that our species thrived throughout the centuries. Your ancestors had enough energy to procreate, thus passing along superior genes until you were created.

 It’s just that in this new environment, your successful biology now works against you.

 Of course, there is a genetic element to obesity. If there weren’t, why is it possible to genetically create a breed of mice that will always be overweight?   If genetics had nothing to do with weight gain and loss, and obesity were simply about willpower, we wouldn’t have these mice to study. And you don’t hear researchers debating the moral aptitude of mice bred to be fat.

 What’s interesting, is when we have baby rats who are genetically programmed to be obese, they will generally stay fat regardless of the diet type. Let’s say from the day they are weaned, they are put on a strict diet and can never eat as much as they want. These baby rats will take the energy that they would normally use to build muscles and organs, and apply it to becoming as fat as their bodies are genetically programed to be.

 Right next to these fat rats, we have normal rats. They can eat as much as they want, whenever they want. These rats may remain thin the rest of their lives, as long as they eat food that is good for rats. Now, if the environment changes, like we’ll discuss, these normal rats will be less healthy and probably start to get fat.

But in the proper environment, the lean rat will stay lean.

 The fat rat doesn’t have a chance. This rat’s whole life is focused on getting more energy. It wishes it could have the food that is available to the thin rat, but the scientists keep its diet restricted. In fact, if the researchers starve the fat rat, they’ll find that its body will consume muscle for fuel instead of the fat. Eventually, its heart will give up and the fat rat will die…fat. What the researchers would then find is that the fat rat would still have more fat in his body than the lean rat.

Why would humans be different? In other words, obesity is not about choices, diets, and willpower. To a great extent, being overweight has to do with genetics.

Do you know someone who is skinny but only eats junk food? What about an overweight person who eats mainly fresh fruits and vegetables? Was the skinny kid always skinny? Was the overweight person always slightly heavier than the other kids? With all this evidence, weight does not seem to be about choice. 

Maybe we’ve been looking at things backwards. Perhaps the typically thin marathon runners are not lean because they train endlessly, watch their caloric intake, and regulate their bodies’ movement. Maybe they are thin because they are genetically wired to burn off more calories, and are internally signaled to get a lot of exercise.  After all, greyhounds are more physically active and leaner than basset hounds. Neither breed consciously decides to exercise. Neither breed counts calories or goes on diets. They are simply who they are. Their parents’ genes caused them to be this way.

Myth #2: It’s Not About Our Genetics

 As we discuss the biology that contributes to weight gain, realize that some of us are programmed to put on more fat than others. Some of us conserve energy more efficiently. Also realize that it is entirely likely that the smug lean-biology folks may be just as unhealthy, if not more sick, than their heavy-biology counterparts. Sure they look thin and healthy, but thin people can also get diabetes and cancer. Being heavy without these diseases is preferable to being skinny with them.

 So the lean person may not remain lean simply because they are virtuous. Nor are those who easily put on weight, gluttonous or slothful. Instead, virtue has nothing to do with your belt size any more than it does with your inseam. Our height was determined by genetics, physiological process, hormones, and other body functions. Willpower won’t make you taller, and, sadly, it won’t make you thinner. 

But I hear you saying, but I can make better choices.  I have done it before.  Ten years ago, I started exercising, made good food choices, joined Weight Watchers, and I lost 30 pounds.  I did it.  But the question is, did the weight loss last?  My clinical experience has taught me that it rarely lasts. When our biology is a “heavy biology”, our autonomic/automatic “hind brain” begins to protest about this 30 pound weight loss.  It signals that the body is now more vulnerable to famine and something must be done.  Hunger hormones begin to take over and the weight starts coming back on.  Now we are in real trouble.  We get discouraged and think it is all our fault.  But it wasn’t and it isn’t. 

There are biological forces that I am going to tell you about that we must accommodate.  Later in this book I will take you through these adjustment steps.  You will use your willpower.  You will make choices, but those choices will be more about what accommodation tools you will use. You will also have to use your willpower to change some of your environment.  You may have to change your work schedule.  You may have to choose to reprioritize your time.  There may be restaurants that you will no longer frequent.  You may choose to shop around the edges of the grocery store and not venture into the processed food section.  I hope to help you discover what choices you don’t have because your biology is making them for you just like the genetically fat rats.  But don’t fear.  You will have plenty of choices.  We need to fight the battle smarter.