March 26, 2024 7 min read

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    If you’ve been struggling with weight management, you know just how complex and challenging the process is. How is it possible that your thin friend can indulge daily while you’re stuck questioning every bite? 

    While this is a cruel yet seemingly inevitable reality, as someone who’s been there, my first piece of advice before we even dive into the topic of weight would be to leave comparison out the door. Comparison remains the thief of joy and will only slow you down on your journey toward health and satisfaction.

    That said, there is nothing wrong with fully diving into the weight management process and arming yourself with knowledge. As crucial as it is, weight loss stretches beyond food intake and is a much more complex issue. 

    Today, we will take a closer look at the deciding factors in weight management and discover just how big of a role our genes play when looking at the bigger picture, so keep reading to find out more.

    The Energy Balance Approach

    Let’s start with the well-known facts facilitating weight loss - energy balance. This approach makes the weight loss scheme quite simple, as body weight depends on the relationship between calorie intake and usage. To simplify it even further, if you take in more calories than you’re burning through daily activities and exercise, they will develop into fat. With that formula in mind, to lose weight, we should limit our food intake (“energy in”) so it doesn’t exceed the energy we use daily (“energy out”).[1]

    Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) can help you determine the amount of calories your body burns in 24 hours at rest. BMR accounts for 60-80% of total energy expenditure (TEE), which combines BMR (the energy costs of crucial bodily processes such as digestion and absorption) and activity energy expenditure, otherwise known as your daily activities.[2

    Our body requires energy for all processes, whether essential internal functions such as development and recovery or grueling physical activity. Of course, factors such as gender, age, and body composition will significantly impact total expenditure.[3] 

    Luckily, we don’t have to solve this equation alone—the TDEE Calculator does a pretty decent job! However, before you take your maintenance or cut calories and embark on a journey known as a calorie deficit, let’s discuss the significance of calories in weight management.

    Calories In vs. Calories Out

    Is it that simple? When it comes to achieving a calorie deficit, yes. Using the calculator, you can find the magic number - the number of calories you should take in daily based on age, current weight, height, and daily activity level. 

    A calorie deficit is individual, but the goal is always the same: the energy intake through food should be lower than the energy we spend during the day. Of course, if your goal is sustainable, healthy weight loss, you should never drop your daily calorie intake too low

    A deficit greater than 800 calories is never recommended, and it should never be carried out (unless under strict medical monitoring and in limited conditions to treat obesity). Therefore, a calorie deficit of 500-750 kcal daily is optimal.[4]

    Is a Calorie Always Just a Calorie?

    As you already know, not all calories are created equal. Macronutrients play a vital role in a balanced diet, as we want to ensure we get enough protein to build and maintain lean muscle. Carbohydrates are essential for our energy levels, whereas the intake of healthy fats affects our hormonal status. Therefore, keeping track of your macros on top of calorie counting is one of the best techniques to achieve optimal results, and professional athletes often use it.

    However, a calorie is always a calorie when it comes to total energy expenditure and calorie intake. At the end of the day, a 500-calorie homemade chicken and broccoli meal is the same as a 500-calorie happy meal from McDonald’s—as long as we focus on a deficit. Regarding the nutritional status and quality of the meals, what you eat matters, and it is recommended that you base yourdiet on whole foods

    Calorie Deficit: A Tool, Not a Lifestyle

    Sustainable results come from indulging in your favorite foods every now and then and not labeling foods as intrinsically “good” or “bad,” as the black-or-white approach is extremely unhealthy. It is the amount that counts and what the majority of your day, week, or month looks like, as opposed to an occasional treat.

    It is essential to look at calorie deficit as a practical, effective, precise tool to help you reach your goals. However, your relationship with food is much more important than the number on the kitchen scale. With the incorrect mindset, calorie deficit (or any other type of weight loss strategy) can become a rabbit hole that is hard to escape without affecting your mental health. Here are a few tips for maintaining a healthy mindset on your weight loss journey:

    • View a calorie deficit as a tool rather than a lifestyle. Once you’ve seen progress and gained a general understanding of portion sizes and balanced meals, there’s no need to continue weighing your food.
    • Never label indulging as “cheating”. It is perfectly okay to have meals that are good for your mind without the slightest bit of guilt.
    • After indulging, just keep going. There’s no need to punish yourself for “breaking the rules,” as that could lead to a binge-and-restrict cycle most of us have been victims of.
    • Slow progress is still progress! In fact, the longer it takes you to lose the extra pounds, the higher your chances of keeping them off.
    • Don’t rely on the scale! The number on the scale can fluctuate depending on sodium intake, meal timing, time of the day, etc. Taking progress photos and videos is a much more reliable tracking tool. It will also keep you motivated.

    Learn more about the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approachhere.

    Blaming the Genetics… Rightfully So?

    While your rigid personal trainer might’ve told you that weight management issues come from poor diet habits and skipping your workouts and that blaming other factors is just an excuse, it may not be entirely accurate. While our weight and physique largely depend upon our eating habits and workout splits, we cannot rule out our genetic background.

    According to a study on genetic contributors to obesity[5], environmental factors are essential, but the heritability of obesity is also a strong indicator. Therefore, a genetic predisposition for obesity may make it harder for some people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Nevertheless, the weight-management approach in these cases remains the same, as the emphasis is on a nutrient-dense, balanced diet and regular daily activity that matches an individual's goals and capabilities.

    What’s more, specific genetic mutations may make a person more susceptible to weight gain. When combined with a sedentary lifestyle and a bad diet, the result is quite obvious. Multiple studies confirmed that the so-called obesity gene is associated with leptin production, a hormone primarily responsible for satiety signalization in the brain.[6] 

    Basically, leptin is secreted by fat cells to notify the brain that the fat-burning process can commence, and you’re feeling full. A disrupted leptin-melanocortin system could increase appetite and, consequently, cause overeating issues.[6]

    Speaking of the genetic factor, there are three primary genes affecting energy expenditure and weight management:

    • FTO: The FTO gene has two variants: the high-obesity risk and the low-obesity risk variant. Since each individual inherits two copies of the FTO gene from both parents, in the case of two high-risk variants, the chances of obesity are increased by ~70%.[7]
    • UCP1: The uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) plays a vital role in energy metabolism and, therefore, in the development of obesity.[8]
    • AMPD1: A study including patients with cardiovascular diseases concluded that gene mutations of AMPD1 are closely related to diabetes and obesity development.[9]

    Genetic Testing: Flipping the Odds in Your Favor

    If we were to build a weight loss strategy from scratch, we would first examine data such as BMI, TEE, a person’s mindset, goals, activity, and diet. After carefully analyzing each of these elements, we could create an optimized wellness and fitness plan for this person, keeping all their strengths and weaknesses in mind.

    However, as detailed as it may be, this plan would be missing a key component: the genetic factor. This is where genetic testing comes into play, as it allows us to decipher the genetic code and develop an extremely accurate, personal approach. Portals such as LifeDNA offer fitness reports solely based on an individual’s genetic code, including personalized recommendations for reaching their full potential.

    By unlocking the genetic code, we can create a bulletproof strategy that considers all critical factors. A detailed genetic report can reveal everything you ever wanted to know about optimal nutrition choices, deficiencies, food sensitivities, vitamin suggestions, carb and fat metabolism, and ideal activity options for your goals.

    In Summary

    Certain aspects of the weight loss journey are entirely controllable, such as increasing your step count on rest days, adding more protein into your diet, or getting eight hours of sleep. While genes don’t fall into this category, they’re no longer an enigma you must fear.

    With genetic testing, you can learn more about your body, needs, and genetic predispositions, which could be the missing piece of your wellness puzzle. Knowing what you’re up against or what works in your favor can boost your confidence and empower you to take your self-care journey in the right direction.

    Article References:

    1. Obesity, Healthy Weight Loss and Nutrition.” British Nutrition Foundation, www.nutrition.org.uk/health-conditions/obesity-healthy-weight-loss-and-nutrition/?level=Health%20professional.
    2. Heydenreich, J., Kayser, B., Schutz, Y., & Melzer, K. (2017). Total Energy Expenditure, Energy Intake, and Body Composition in Endurance Athletes Across the Training Season: A Systematic Review. Sports medicine - open, 3(1), 8. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-017-0076-1
    3. Pontzer, H., Yamada, Y., Sagayama, H., Ainslie, P. N., Andersen, L. F., Anderson, L. J., Arab, L., Baddou, I., Bedu-Addo, K., Blaak, E. E., Blanc, S., Bonomi, A. G., Bouten, C. V. C., Bovet, P., Buchowski, M. S., Butte, N. F., Camps, S. G., Close, G. L., Cooper, J. A., Cooper, R., … IAEA DLW Database Consortium (2021). Daily energy expenditure through the human life course.Science (New York, N.Y.), 373(6556), 808–812. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abe5017
    4. Kim J. Y. (2021). Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome, 30(1), 20–31. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20065
    5. McPherson R. (2007). Genetic contributors to obesity. The Canadian journal of cardiology, 23 Suppl A(Suppl A), 23A–27A. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0828-282x(07)71002-4
    6. How Much of a Role Does Genetics Play in Obesity?” Premium, 9 May 2023, www.nationalgeographic.com/premium/article/diet-obesity-weight-genetics-dna.
    7. Fat Mass and Obesity-Associated Gene (FTO).” News-Medical.net, 16 Mar. 2017, www.news-medical.net/health/Fat-Mass-and-Obesity-Associated-Gene-(FTO).aspx#:~:text=The%20FTO%20gene%20comes%20in.
    8. Chathoth, Shahanas, et al. “Association of Uncoupling Protein 1 (UCP1) Gene Polymorphism with Obesity: A Case-Control Study.” BMC Medical Genetics, vol. 19, 20 Nov. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6247512/, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12881-018-0715-5. Accessed 10 May 2020.
    9. Safranow, K., Suchy, J., Jakubowska, K., Olszewska, M., Bińczak-Kuleta, A., Kurzawski, G., Rzeuski, R., Czyżycka, E., Łoniewska, B., Kornacewicz-Jach, Z., Ciechanowicz, A., & Chlubek, D. (2011). AMPD1 gene mutations are associated with obesity and diabetes in Polish patients with cardiovascular diseases. Journal of applied genetics, 52(1), 67–76. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13353-010-0009-x



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