4 min read

Am I Genetically Doomed to Be Overweight?

S. aureus bacteria escaping destruction by human white blood cells.
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I’ll cut straight to the chase.

I can’t prove, nor can I disprove this notion, and I don’t think science can either at this point but I can provide some really good insights for you.

1) We have yet to identify any ‘big’ or ‘small’ or ‘fat’ or ‘skinny’ gene or genes, or combination of genes.

2) But this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist…

3) Even if they did, that’s not how Genes work within human physiology.

We tend to think of obesity or being overweight as being a modern disease but this isn’t the case.

Throughout history we have always had people who are larger and people who are skinnier and it certainly had nothing to do with the common assailants we often blame today for making half the population above a 25 Body Mass Index (BMI – the standard method of measurement for these stats):

  • Too much food availability
  • Too much processed food
  • Too much refined and processed sugars (simple carbohydrates)
  • Too many processed fats
  • Sedentary lifestyles, etc…

This leads many people to assume that it must be genetic.

There must be some genetic reason I’m overweight/can’t lose weight/struggle to maintain my weight/etc…

I’ll get to why or why not, but I cannot imply that overweight people have always existed strictly as a matter of genes, because that’s not it.

Obesity is a multi-centric problem, meaning there are multiple reasons people gain weight, keep the weight on, have trouble losing weight and so on and so on…

You can’t isolate just one solution for everyone, because everyone needs a slightly different solution or combination of solutions (which is why coaching can be so important).

Now there might be that there is one really solid solution out there for you that will make a significant difference, maybe you need to cut sugar out, or processed fat out, or liquid calories and you get a significant benefit but in most cases it’s a combination of small changes that add up to the outcome you’re looking for and genes are no different.

The notion that genes are a sole contributor to weight gain just doesn’t add up, even if you look to history for answers.

For the people in history who were overweight, its just as perfectly possible that they ate more food than they needed and didn’t move around much either.

See we didn’t know then, what we know now; That being overweight is potentially worse for your health than smoking (heck, 70 years ago some said smoking was good for you).

For centuries in many cultures you were believed to be of good stock if you were heavier and thus well fed, so it seems likely that many people chose to actually pursue obesity on some level so as to show off a level of status to the world.

Many people of a higher level of wealth, or those who wanted to showcase socially that they were of a higher status than they might not be, were overweight because it proved you could afford abundance.

It may even have been considered ‘healthy’ at some point to pursue that additional weight.

This is very similar to skin tone and it’s influence on status within cultures.

A century ago people who were tanned implied that they were of low-working-class status because they ‘had’ to be exposed to the sun all day, while the wealthier people tended to be very pale.

Both of these status claims (colour of skin and weight) are actually presently a part of a few existing cultures around the globe.

People in Indonesia, and other parts of South-East Asia, for instance desire whiter skin and whiter skin implies a higher status within the culture.

Heavier people in India up until perhaps recently were also considered to be of higher status if they were heavier (though other religious factors are also potentially at play here) because they could afford to eat well in abundance and not have to do a lot of physical work.

Generally we are shaped more by our perceptions of the world, our environment and our belief structures as opposed to fact.

So here is the kicker:

You’re not genetically doomed. Genes need to be expressed by your environment to make a significant difference. Tweet This…

What most people under this assumption simply don’t know about genetics, is that genes need to be expressed via our environment.

This basically means they need exposure to a particular life stimulus for genes to either be triggered or remain passive; Often this stimulus needs to be repeated and extended exposure.

The good news is that once triggered, a gene or genetic combination can still revert back.

Meaning that even if you’ve gained weight over a long period of time, with enough appropriate work, you can regain a physical structure similar to what you may have already possessed at some moment in your life.

For example, scientists have identified a gene associated with violent behavior, but people only become violent after being exposed to a lot of severe violence themselves (generally some kind of abuse or witnessing abuse) and would otherwise never know they have this gene unless triggered by strong experience and environment.

These violent offenders can also be taught to be less violent over time, even though genetically speaking they have have a predisposition to being violent.

It works the same way for any potential genes and being overweight; Even if we do identify a gene or a series of genes that implies a predisposition to being overweight or being skinny, it doesn’t matter without the context of your environment.

From the womb if we are exposed to parents with inadequate nutrition levels (for an example see The Dutch Hungerwinter Study) this can influence our future development.

Our childhood nutrition, our parents and our peer groups growing up influence our genetic changes as we age, significantly more than our baseline genetics.

Of course the still great news is that this childhood and adolescent exposure can still be undone later in life.

Maybe that doesn’t mean fitting into your highschool prom dress or tuxedo perfectly again, but you can make some significant headway towards getting there via the appropriate and long-term environmental stimulus.

Keep your chin up, change your mindset, and develop good skills for easier weight management and maintenance.

Leave a comment if you’ve got a question, I am happy to help you out, just ask this guy.