The simple way to silence your fat genes

If the researchers behind the study I’m about to share ever need a poster child, I’m their guy. Because let me tell you, this one really hits close to home.

You may recall that I come from a family of obese people — most of whom have diabetes or heart disease (not to mention all of the other illnesses that come as a result of being overweight). And you probably also recall that I was obese myself, from childhood all the way through college.

Losing weight was the greatest struggle of my life. But I succeeded — and I have never gone back. So when people start talking about “fat genes,” I feel uniquely qualified to comment on the subject.

Indeed, a lot of experts say that people like me are genetically programmed to be overweight. And I’ve also written about the role that genetics play in obesity many times before. More specifically, to assure you that a genetic predisposition is just that: a predisposition — not a prison sentence.

And I’m happy to report that the research is on my side in this issue — with a new study proving, once and for all, that you can override even the fattest genes simply by sticking to a healthy diet.
Researchers assessed genetic risk of obesity in subjects from both the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They looked for a total of 77 different variants linked to high BMI. They also assessed for adherence to three different “healthy” dietary patterns.

I use the term “healthy” in quotes, because among these diets was DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) — and you know how I feel about that. But researchers also looked for Mediterranean-style eating patterns, with an overall focus on diets high in whole foods and healthy fats and low in sugar. So I won’t split hairs. Because here’s the important part…

Over a 20-year period, high genetic risk for obesity was linked with increases in both BMI and body weight every four years. BUT… this trend didn’t apply to subjects who stuck to a healthy diet. And high-risk subjects who were devout healthy eaters were the least likely to see their weight creep up over the years.

Translation: Obesity is never inevitable — no matter your genetic makeup. Eating right can and will help you to keep your weight under control. And, in fact, that’s especially true if your waistline is at high risk.

At the end of the day, there’s never an excuse to give up on the fight against obesity. Not for you personally, and not for the public health officials tasked with stopping this skyrocketing epidemic. And I’m sure you get tired of hearing it. But having a degree in public health, I just can’t help myself. It’s that important — and the message needs to be heard.

It’s high time the government actually did something to help people start eating better. Instead of catering to Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Agriculture with policies that have done nothing but make processed “frankenfoods” cheaper and more available… and make Americans fatter than ever before.

Legislation that favors real, whole, organic food from the farm to the dinner table would be a start. But even that’s not enough. Because while this study shows that a healthy diet can silence fat genes, there’s also research showing that our current fast food crutches — from sugary drinks to French fries — can actually magnify the genetic tendency toward obesity.

If we’re going to survive the obesity crisis, this institutionalized sabotage has to end. It’s as simple as that.

That said, I won’t be holding my breath for a food revolution anytime soon. (Even the smallest victories remain hard-won.) And in the meantime, the burden falls on every one of us to fight the good fight at every meal.

It’s like I’ve been saying for years. No, he’s not just big-boned. And no, she won’t outgrow it. But none of us have to let our genetics determine our weight. We all have a choice.

So what are you waiting for? Get to work. Eat right. Resist. Be well.