Some things you’re born with. Like freckles, bushy eyebrows, or webbed feet! Just kidding, hopefully you weren’t born with webbed feet. Anyhow, one thing you’re not born with is a fat gene.
It’s true that genetics can play a big role in your ability to gain or lose weight. Some people metabolize food quickly and are able to lean out quickly. Others have a harder time getting rid of body fat, which could be due to metabolic or hormonal issues that are inherited.
Here’s the skinny. If your family has a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, take a good look at behaviors before just blaming genetics. The most common reasons why families get fat has nothing to do with inherited traits and everything to do with established habits. Do you frequently go out for meals or eat in front of the TV? Is dessert a staple in your home each night? Are your kids more likely to sit on the couch scrolling through screens instead of playing outside? If so, it’s likely that your family has inherited bad habits, not bad genes.
Of course, there’s definitely a perfect storm where people who have difficulty losing body fat adopt unhealthy behaviors as a result. As a kid, I fell into that category. Hormonal imbalances are typical on my mom’s side of the family, and I was always much bigger than other kids at school. Those factors made it hard for me to get excited about sports or any kind of physical activity. It was just plain harder to get around!
Consequentially, I turned to food and other activities. I took up orchestra and got pretty good, but playing the viola doesn’t exactly get your heart rate up. My family’s habits were terrible too—lots of Chinese take-out and ice cream in the freezer. I assumed that we were just fat people and that nothing would change because it was born into us.
I was wrong. My parents decided it was time to end the cycle when I was a teenager, and the whole family made big lifestyle changes. Our plates suddenly had a lot more green on them and I began to push myself to be active. As my new behaviors began to combat my body’s propensity to retain fat, I was so surprised as the weight came off. I realized that I was not born fat, and I didn’t have to stay that way either. It was the most empowering feeling!
As I begin raising my own family, I’ve thought a lot about how to prevent my little girl from believing that she’s just got the fat gene, like I once did. I think the key to keeping my family healthy is leading by example—involving the whole family in sports and activities, developing a good relationship with food, and being open about my own experiences.
Getting healthy required me to stop blaming my weight on my genetics or just being “big-boned” and to hold myself accountable for what went on in my body. It was scary, because I couldn’t justify my size with outside factors anymore. The process was totally worth it though, and I encourage you to do the same. Realize that you are more than your genetic makeup, and if you want to stop a bloodline of unhealthy behavior, do it at your own dinner table.