After spending a week writing blog posts on weight loss tips, I have just watched an interesting interview on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch (don’t judge!) with Giles Yeo, a Cambridge geneticists who specialises in obesity.
His take-away from it all is
“Obesity is not a choice some people find it more difficult to say No and they are fighting their biology”.
My initial thought was oh here we go, he’s giving fat people an excuse.
Do our genes cause us to be fat or is it an excuse?
Some genes control where the fat is stored on our body, others control how much our brain thinks we need to store.
There are over 200 genes that are involved in the storing and distribution of fat in our bodies. Which ones you have will determine how you respond, i.e. whether you have a big bum, thick legs a fat tummy or the lot.
Also, fat is initially stored in the body in fat cells. These fat cells balloon up as they fill with fat. Everyone’s fat cells expand to different amounts before leaking fat into other areas of the body. Again how these cells behave is down to genetics.
If you want to know whether you are likely to become fat because of your genetics then a simple exercise is to look at your parents or grandparents. Their size and shape will indicate what is possible for you to become. Is that a scary thought!
It’s all down to evolution
Since 1984 the proportion of the population that is obese has increased. This is because food has become much more readily available than it ever was. Also we have become much less active. But it is not a consistent increase.
This shows that obesity is not just caused by genetics but also with how we behave in our environment.
Essentially, obesity is a powerful genetic state that is hugely influenced by environment.
We have evolved to eat when there is food or else we may starve. It is only in recent times that we are now food rich. Unfortunately our bodies are still trying to prepare for a famine that will never come!
Our bodies have put mechanisms in place to conserve energy to help prevent starvation. BUT there has been no evolutionary reason for us to have created a mechanism to stop us eating.
As a result our genes encourage us to eat when we can because that is what we always had to do. But because there is a ready supply of food we tend to over eat and gain weight.
We are in a constant battle with our body to not eat as much as it wants us to.
Genes dictate the shape we are
Fat gives us our body shape and certain genes dictate your shape, i.e. where in the body the fat is stored. This is fat biology. How much fat you have is to do with your head and uses different genes. This involves our food intake.
50% of us can have specific genes that will result in us weighing heavier than those without the genes. This is because our brains are telling us to eat more.
Interestingly, Labrador dogs can have the same gene and they are renowned to be easy to train with food. This gene is the reason why – they are always hungry!
The more of the risk factor genes you have the heavier you are likely to be.
This doesn’t mean you will become obese, it just means you may be predisposed to being obese.
That said only 1% of obese people have the genes. But 1% of a large number is still signifiant.
How do you fix the problem
Because of peoples genetic makeup some people behave and react differently around food, e.g. some people prefer savoury food over sweet food. One person’s treat is another persons dislike. So one size does not fit all to fix the problem.
Other people feel slightly hungrier all the time, so overeat, and so become overweight or obese. They just always find it more difficult to say no.
None of this is an excuse we are just fighting harder all the time to stay the same.
It is not a choice that we have full control over.
So the solution is not all about education. We all know why we become fat “energy intake vs energy intake”. This is WHY we become fat.
What we need to ask is How we become fat? and try and resolve that.
The future is to find personalised diets for you and your gene make-up. But we are not there yet.
Dr Giles Yeo has written a book, Gene Eating, on the subject. He explains the science in the first section and in the 2nd section goes on to look at how different diets might work for different genes. I know I’m going to have a read and if I find anything useful I will let you know.
If you are interested in hearing Dr Giles Yeo speak on this subject here is a lecture he did. I found it really interesting: