May 24, 2016

Why our Genes don’t Determine our Destiny (& What Actually Does).


fat thin overweight diet

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first:

Some genes can predispose us to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease.

Regardless of those unique cases, predisposition is not pre-destiny. In other words, a familial history of obesity or chronic disease does not render us powerless in becoming fat and sick.

In a comprehensive study on genes and obesity, researchers identified 32 different genes that can contribute to obesity. Even in the unlikely case we actually had all 32 genes, they would only account for 22 pounds of extra weight.

We don’t have to accept that familial disposition to certain conditions means getting them is inevitable. By eating well and exercising, we can prevent obesity or Type 2 diabetes, what I collectively call diabesity.

Rather than obsessively worry about genetics, our body becomes the best way to gauge how we should eat. How do we feel after eating certain foods? Are we feeling alert, vibrant, abundant in energy, or are we feeling, sluggish, bloated, and in a fog?

In my own practice, I’ve found most people do much better with a higher-fat, lower-carbohydrate diet. Research supports this.

A one-year, multi-center, controlled trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at 63 obese men and women randomly assigned to either a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet or a low-calorie, high-carbohydrate, low-fat conventional diet. The low-carbohydrate diet folks lost more weight and had lower levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

Yet this wasn’t the case for everyone. We are all unique individuals with different biochemical needs. We all do better with fewer refined carbohydrates that break down to sugar.

Some people do better with more carbohydrates or less fat. Again, our body will let us know. Interestingly, once we heal the body and reverse diabesity, we may be able to handle more varieties of foods as our body becomes more resilient.

Ultimately, what works for one person might not work for others. Everyone is different and has different biochemical needs. And yes, some people have genes predetermined for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other complications. Even so, nobody becomes doomed simply because of faulty genetics.

While genes play some role, they do not determine our destiny. Everyone can start with these seven strategies for weight loss and optimal health.


  1. Focus on eating real, whole foods. Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables, some lower-sugar fruits if we can tolerate them, grass-fed meats, pastured chicken and eggs, and wild-caught fish.
  2. Eat plenty of healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, and some grass-fed butter. Eating healthy fats helps burn fat by speeding up our metabolism. Our cells and brain also require fat to function fat optimally. To learn more about the healthy fats that help us become lean and healthy, check out my new book Eat Fat, Get Thin.
  3. Avoid processed sugars and refined carbohydrates. Limit grain intake from breads, cereals, pastas, rice and starches. Avoid baked goods and sweets, and watch your intake of alcohol.
  4. Take optimal nutrients. A good multivitamin-mineral covers the nutrient bases we’re probably not getting from food. I also recommend as “just the basics” a professional-quality fish oil, extra vitamin D and magnesium, a probiotic, and a fiber supplement to help balance blood sugar levels.
  5. Control stress levelsBeing constantly stressed out wrecks havoc on our health, hormones, and weight. Find something that helps taper down stress, whether that means yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. Many patients find my UltraCalm CD helps dial down stress levels.
  6. Get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can make us fat and can also contribute to depression, pain and inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, and many more health issues. Getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep is vital to optimal health. Grab 19 of my top sleep tips here.
  7. Exercise regularly. We can’t exercise our way out of a bad diet, but exercise does make our cells and muscles more insulin sensitive, reducing dangerous belly fat. About 30 minutes of walking daily is a great way to start. Others will want something more intense. Studies demonstrate the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT), which we can do in as little as 20 minutes.


While some people need to work harder, everyone can create optimal weight and metabolism to reverse or prevent most chronic disease.

If you have a family history of obesity, diabetes, or other chronic diseases, what lifestyle choices made it possible for you to overcome these pre-dispositions? Would you add anything to this list? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.


Author: Mark Hyman

Image: Sean MacEntee/Flickr

Editor: Emily Bartran

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