Can DNA testing help you lose weight?

After seeing the findings and advice from one lab, you’re more likely to end up heavier.

Can personalised genetics or DNA testing in relation to how you eat be useful? One of my clients was curious to know, so she went online and completed the application.

weight loss


My clients assessment was in relation to body size and shape, body weight, ability to lose weight and how the body handles fat and the impact this has on lipid profile. The claim is that your genetic profile can give you information on these factors and how to eat to best manage them.

I’m not going to comment on how accurate the findings are, as I simply don’t know. What I would like to comment on, is the advice given to my client… and there is so much wrong with this advice it’s hard to know where to start.

She was advised (suggested with the help of a health professional) to reduce total calories per day by a substantial amount – similar to what is recommended by most diets or weight loss programs – and to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.

Aside from the advice being the exact same stock standard generally unhelpful advice you can find anywhere, there was no consideration of;

  1. What my client was currently eating or doing exercise wise. Had my client already been restricting, such advice could be highly nutritionally compromising, or heading toward an eating disorder.
    .
  2. How many times my client had tried this before and lost weight and then regained.
    ..
  3. My clients current weight now being at its heaviest after 15 years of trying to do exactly what they suggested.
    .
  4. Previous calorie restriction resulting in over-eating and and an increased desire to eat sugary food. Something we have been working on for almost 2 years now and which my client is seeing improvements with.
    .
  5. My clients psychological health after 15 years of struggling with dieting and weight, which when she first came to see me had left her with a very damaged relationship with food and body.
    .
  6. What my client might already be doing to address her health and where she is at with this, and the impact that their advice might have on her progress.

Quite frankly, I’m stunned and appalled. This DNA testing is simply dieting repackaged without any serious consideration for the person’s lived experience or psychological status.

My advice – don’t waste your time or money.

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A thinner person is not necessarily a healthy person just as a fatter person is not necessarily an unhealthy person.

We must stop lumping people into one homogenous group. If a person is fat, this does not mean they eat poorly or don’t exercise, just a thin person doesn’t necessarily workout daily and drink kale smoothies.

I am using the word fat as a purely descriptive word, just as we use thin, tall, short etc. I place no negative connotations on this word. If you feel uncomfortable by use of the word “fat” (and I still do at times), this is totally understandable given we live in a culture where we have been conditioned to believe and feel that fat is bad and shameful. There is a growing movement to reclaim the word ‘fat’ as a non-judgemental descriptor – just as thin, tall, short are.

There is an assumption in our society that fat people are not taking care of their health. Sure, some fat people engage in behaviours that adversely affect their health, but so do some thin people! Fat people vary just as much as thin people when it comes to the spectrum of health and what it means to be healthy. We cannot assess a person’s health simply from their body size and doing so does nothing to empower people to engage in healthier behaviours, in fact, it usually does quite the opposite.

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When government bodies and the media talk about the “obesity epidemic” or wage “war on obesity”, fat people are lumped into one homogenous group, a group regarded as a serious health risk and a problem that needs fixing. When news stations show images of “headless fatties” walking around town or eating something deemed “unhealthy” they are implying that if your body looks like this – YOU are a problem. Quite frankly these images are discriminatory and dehumanising.

Whatever your body size, imagine you are watching a news story that is talking about a significant problem within a group of people and next second, you see an image of yourself… how would this make you feel? Irate, unjustly portrayed, discriminated against? Would this lead you to suddenly change your behaviour? You might be thinking “but I am exercising regularly and I do eat well!” – and this is the case for many people in larger bodies. Many fat people are conscious of their eating and they are physically active. Not all are, but nor are all thin people and no one, whatever their size, benefits from being discriminated against.

If you work in an area of government, public health or media that is involved in “obesity” campaigns, or if you know someone who does, I implore you to please take a moment to consider the impact of these campaigns. Please also take a moment to look at this study on stigma and this study on shame which discuss how public health campaigns and attitudes around obesity/weight may actually serve to damage health.

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Just eat more celery and less meat pies!

Want to lose weight?

Just eat more celery and less meat pies!

While most people should recognise this as ridiculous advice, is it really any different to the message of just eat more veggies and less “junk”? As in, if losing weight were that simple, surely the millions of people who have tried to lose weight would have been successful by now. In addition, the current common wisdom around what is required to control body weight is mistaken (weight loss is not a simple equation of eat less and move more), which helps explain why no one is able to do it.

If we were machines and could just program our food for the day, then just doing what is suggested by this “common wisdom”, might actually be possible – but we are not machines, we are complex organisms with complex emotional and physiological needs and desires. You can’t simply instruct someone on how to eat to meaningfully* lose weight – oh wait, that’s what most weight loss programs try to do – it’s no wonder they don’t work!

*meaningfully, meaning in a way that benefits the individual mentally and physically over their life-time

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So why isn’t it as simple as just eat more veggies and less “junk”?

Factors that influence food choices:

  • How hungry you are
  • Awareness of how hungry you are
  • How long since you last ate
  • The type of food you late ate
  • The type of food that appeals to your taste buds
  • The type of food available
  • History of dieting
  • Past or current food restriction
  • Emotional state
  • How tired you are
  • How much sleep you’re getting
  • How much stress you’re under
  • Your hormones and metabolic factors
  • Any medications you may be on
  • Where you’re next meal is coming from
  • A sense of when and what you’re going to be eating next
  • How active you’ve been
  • What you’ve got on for the rest of your day
  • What the other people you’re eating with will eat
  • What other people are telling you you should or should not be eating

I’m sure there’s many more, so feel free to add more in the facebook comments.

Eating celery over meat pies, or less extreme, advice to eat more veggies and less highly processed food does not take into account or address any of these factors, in fact, placing the emphasis on the food could exacerbate a number of them. Now, I am not for a second staying eating more veggies is not a worthwhile pursuit, or would not benefit health. Instead, I am wanting to highlight that very often, well meaning dietary advice falls way short of the mark and only serves to perpetuate our culture’s unhelpful and often very damaging diet and weight loss industries.

 

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Want to learn how to nourish your body without
having to diet or restrict food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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It’s not about willpower

I have a number of clients whose significant other (in my clients words)…

“Is able to eat anything without gaining weight”

“Is 6 foot tall and race horse lean and able to eat as much as they want”

“Can just leave chocolate in the fridge for days or weeks”

“Will choose to eat fruit even when there’s cake just sitting there”

non diet dietitian

And when these significant others see my clients struggling with food and weight, they may say things like;

“Just don’t eat as much”

“Just don’t buy it”

“Are you sure you really need that?”

“Wouldn’t you be better of having…”

“Just put it somewhere you can’t see it”

“It’s not rocket science, just eat a bit less and move more”

With regard to the first round of statements, if a person happens to have a smaller or leaner body type (due to genetics), then they may never have felt the need (or pressure) to restrict food. They may never have had anyone (such as a parent or other relative) restrict their food or suggest “you shouldn’t eat that”.

The reason they can leave chocolate in the fridge or choose fruit over chocolate has less to do with willpower and much more to do with never having been truly restricted of food, or made to feel “bad” about eating food. Deprivation drives desire and it is the restriction of food (both physically and mentally) that so often leads to over-eating or feeling like you’ll never stop once you start.

The notion that these people can “eat anything they want” without gaining weight is because they have permission to eat anything they want, again, they haven’t been restricted, they (often) literally eat whatever they feel like. That said, not everyone in a smaller body allows themselves to eat freely, some will still “be careful” or restrict certain things. Some of these people are being unnecessarily careful and with some, it may be helping them stay smaller, however these people have genetically smaller bodies to begin with. The combination of not being in a state of constant food restriction (or having the belief that you should be restricting) and a genetically smaller body, means these people don’t face the same struggle with food that others may face.

With regard to the second round of statements, if someone close to you says these (or you are this person), please understand they although they are usually said with the best of intentions, they are unhelpful and misguided for the reasons explained. Unfortunately we live in a culture that continually validates this way of thinking without stopping to question why so many people struggle with food in the first place. If you want to discover a different way of thinking, you might like to learn about intuitive eating. Often these significant others are intuitive eaters.

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our
 
free quiz to find out
.

Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to diet or restrict food?
Learn about int
uitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

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If you regain weight after losing it, it’s not your fault…

When you regain weight after losing weight, it’s common to blame yourself for shortcomings.

FACT: If you regain weight after losing it, it’s not your fault…

It’s because our bodies are carefully designed to defend against weight loss. For most people, intentional weight loss involves a self imposed famine. Meaning, if you’re not giving your body enough food energy, it goes into famine mode, just as it would were there an actual famine.

Famine mode is designed to keep us alive when food is scarce.

Famine mode results into the brain going into hyperdrive thinking about food; food looks better, smells better, tastes better and you can’t help but think about food a lot of the time. Sound familiar?

Famine mode slows down our metabolism so we don’t need to eat much food to keep our bodies functioning.

Famine mode messes with our appetite hormones where your hunger and fullness hormones respond differently to when you’re adequately fed. You may not feel very hungry until you eat, and then you feel ravenous and want to eat everything. Your fullness hormone may then be slow to kick in allowing you to eat more food then usual.

 

non diet dietitian


Famine mode is a key reason people regain weight and NOT because:

  • You stopped the diet
  • You ate too much or the wrong food
  • You didn’t have enough willpower
  • You didn’t exercise hard enough
  • Your routine changed
  • You went on holiday and never “got back into it”
  • You started a new relationship and food was a big part
  • You didn’t try hard enough

For an alternative to pursuing weight loss and the way to avoid famine mode, click here. For more of the research on why diets and pursuing weight loss doesn’t work long-term, click here.

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to diet or restrict food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

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Weight is not the problem

As a society, we are so convinced weight is the issue, we have lost sight of what it really means to care for our health.
.

Key reasons we believe weight is the problem, are;
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  • The weight cycling industry (aka weight loss or diet industry) that keeps selling weight loss as the answer to success and happiness
    .
  • The traditional medical model that so often blames weight for ill health even when it’s unrelated and that labels people’s body size based on a recognised inaccurate measure of health – the BMI scale
    .
  • Our culture’s strong weight bias (fat is bad, thin is good) and weight stigma (people in large bodies are constantly judged by their size)
    .
  • Friends, family and loved ones who (with misguided good intention) comment about your food and weight and who congratulate you or say “you look great” when you lose weight
    .
  • Well meaning health professionals who have so much to offer, but are themselves caught up in a weight focused paradigm and diet model and haven’t yet realised how problematic this is – I used to be one of these
    .

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Let me give you an example…

A patient came to me wanting to lose 10kg she had gained over the past 2 years, increased back pain was a key reason. The message she received from her doctor, health care provider, her family and society was that the weight gain was the key issue.

I asked my client, if anything had changed in her life 2 years ago? Her response… “I suddenly got busy at work and my activity dropped off, I wasn’t sleeping as well, I felt stressed and exhausted much of the time and my comfort eating increased.”

It should be clear that this person’s issue is not the weight itself, but rather all the factors that affected her self care and for which the weight gain was just a side effect of. It must also be noted that activity levels, sleep (or lack there of) and stress can all influence back pain independent of body weight. So even if she hadn’t gained weight, she may well have experienced worsening back pain. 

As a society, we would be much more effective at helping people if we took the focus off weight and instead discussed the myriad of aspects that affect our capacity to self care. 

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to diet or restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne