I speak often with my patients about "Fat Genes". I make it sound simple, but in fact it is very complicated and we are only at the beginning of understanding how our genetic makeup contributes to our body size, weight, and health. Our distant ancestors had the genetic capacity to make and use body fat efficiently. If not, they would never have survived to pass on their genes.
Thousands of years ago, every morning, our ancestors got up with the sun and focused on shelter, water, and eating something. They would spend enormous amounts of energy searching and hunting for food. When food was obtained by chasing, climbing for, digging for, or killing prey, it was consumed in its entirety. They had no refrigerators. They would put on body fat to sustain them until the next food supply was obtained.
The ability to make, store, and use fat was essential to life. We all know someone who can eat anything and everything and never gain weight. This person would have probably not survived our distant past. I lovingly call these modern people with "Skinny Genes", mutants. They have developed genetic mutations that have allowed them to not produce excess fat, store fat, or require stored fat for survival. Today, they can eat as often as they like as food is plentiful and easy to obtain.
For those of us with the "Fat Genes" that were passed on by our survivor ancestors, we live in an Obesigenic (excess fat producing) environment. Food is everywhere and is relatively cheap. It's calorie dense and food processing has increased the number of calories we can get from a serving. With the same efficient ability to make and store fat as our ancestors, about 80% of us struggle to keep the excess weight off.
The study of Epigenetics looks at how our environment effects our genetic makeup. Most genes can turn on or turn off. How we live and what we do most likely effects how our genes express themselves. These ongoing studies are fascinating and I believe over the next decade or two we will unlock many of the mysteries of our weight gaining and weight sustaining genes.
For now, I like to think of our genetic capacity for weight and body size just like I think about our height. We don't criticize individuals that are getting "too tall". Their genetics control their height. Certainly other factors most likely control the expression of the Height Genes. We don't ever think of a tall person as someone who has control over their linear growth.
Certainly, we are responsible for our body weight and there is treatment to help us maintain a more healthy weight and to reduce the risks associated with excess body fat storage. I strongly believe that Overweight Syndrome and Obesity are medical diseases that are genetically manifested in an Obesigenic environment. We can treat the disease and work to put it in Remission. It takes not only work by each of us with the Fat Genes, but the help of experienced, caring, healthcare providers and staff that truly understand what we're up against.
With the right treatment plan, support, effort, and maintenance, each of us with the "Fat Genes" can take control of our lives and learn to Crush our Fat Genes.