There are things that you’re thrilled to inherit from your mother, like her eyes—or her jewelry. But her struggle with being overweight? Are you fated to take that on, too?
While the exact influence of your genes on your poundage is a hotly contested topic, we know that genes do play a role. For example, a pair of identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes) are more likely to have the same BMI than a pair of fraternal twins (who share about 50 percent of their genes). “Studies of families estimate that over half of the population’s variation in BMI can be attributed to genetic differences in individuals,” says Dan Belsky, Ph.D., an assistant research professor at Duke University Social Science Research Institute.
That said, DNA is not destiny. “The percentage of people who are obese has risen dramatically, but the genomes haven’t changed,” says Belsky. (Obesity has risen from an estimated 11.6 percent in 1990 to 29.4 percent in 2014.) The development is due to the evolution of our environment—and our response to it—not a change in the DNA of our species.
According to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine, a predisposition to obesity can be reduced by 40 percent with exercise—40 percent! If you’re having trouble losing weight and have always blamed your parents for it, Elyse Sosin, R.D., recommends re-evaluating your routine since people so often overestimate their activity. Be honest: Are you getting the CDC-recommended 150 to 300 minutes of exercise per week? “Also, ask yourself when you last changed your exercise routine,” says Sosin. “When you get used to the routine, you adapt, and you don’t get that same rev [in your metabolism].” And remember: Muscle is more efficient than fat in terms of metabolizing calories, so be sure to incorporate strength-training into your routine.
Of course, the benefits of exercise are complemented by a healthy diet. Experts recommend cutting sugar, which has been linked to obesity-related conditions and diseases—many of which are genetic, interestingly. (According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increases the association between genes and a high BMI and raises the risk of obesity.)
The upshot? No matter what your genes say, you do have the power to control your habits. Sure, bodies are different and you may have to work harder than your SoulCycle neighbor seems to be working, but you’re not powerless to change your weight.