Did You Inherit Fat Genes? The Truth About Biology And Body Fat
By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
"Battle Your Biology? Fat Chance," proclaimed a headline recently in the health section of the New York Post newspaper. Quoting new research and citing psychologists, dietitians and physicians, the article says that more and more evidence proves that your weight is genetically determined, and if you're fat, "it's not your fault." "We've known for a while that genes - more than environment and behavior - explain obesity" argues Dr. James Rosen, an eating disorder specialist and professor at the University of Vermont.
While genetics are definitely a factor, believing you are destined to be overweight for life because you've inherited "fat genes" is the most disempowering and self-defeating attitude you could ever adopt. The only way you’ll lose weight permanently is to accept total responsibility for yourself and acknowledge the fact that you have the power to change, regardless what mother nature has given you to work with.
There's no denying that heredity plays a major role in how difficult it will be for you to lose fat. You inherited a body type, a predetermined number of fat cells, a metabolic rate and body chemistry just as you inherited your eye color and hair color. In the 1930's, Harvard psychologist Dr. William H. Sheldon developed a classification system for these different body types called "somatotyping." While there are no absolutes, Sheldon identified three basic somatotypes: ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs.
Ectomorphs are the lean, lanky types. They are usually very thin and bony, with fast metabolisms and extremely low body fat. An ectomorph can eat like a horse without gaining an ounce. Mesomorphs are the "genetically gifted." They are lean, muscular and naturally athletic. Mesomorphs lose fat and gain muscle with ease. Endomorphs are the "fat retainers." Characterized by round features, excess body fat and large joints ("big bones"), endomorphs usually have great difficulty in losing body fat. They have slow metabolisms, they are often carbohydrate sensitive, they gain fat quickly if they eat poorly or don't exercise, and they lose fat slowly - even on a healthy diet.
The tendency of endomorphs to store fat easily can be partly attributed to metabolic problems. For example, endomorphs often metabolize carbohydrates inefficiently. Normal people can eat lots of carbohydrates - up to 60% of their total calories - and they still stay lean. Endomorphs produce too much insulin when they eat carbohydrates and this leads to increased fat storage and difficulty in losing existing fat. This condition is known as "insulin resistance" or "Syndrome X."
Scientists claim that the tendency to gain weight easily may also be due to chemical imbalances in the brain that cause people to overeat. Researchers at Johns Hopkins recently announced the discovery a compound called C75 that blocks an appetite-regulating hormone in the hypothalamus. In mice injected with the substance, 30 percent more weight was lost because the drug caused the mice to eat less. More research is planned to develop a similar appetite-suppressing drug for humans. Unlike Xenical, which blocks fat absorption in the intestine, this new drug would affect the brain's chemistry so that people feel full sooner.
Many physicians and health professionals consider these metabolic disorders and chemical imbalances as genetically transmitted "diseases" that require medical treatment. "Obesity is a disease and should be treated like one" says Jackie Newgent, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association . This idea should be viewed with a great deal of suspicion however, because weight loss is potentially the biggest market in the world for drug sales.
According to Justin Gillis, a staff writer for the Washington Post, more than 45 companies worldwide are trying to develop new obesity drugs, and the stakes couldn't be higher. Gillis writes, "In world where a blockbuster drug is worth $1 billion a year in sales, analysts give $5 billion as the low estimate for sales of an important obesity drug. If a company developed a truly safe, effective weight loss drug, and sold it for $3 a day to one quarter of the 97 million American adults estimated to be overweight, sales would exceed $26 billion a year in this country alone."
Basically, what the medical community is trying to tell you is that if you are overweight, it's not your fault; you were born fat, so don't feel guilty - and don't worry, we have a drug that can "cure" you. Sounds like there's an ulterior motive at work here, wouldn't you agree? Before you run to get a prescription for the next "miracle" drug, you'd better wonder whose interests are being served; yours or the pharmaceutical giants.
Besides, drugs can never be the solution if they treat the symptoms and not the cause. Drugs should be considered a last resort for the morbidly obese who have already tried everything else without success and who will face serious health consequences if they don't lose weight. The editors of obesity.com said it best: "Weight loss drugs do not take the place of diet, exercise, patience, and perseverance."
"Dieting can be an uphill battle against your genes." says Post writer Joyce Cohen. Unfortunately, if you're an endomorph, Cohen is right. Losing weight is definitely easier for some people than for others and that doesn't seem fair. But that's the way life is. Life isn't fair. Let's be honest; not everyone is going to become an Olympic Gold medallist, a Mr. America or a fitness model. But don't despair - you are not doomed to live a life of fatness if you don't have "athletic genes."
Obesity is the result of many influences. Genetics is only one of them. Like it or not, the primary cause of obesity is your own behavior. Most of the factors that affect body composition are entirely under your control. These factors include how much you eat, what you eat, when you eat, what type of exercise you do, how frequently you exercise, how long you exercise and how hard you exercise.
If you have the genetic predisposition towards obesity, you can lose fat like everyone else, you're just going to have to work harder and longer at it than other people. "There is a genetic component to weight," Says Dr. Thomas Wadden, a psychologist from Syracuse University, "but no one is destined to be obese. If weight has been a major problem in your family, you may not be able to become as thin as you'd like, but you can lose weight."
If you find losing weight to be a slow and difficult process, the empowering thing to do is to look at it as asset, because overcoming this obstacle will force you to develop discipline, determination and persistence. These traits will carry over to other areas of your life and make you a stronger person all around. Arnold Schwarzennegger said, "Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you overcome hardships, that is strength."
The first thing you must do if you want to lose weight or succeed in any area of your life, is to accept complete responsibility for your situation. In a short but powerful little book called "As Man Thinketh," the author James Allen wrote, "circumstances do not make a man, they reveal him." What he meant was that we are not products of our environment or our heredity (our "circumstances"), instead, we products of our own thinking and belief systems.
We create our own circumstances through positive thinking and positive action and we create negative circumstances through negative thinking and lack of action or wrong actions. In other words, we are responsible for where we are, what we have and how our bodies look.
Some people get very angry with me when I tell them this: They say, "Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that when bad things happen to me, it’s my own fault? That I brought unemployment, financial hardships, failed relationships, weight gain or even health problems onto myself? Because if that's what you're saying, that's totally unfair!"
Well, my friend, with very few exceptions, (some things really are out of your control) that is exactly what I am saying.
If you refuse to accept the fact that you are 100% responsible for your weight, you will never be successful. When people find themselves in undesirable situations or they aren't getting the results they want, it’s all too easy to make excuses: It's my genetics, I have big bones, I have a slow metabolism, I don't have enough time to exercise, etc. etc., etc. Making excuses is relinquishing control. It is conceding that you a victim of circumstances instead of the creator of your circumstances. Stop blaming and start taking responsibility for your life. Take action! Start working out. Eat better. Do something - do anything - but don't just sit there on the couch and curse your chromosomes.
So, are you a frustrated "endomorph?" Do you feel like dieting is an uphill battle against your genes? If your answer is "yes," please don’t just quit and chalk in up to "bad genetics," and don't believe that drugs are the answer either - they're not. Your genetics will largely dictate your athletic ability and how easily you will lose weight. That doesn't mean you can't get lean; it only means that you're going to have to adjust your diet and training to fit your body type and you may have to work harder and be more persistent than the "genetically lucky" ones.
Maybe obesity really should be classified as a genetically inherited "disease." But frankly, if you have a "disease" that forces you to learn more about exercise and nutrition, to eat nutritious foods, to adopt a healthier lifestyle, to develop a strong work ethic and to become a more persistent person, that sounds like a blessing in disguise to me.
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, an NSCA-certified personal trainer (CPT), certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS), and author of the #1 best-selling e-book, "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle.” Tom has written more than 200 articles and been featured in IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise, as well as on hundreds of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's Fat Loss program, visit: www.burnthefat.com