We’ve all got that friend. The one who eats pure junk, gets hammered, sleeps for 4 hours a night, and is still skinnier, more muscular, and better looking than us. These genetically endowed pals are the ones who don’t gain any weight in studies designed to make you fat, while all you have to do is look at a muffin to put 3 pounds on. For them, whatever they do, they seem to win. For us, it’s all an uphill struggle; but there are good reasons to not let that stop us trying.
Where my body is concerned, I wish things were different. I could do with being 6 inches taller for starters, and the rate I put muscle on is so slow that I’m busting my ass in the gym to watch paint dry. I’ll never be as jacked as I’d like, even if I dedicated my life to it, but focusing entirely on my lack of heredity for muscle growth isn’t just disempowering, it’s actually self-limiting. It turns out our beliefs about our bodies have an impact beyond our genetics.
As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, the enemy of dieting is hunger. I don’t just mean the kind of hunger you feel when you smell freshly baked pastries or walk past a pizza place either, I’m talking about the actual, physical kind. If you’ve ever wolfed down a meal when cutting calories and wanted to eat again 20 seconds later, you’ll know what I mean. While the FOMO kind of hunger is based on our food environment and reward systems, the physical kind of hunger is largely genetic. You’re either someone with a big appetite, or you aren’t. At least so we thought.
In 2011, a groundbreaking study set out to test whether a hormone called ghrelin, a physical marker of fullness after a meal, changed depending on the mindset of the people involved.
- In the study, a group of 46 people were given a 380 calorie milkshake on two separate occasions
- On one occasion they were told it was a “sensible” 140 kcal shake, and on the other that it was an “indulgent” 620 kcal shake
- Even though on both occasions they were given the same 380 kcal shake, they reported feeling less satisfied, or fuller depending on which version of the shake they thought they were getting
- What makes this study groundbreaking, though, isn’t that you can trick people into feeling fuller, it’s the that the hormone ghrelin was actually affected
- This is the first study to show that your preconceived beliefs actually affect your physiology
Clearly, making people believe that the food they’re eating contains more or fewer calories than it really does can change how full or satisfied people feel after eating it. A new study took this to the next level. Instead of deceiving people about the calories in the food they were eating, they manipulated peoples beliefs about their actual genetics related to hunger and satiety, and the results were fascinating.
- The FTO gene influences hunger, how full you feel after a meal, and the risk of obesity
- 107 people were told they were signing up for a personalised health study lasting a year, aimed at recommending the best diet for them based on their genes
- The people in the study were split into two groups and told they had either a “protective” or “high-risk” version of the gene, regardless of their actual genetics
- They were all given a 480 calorie meal and blood tests were carried out after eating to test the levels of hunger and satiety hormones
- They were also asked to give their subjective rating of fullness after the meal
Here’s where things get interesting. The people who were told they had the good, “protective” version of the gene, had increased feelings of fullness after the meal and also saw a rise in one of the hormones involved with satiety. What is even more interesting, is that the people told they had the good or bad versions of the FTO gene changed the outcome of the experiment more than their actual genetics did.
Your beliefs about your genetics are more powerful than your actual genetics.
Maybe you’ve been told you’ll have the same “shape” as your mum regardless of what you eat or do in the gym? Perhaps your best friend was always effortlessly ripped, but despite how hard you tried you always struggled with your weight? You know what, none of that stuff matters.
Thinking about how you’ve struggled in the past, or using older members of your family as an example of your genetics is wasted energy. You can’t control that shit. You can control the number of calories you consume. You can control what you do in the gym. You can fit it all into a lifestyle that remains fluid, flexible, and fun. These are things to be positive about, these are things you can work on every day.
Your genetics might mean that losing weight is harder for you compared to other, lucky, people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still make progress. Accept that you are what you are, but don’t allow negative beliefs about your genetics hold your true potential back.
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