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How to Beat Your Eating Gene

Latest research suggests our genes do play a big role in weight control. But knowing that might actually make it easier for us to get back to a healthier weight.

June 19th 2017

Recent research reported in the New Scientist suggests that our genes may be as much as two-thirds responsible for our appetite control and respective weight variations.

Some slow down our metabolic rate, leading to a build-up of fat, but they are the exception. Instead, most make people chubby in a more insidious way: by subtly affecting how appealing food seems to us, and how quickly we feel full.

Good news (sort of) for those of us who seem to hear the siren call of the biscuit tin/ice cream kiosk louder than others. It isn’t our fault. We were born that way, so maybe we should stop beating ourselves up so much.

Bad news ­– this means we might always find it more difficult to walk away from the biscuit tin/ice cream kiosk and journey on to a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI).

Knowledge is power

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean we might as well give up and just surrender our waistlines to their inherent fate. As they say, knowledge is power, and this better understanding of what governs our food intake can help us better understand how to use nurture to counteract nature.

In a study conducted by UCL and the University of Guadalajara in Mexico,  people were given a questionnaire that helped define their personal appetite traits and then given online tips and advice tailored to help them adjust their eating behaviour accordingly. The results so far have shown sustained and significant weight loss and include feedback that the participants found the knowledge about their genetic predisposition empowering rather than disheartening.

Make a significant difference at every meal

A study of twins showed that those predisposed to liking food more and feeling full less quickly tended to eat a little bit more at each meal. Cumulatively, over every meal, every day, every week, month and year, that made a significant difference to how much weight they were carrying.

The theory suggests that if you reverse this process by eating a little bit less at each meal and deciding that not feeling full is fine, you could significantly reduce your BMI.

Does BMI matter?

In short: Yes. In a new of study of 3.5 million UK citizens, even those categorised as metabolically healthy obese (which means they have no abnormal blood fats, poor blood sugar control or diabetes, or high blood pressure) had a 50% increased risk of coronary heart disease.

If you want to live longer and enjoy your old age without health complications, managing your BMI at a health level is a really positive step.

What is BMI?

BMI compares your height and weight to give a Body Mass Index (BMI) score, which is a fairly reliable indicator of how much fat a person has on their body. You can calculate yours here.

Calculate my BMI

Really want to order salad? Take a window seat

In the absence, as yet, of any gene therapies to even up the playing field, studies suggest that developing healthy habits seems to be the best way of balancing our own particular appetite predisposition. And there are number of ways of nudging our behaviour in the right direction.

Psychologist Brian Wansink at Mindless Eating has found that small changes to the how and where you eat can have big effect over time says. For instance, using smaller serving spoons and eating from slightly smaller dinner plates or even different colour plates can quietly reduce our food intake by up to 22 per cent. By serving from the stove rather than on the table we’re likely to consume up to 19 per cent less. In restaurants we’re more likely to order salad if we sit in a window seat and dessert if we sit in a cosy corner.

Savour the flavour to beat over-eating

Mindfulness might be the answer for some of us. A study by the North Carolina State University allowed participants to eat whatever they wanted, including their highly-calorie favourites, so long as they did so mindfully, taking time over the first few mouthfuls, slowly, truly savouring the sensation without any other distractions such as TV, phones, work or company.

They were also encouraged to shop mindfully, keeping them aware of choices that were made on the basis of appetite emotion rather than nutritional knowledge. The results after 6 months were positive, with 75% per cent having achieved and maintained a significant weight loss.

Disrupting habits can reduce BMI

Our own research shows that disrupting habits and developing new behaviours can also leave to a reduction in weight loss.



Recent results from 90 people on the Do Something Different No Diet, Diet programme showed that nearly a half of them lost weight, at an average of 3.1 kgs. They also made a number of sustainable changes to healthy habits with average scored out of 100 shifting as follows:

  • Eat at least 5 portions of veg and fruit a day?” up from 53.3 to 65.3
  • Drink alcohol? down from 39.3 to 28.3
  • Spend at least half an hour a day being active e.g. playing sport or walking?” up from 48.4 to 60.7

Take control without the guilt and shame

Yes, this news about our appetite genes might show that nature isn’t as fair as we’d like it to be. But no, that doesn’t mean we should abandon the journey to a healthy BMI – there’s plenty we can do to help us on our way and at least now we can do it without the those gloomy, unhelpful companions, guilt and shame.