Are Our Genes (or Our Jeans) Making Us Fat?

Do you feel trapped in your genes and destined to be fat?  Does putting on your jeans in the morning exacerbate your worries and preoccupation with your weight?  Don’t let your genes (or your jeans) dictate your weight or your happiness!


Transcript of Are Our Genes (or Our Jeans) Making Us Fat?

Hi and welcome to Nutritionally Speaking! I’m your host, Michaela Ballmann.  Today I want to look at your genes/jeans and the effect they might have on your weight.

There are lots of reasons why people weigh more than the tables and charts tell us we should.  It usually boils down to eating too many Calories, moving too little, using food to cope with life’s difficulties, eating mindlessly, and suffering from a hectic schedule with snacks from the vending machine and meals at the drive-thru (or a combination of the above).


Genes and Weight

Another factor in our shape and size is our genes.  Yes, our genes do have some say in how much our body naturally “wants” to weigh—also known as our “set point”.  Of course we can change our set point through diet and exercise, but it would be wrong to ignore the stubbornness, if you will, of our body to stay at the weight range it’s most used to.  Studies comparing sets of twins show that the genetic component is so strong that it can outweigh the environmental factor in its effect on the twins’ weight.  Dr. Albert J. Stunkard compared the weights of both identical and fraternal twins being raised in the same or different households.  As expected, identical twins raised together had a similar Body Mass Index (BMI) as adults, but even when identical twins were reared apart, their BMI as adults was almost the same.

In another of his studies, Dr. Stunkard found that adopted twins’ weight mimicked that of their biological parents, not their adoptive parents.  That’s right, regardless of whether they were raised in an “obesogenic” environment or whether their adoptive parents were of a healthy BMI, both of the twins weighed about the same as each other and their biological parents.

Dr. Claude Bouchard also found that twins, when being overfed the same amount of Calories, gain almost the same amount weight and in the same places (i.e. the abdomen, buttocks, thighs).

This goes to show that genes do have a lot of control over the number on the scale, but don’t let that make you think you’re destined to be overweight. Maintaining a lower weight may be more challenging than someone with different genes, but you are still in the driver’s seat when it comes to your health.


Jeans and Weight

I want to take a look now at your other set of jeans–the ones you’re wearing or the ones in your closet.  What effect do these jeans have on you?  Though some people still choose to have a scale in their bathroom, many have tried to give up their focus on the exact number of pounds they weigh by tossing the scale.  This can definitely be a step in the right direction towards loving your body at any size and focusing on how you feel when you make healthier food choices and exercise rather than giving yourself a grade based on your weight.  Unfortunately, though, the scale has been replaced…with jeans.  Many people now have a pair of jeans or another piece of clothing, that they use to measure how “good” they have been lately, whether they deserve to eat, or if they need to lose more weight.  Once again, let me clarify that watching how your clothing fits is not inherently a bad thing.  It can give you an idea of whether you’re gaining or losing weight, how well your exercise routine is paying off, and can help spur you on to more mindful eating.  I am aware, however, that this pair of jeans can also keep you trapped and keep you fat.


Here’s an example of how this can play out:

Let’s say that you wake up on a Friday after a long, stressful week. You’re so happy that the weekend is here and you’re looking forward to a nice get-together after work with friends. After getting out of bed, you try on your jeans and find that they’re snug.  What? You’ve been making such an effort to pack your lunch, take a brisk walk in the evenings, and replace your soda with iced tea and water.  Now, instead of feeling proud of your accomplishments in favor of your health, you’re focused on how horrid you feel in your jeans.  It seems like they just laughed in the face of all the positive changes you’ve made.  Instead of feeling motivated to maintain these changes and continue to make small adjustments, you feel discouraged and frustrated.  You throw off your jeans, put on some looser clothes and head to work.  At the morning meeting, your coworker brought donuts.  You would normally decline, knowing how you feel after eating them, but instead you take one.  After all, eating well hasn’t helped anything.  Why should you deprive yourself? That’s just the start.  For lunch, you look at your brown bag and say “Forget it!” You even grab some candy later out of the community bowl.  This sort of behavior plays itself out for the rest of the day.

Guess how you’re going to feel that night or the next morning? That’s right, even more frustration and probably some guilt.  But what I’d like you to notice is how these emotions and reactions to how your jeans fit (or the number on a scale) can lead you into a negative cycle of eating poorly and feeling rotten.  Why not forego the jean ritual, feel proud of every good thing you do for yourself and your body, tune in to what you want to eat, and enjoy every piece of food you eat—no guilt, no need to rebel against food rules, no need for anxiety around food and eating?

Don’t let your genes/jeans control you, your weight, or how you feel about yourself! I hope this episode has encouraged you.  If you have any comments or questions, email me or go to my website.  You can also follow me on Twitter as @NutriSpeaking.  Thanks again for listening and I’ll see you next time!

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