Part Four – Genetic Obesity

Wow! That sounds like a copout – “genetic obesity”. But for many people it is reality. I have seen people who have more self-discipline than God (so I exaggerate a little), who have always maintained an ideal weight, and then they get on one of many types of medications and 3 months later they are 10 pounds overweight. That’s not a lack of discipline. That’s a change in brain function. When the “weight-o-stat” in the brain has been set higher, it can be next to impossible to avoid gaining weight.  There’s the constant push to eat more food, the wrong food, and there’s a decrease in metabolism even when you’re sleeping.  The power of the brain and the power of Mother Nature are hard to fight against.

One third of the U.S. population is obese (not just overweight). If you have one obese parent then the incidence of obesity goes up to 50%. If you have two obese parents your chances are over 70%. You might argue that this is due to learned habits regarding types of food, importance of food, learned attitudes about exercise, etc. But this increase in obesity risk is also found in people who had obese biologic parents and were adopted at birth.  The chance of being overweight is clearly influenced by genetics and not just the home you grow up in.  

Several years ago a study was done using identical twin adults. Most of them didn’t live together. Many were living in different cities than their twin sibling. Each person was asked to make no changes in their diet or activity level. The only thing they were to do different is drink a 1,000 calorie supplement at bedtime every night for 3 months. The results of the study were very striking. About one third of the individuals converted basically every extra calorie from their night beverage to extra body fat. So they added 7000 calories per week which meant they gained 2 pounds per week since 3500 calories equals a pound.  They did this for 13 weeks, which meant a total gain of 26 pounds. Another third of the individuals gained about 1/2 that amount, and the final third gained essentially no weight at all. Very interesting.

The most striking finding from this study was that the identical twins were always in the same group. Something in our genetic make-up helps determine what we do with extra calories or what adjustments we make in our overall intake or physical activity in response to an extra 1000 calories daily. I want to be clear that you are not born obese or genetically programmed to be fat. In fact, being born below normal weight and gaining more than the usual weight in the first few months actually increases the risk of obesity. Having the genetic predisposition for obesity, in which you are programmed to store a lot of extra energy, or fat, makes it a lot harder to be lean.  Just as some people are lean no matter what they eat or how physically inactive they are.  Don’t you just hate ’em! Only Joking.  See Part Five

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