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You always hear that genes influence our weight. How exactly, you will learn here. “Fat people” are often labeled by “thin people” as undisciplined and having a lack of willpower. They supposedly eat too much, can’t restrain themselves when eating, and this is where their obesity comes from. Overweight occurs in all age groups and social classes. A slim body has nothing to do with willpower or intelligence.
Genes explained simply
There are genes in us that are dominant, such as our eye colors. You can look through rose-colored glasses for as long as you want, but your eyes won’t turn pink. Whereas other genes, such as body weight and diseases are changeable. This means that we have the leverage to control these attributes, even if it is harder or easier for some people due to their genetics.
How do satiety and hunger work?
You think eating less and exercising more is the solution to losing weight? No. You don’t have to learn to hold back on eating or count calories. The only way to satisfy the natural feeling of satiety and lose weight at the same time is not in how much we eat, but in what we eat. The body is designed not to carry around excess fat. So obesity is not a problem of your genes, but how you feed your genes. And our standard Western diet simply feeds those genes wrong. This is the reason for so many overweight people in our society. The hunger system is designed to be highly complex. In summary, it works by a combination of pleasure satiating (taste) and pain avoidance (tension, dizziness, headaches, etc.). When we have eaten, both of these mechanisms are satisfied (Lisle & Goldhammer, 2003, p. 68).
Mechanism of satiety
Three mechanisms control that we don’t starve or overeat.
No. 1 Stretch receptors
When we eat, nerves in our gastrointestinal tissues are stimulated. These stretch receptors tell the brain, based on the amount eaten when we are full. If we eat only a small amount, our brain sends “not yet full.” When we overeat, pain kicks in and our brain says “stop, I’m full.” Using these mechanisms, you can’t accidentally eat 25 apples at once without feeling pain. Likewise, you won’t accidentally eat just one grain of rice and get full from it. Nevertheless, the stretch receptors alone are not sufficient for the feeling of fullness.
No. 2 Nutrient receptors
Just as you can tell 100 dollars from 10 cents, our nutrient receptors can tell how nutritious a food is. Raw vegetables contain about 100 calories per pound, fresh fruit 300, and a meat hamburger 1200, making it 12 times more calorie-dense than vegetables. Our gastrointestinal system contains receptors that thus tell us not only how much food we have eaten (stretch receptors), but also how calorie-dense (nutrient receptors) something is. Foods contain both macro- and micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, and water. Note: it is the macronutrients, not the micronutrients, that are critical to feeling full.
|protein||1800 calories per pound|
|carbohydrates||1800 calories per pound|
|fat||4000 calories per pound|
With No. 1 (stretch receptors) and No. 2 (nutrient receptors), our body thus ensures that it does not take in too much or too little food. However, these two are still not enough for the feeling of satiety.
No. 3 Fat monitoring system
Our hunger is also controlled by a “fat monitoring system”, which is distributed throughout the body by sensors. This system determines our body fat percentage and sends that to the eating center of the brain. This mechanism is quiet when our body is within its optimal weight. However, once a person successively overeats, these sensors say to the hunger center “you’re overweight, eat less.” In nature, the system works great. There are no overweight animals, except for our pets. And that’s no accident because we’ve also heavily industrialized and processed their food. Even blue whales, which are considered fat, have a body fat percentage of only 12 percent. But why are we becoming more and more overweight? How can our sense of hunger and satiety fail so miserably? The answer is simple. Our modern and concentrated foods are messing with our internal calorie-counting machine. No. 1, 2, and 3 of satiety no longer function optimally, we gain weight. Our food these days is mostly sugar, oil, flour products, and low in fiber. White rice vs. brown rice. Fresh strawberries vs. strawberry ice cream. Steamed vegetables vs. antipasti swimming in fat. Fruit vs. candy. Which do you think provides better satiety and fewer calories for the same amount?
The secret of slim people
Why are there still slim people among us despite our modern diet? The genes are to blame. There are three types of “weight genes” that we can have. Simply speaking, they are divided into overweight genes, normal genes, and slim genes. If you are of the slim-gene variety, congratulations! This sort of people will always stay slim, regardless of what kind of diet they eat. People with slimming genes have a very fine satiety system, which can measure much more accurately the ingested calorie density from our artificial and fatty food. The brain signals “I am full” faster than, for example, a person with “overweight genes”. Their slim figure, therefore, has nothing to do with discipline or emotional strength. Nature has merely gifted them. The first and biggest problem of our western, modern diet is too much fat. The second problem is the removal of vegetable fiber. The less concentrated/calorie-dense foods you eat, the lower your body fat percentage. The closer you want to get to the “low” point, the more you need to reduce or even eliminate the concentrated foods (nuts, oil, bread, pasta, etc.). We are designed to get most of our calories from plants. These are fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Mind you, nuts and seeds in tiny amounts are sufficient. Through these enumerated foods, we get all the essential nutrients our bodies need. By removing the fiber from these plant foods, our stretch receptors no longer function optimally. Dietary fiber has no calories but ensures that we take in more volume of food while consuming fewer calories than, for example, consuming white flour products (Lisle & Goldhammer, 2003, pp. 77-81).
How calorie-dense is our modern food?
Calories per pound
|grains, potatoes, beans & legumes||500-600|
|bread with cheese||1700|
Do you notice something when you’re walking through the supermarket? The majority of food is exactly what our sense of satiety is no longer optimal with. Sadly, fiber is being removed from almost all foods. Bread, pasta, flour products, soft drinks, chips, and candy all contain virtually no fiber anymore. When this fiber is removed, there is a higher caloric density per mass. We need more of this low-fiber food to be full. Americans only eat 7% of the most important, healthiest, slimming foods which are fruits and vegetables. 51 % come from processed and refined foods and 42 % from meat and dairy.
More volume = fewer calories
Here’s an example of how quickly you eat excess calories without considering satiety:
- Plate No. 1: pasta with vegetables (500 calories)
- Plate No. 2: pasta with vegetables (500 calories) + a few spoonfuls of oil (300 calories)
Both dishes provide the same satiety, but plate No. 2 has a whole 300 calories more. When we order pasta at the Italian restaurant, the pasta is swimming in oil.
Conclusion and the solution for weight problems
Our western diet is way too concentrated for us. The only reason you have excess weight is that your food is too concentrated and calorie-dense. You don’t have a psychological problem, discipline problem, emotional problem, etc., which contributes to excess fat. Usually, these weight and eating problems first lead to psychological or emotional problems and not the other way around.
Get out of the trap
It is not easy in a world where the majority of food has unfortunately been processed into a pleasure trap, as an ordinary consumer to gain the perspective for a healthy diet. But the only solution for a permanently healthy weight is to swap your current food with less concentrated foods. Instead of white rice, choose whole grain rice, instead of sweets, choose fruit, etc. No portion control is necessary for this, because nature has endowed each of us with an optimal sense of satiety and internal weight control. These two function optimally only if we eat a whole food plant-based diet.
Give your taste buds time
The dietary change has a small, but thankfully fixable catch called the “pleasure trap”. As you now know, satiety involves “satiating your cravings.” Our bodies naturally seek out calorie-dense foods because they satisfy our cravings faster and increase our dopamine output. You can find a more detailed explanation in the article The Pleasure Trap – Everything in moderation. The myth of moderation. A diet change towards less calorie-dense foods is at the beginning not as pleasurable as our conventional diet, high in fat, sugar, and salt. The good news is that it takes for the nervous system 30-90 days to adjust to the new way of eating (Lisle & Goldhammer, 2003, p. 89). Getting started is harder for some than others, but ultimately we are all in the same soup. Our conventional diets are making us addicted, sick, and fat. As with any addiction, only withdrawal is the solution. Once you get started, you’ll have a lifetime of a healthy weight, and enjoyment.
If you need help with weight loss, binge eating, or healthy eating in general, feel free to schedule a consultation with me.
- Lisle & Goldhammer, (2003), The Pleasure Trap – Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness, Health Living Publications: Tennessee
- How to Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind