Jan 7, 2014

Genetics. Foe or Friend?

Genetics are a contributing factor to our ability to lose or gain weight.  A true battle that people have been fighting for the past couple of decades.  It is nothing new, we all know that some people are naturally skinny and some people are naturally soft or gain weight easily.

My dad was skinny all through growing up and high school but gained weight in his twenties.  He continuously gained weight and had cholesterol as well as blood pressure issues.  My mom was thin and gained weight easily but she kept it under control and did a great job maintaining most of the time.  My brother was a chubby kid and grew to gain more and more weight.  He is going to kill me when he sees this but he lost the weight a few years ago and has kept it off.  However, he struggled with it for most of his life and still struggles with it today even though he is no longer obese.

My grandparents were skinny and grew to be overweight and they struggled with many diets.  My grandfather died of a massive heart attack.  My grandmother is still overweight and attempts diets here and there.  Key word here is “diet” because I am using it in the manner that most of the population uses it and that is a means of losing weight.  The problem with using it in this context is that “diets” are usually temporary and with that comes temporary results.  When we re-train our thinking and view the word diet as a way of eating ALL THE TIME then our results will be permanent. 

Obviously if our diet is mostly poor then our health will reflect that.  It can be in the way of excess weight and it can be in the form of medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and much more.  On the opposite side of that, if our diet is good (or mostly good) then we will be healthier.  I know some people have medical conditions that are not related to being overweight and some problems have unknown causes.  These are things that are usually out of our control but preventing food-related illnesses are within our control. 

Some people are born with food allergies and they do not consume whatever they are allergic to.  My family gains weight easily.  Some people do not gain weight easily and work hard to overcome being skinny.  These are obstacles that are passed down to us generation to generation.  This does not mean there is nothing we can do about it.  It just means we have to work harder to achieve the goal we have.  The skinny person has to lift more and eat more.  The soft person has to watch what they eat and incorporate more physical activity.

It is not the end of the world even though it is extremely frustrating.  I would love to magically have a dream body without putting much effort and eating whatever I want whenever I want.  Unfortunately, for most of us, it does not work that way.  It is ok.  It just means we have to work harder toward our goal and that makes it more rewarding.  It is no different than people who have worked to earn a college degree.  The degree was earned not passed or handed to themThe CEO of a company worked their way to the top, starting somewhere at the bottom.

I read a blog comment where someone stated that the fit person was lucky (and ‘lucky’ was all caps) and genetically gifted (I am paraphrasing now) but the point was that the fit person had not actually put in any work.  It was pretty mean but I can understand how the person felt that way.  They probably were given something, genetically, that they wanted to change and had not, yet, figured out how to do it.  The fact is we can manipulate our body to obtain what we desire.  As long as we are willing to put in the work.  Sometimes people put in the work but need more knowledge about nutrition or exercise. 

As an example, one of my co-workers told me she was eating healthier and even cutting carbs.  She thought cutting carbs was the key to weight loss and that eating better would erase the pounds.  She told me she was eating whole avocados for snacks and in addition to meals.  While avocados are extremely nutritious and good for you, they are also high in calories and fat.  It is a good fat but a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from.  Another co-worker was doing the same.  Cutting carbs and adding good fats.  She was eating nuts by the handful all day long and exercising but could not figure out why the weight was not melting away.

Our body burns fuel (food) all the time and when incorporating exercise it will use what is in our stomach first, then take fuel from the storage (fat) last.  The body does not like to use its storage because it thinks it may need it another time (like in the pioneer or cave man days when food was scarce) so the stomach growls and rumbles.  We are now hungry because the body used what we ate so, naturally, we eat.  We eat when we are hungry, that is what we are supposed to do but when we are trying to lose weight we have to create a deficit.  This means we have to consume less than we burn off and that is how fat cells decrease in size.  (Not in numbers, fat cells do not decrease in numbers only size)

Back to my co-worker who was now exercising and eating healthier but not losing weight.  She was not losing because she added healthy fats that were also higher in calories.  Plus, she was eating more often which meant she was replacing the calories burned and not creating a deficit.  She was confused because the doctor had directed her to eat these healthier fats and workout but had not indicated portion sizes are important to pay attention to.  He had also not pointed out that she will become hungry more often with exercise so the education she received was good but it was not fully explained. 

Knowledge can be applied in the battle against genetic predispositions.  I may view a skinny person and think they are “lucky” because they do not gain weight by looking at a piece of cake and a skinny person may view me as “lucky” because I can gain weight easier.  It always reminds me we always want what we do not have.  I have thin hair and wish I had thick hair.  My friends have thick hair & wish it were thinner ….maybe not quite as thin as mine though! J

It also reminds me of some guys at my work.  I used to use the gym at work, during my lunch break.  I had to squeeze in a workout, a shower and eat in 1 hour.  Fine by me cuz I don’t want to spend my whole life in the gym anyway.  I have a lot of stuff to do and the longer I am in the gym, the less time I have to do the other things.  Anyway, a trainer taught me years ago that I do not need to spend 1.5 hours in the gym every day.  He asked, “How would you like it if you could get in and out in 30 minutes?”  I said I would love it but it would be impossible because I had to do cardio and weights.  He said he could show me how to get cardio in without setting foot on a treadmill or any other cardio-related machine. 

He taught me how to do my work out in 30 minutes and all I did was lift.  I lifted heavier than I was used to and super-setted EVERYTHING.  I still apply this today and I did it at work.  The guys laughed at me and said “it must be nice to have genetics like that”.  The truth was that they rested (excessively) between each set and they chatted a lot during their session.  Oh, and they did not always shower.  I did the same number of sets and reps they did, plus added abs and talked while working out rather than stopped to talk.  I know it is sometimes difficult to avoid talking at the gym because you get to know the peeps that go to your gym but it is ok to begin your next set while talking.

While we cannot change how we were born, we can still make adjustments once we learn how our body is.  My dad was skinny while he was younger because he was active and burned off the food he ate.  As he slowed down and became less and less active, he ate the same amount of food.  He gained weight and could never get it off.  My mom also gained weight for the same reason.  Being less and less active but she figured out that when she ate less and lighter foods, she would lose the weight she gained.  I watched her adjusted her eating upon several occasions.  My brother and I still fluctuate but we have figured out what role our genetics plays and have reacted to that.  We did not run into a massive bowl of “luck”.  We made a conscious choice to eat better.  And, it seems, over the holidays we choose to eat poorly or excessively.  LOL

I am not implying my brother and I are perfect…. or that you should want to be just like us.  I am saying it is absolutely possible to adjust what nature has dealt us.

Matter of fact, in my early 30’s I gained weight and could not get it off for the life of me.  I busted my a** at the gym and ate better.  Nothing.  WTH??!!  Then I realized that ‘eating better’ still had a few tiny snacks here and there which always seemed to be fine before.  So I just accepted the fact that I had gotten ‘softer’ and figured that was going to be my body post-30.  That is what I had always heard…. You know “the metabolism slows after 30” and that it slows again every 7-10 years.  Then I realized my life had slowed.  I was not as active because I did not go dancing every Friday and Saturday night anymore.  I worked a desk job instead of the up and down at Jenny Craig.  I no longer lived in my condo where I had to walk a mile from my parking spot to my door, and then walk more to do laundry and take out the trash.  Little things I did not even think of but really make a difference.  After a long night of dancing (and drinking) I would take a cab home and leave my car overnight then walk or run to pick it up.  I do not go out like that anymore so I am not getting in the extra walks/runs. 

I had not really thought of all these little things but they count.  My body did not need to burn as much fuel so it slowed down and I was still eating the same.  I had to either eat less or work out more.  I really like eating so this was going to be tough!!  Shortened version, I did it and it took close to a year but I realized that my age and genetics did not have to have the better of me.  I made some adjustments, stuck with them and it worked.  Again, I am not saying “look at me, look at me”.  I am saying it is possible for anyone who wants it!!  Luck is not good enough.  You have to work at it and earn it on your own, just like thousands of others have!

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