Don’t be too hard on yourself! Sometimes losing weight has nothing to do with your willpower or your personality. Experts say that 95% of all diets fail because we’re under the impression that what works for our friends will also work for us.
Dr Yael Joffe, Chief Science Officer at 3×4 Genetics and world-renowned specialist in nutrition and genetics, says there is a better and more efficient way to get the right answers for you, and that’s through examining your genes.
So how do genetics affect your weight?
According to Dr Joffe, at least 50% of what drives your weight comes from your genes, with the rest as a result of diet and lifestyle choices. “Genetics has a big influence on how our bodies function at a cellular level, affecting how our bodies store and burn energy or fat. But it’s not just about our metabolic rate; our genes also impact how we experience hunger and fullness. They also affect how we respond to exercise, how much energy we use when not exercising, and if inflammation in our body will make it difficult to lose weight”.
A recent UK study published in the PLOS Genetics journal, compared the DNA of 1 622 thin volunteers, 1 985 severely obese people, and a normal-weight control group of 10 433. The results showed that the thinner control group had genetics on their side. Based on the study, researchers concluded that by “using genome-wide genotype data, we can show that persistent healthy thinness, similar to severe obesity, is a heritable trait”.
“Because we each have a unique genetic profile, what’s good for one person may not be good for you,” Joffe stresses.
It could explain why you’re always hungry.
“The way we experience hunger differs from person to person, which is why one person may feel ravenous after not eating for a few hours while others barely have an appetite,” says Dr Joffe. In addition, our genes also ensure that after eating, some of us feel fuller than others. Some people may experience a high appetite and a low level of satisfaction after eating, which will leave them feeling hungry all the time and this can make dieting especially hard.
If you know for a fact (through genetic testing) that you have these genes, Dr Joffe says, your chances of success could be improved by a diet with more appropriate and substantial types of foods and targeted supplements.
Genetics do play a role in how your body converts energy.
Some of us easily convert our energy into fat, which is an evolutionary trait, while others burn through it quickly. Our ancestors, living on the plains of Africa, where hunting was infrequent, survived longer if they could convert their energy into fat. This means that their chances of surviving the lean times were higher than those that burned energy quicker.
Storing energy as fat is not a problem if you burn energy efficiently — some people burn up energy very well, both at the gym and while sitting at their desks. But others can train for a marathon and still not lose weight, even though they’ve been hitting the gym hard for weeks on end.
Inflammation and weight gain are linked.
Chronic inflammation and excess body fat go hand-in-hand and can stall your attempts at weight loss. There is a direct correlation between excess weight and inflammation; as you gain more fat stores, your low-grade inflammation will increase. “The more overweight you are, the more inflammation you will have in your body,” Dr Joffe explains.
“We know that when your body is inflamed, you’re very unlikely to lose weight because inflammation holds on to body fat. When we are treating patients who are overweight, we always want to manage inflammation as well,” she says.
Popular diet plans might not work for you.
“Most dietitians will tell you that to lose weight, you need to decrease your calorie intake and increase your energy output. This approach, along with any diet in the media, is fundamentally flawed because it assumes one diet will work for everyone. If we all gain and lose weight differently, then it makes sense that there’s a different plan for everyone to lose weight,” Dr Joffe explains.
The only way to find the diet that will work for you is to build it around your gene profile with a nutritional professional who knows how to interpret a genetic test, according to Dr Joffe.
Bottom line: The truth is that you didn’t ‘fail’ at sticking to your diet — you just might have been working against your genes this whole time.