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I’ve been doing research for a new book I’m writing for therapists on how to treat eating and weight issues, and am continually amazed at how much of our capacity to eat “normally” and remain at a comfortable weight is rooted in our biology. Some 50-70% (different sources give different percentages) of our weight is predetermined genetically, giving us an inherited predisposition toward fat or thin. Although we can influence biology through stress management, changing unhealthy environments, practicing healthy habits, and getting regular exercise, we all have to work with what we’ve got.
Here are some theories you need to know if you’re working on eating and weight issues. As you read them, remember that these are all possible explanations for your struggles and that you still have to do whatever is in your power to achieve eating success. Be careful not to use this information to allow yourself to give up and feel hopeless. Because you have limitations (we all do), does not mean that you should surrender to dysfunctional thinking and behavior.
Research has shown that many obese people have a reduced number of dopamine receptors in their brain, a neurotransmitter that releases chemicals that give pleasure and elevates when they eat (or smell or even look at) foods they like. This may mean that they were born with fewer dopamine receptors and are looking to feel good from food because it’s hard to get enough dopamine generated in their systems on their own. Other people have mutations in the genes for leptin (which regulates satiation), although most overweight folks have no known genetic mutation that relates to eating and weight. People are more prone to obesity if they have what’s called an FTO gene variation or genes which store fat more efficiently than in thin or average weight people. And remember the story going around that having overweight friends can make you fat? Well, scientists have discovered evidence that some obesity may be caused by a bona fide viral infection. The name of the virus is AD-36 and it causes the body’s stem cells to develop into fat cells.
Not every person who struggles with weight has a virus or mutated gene that makes “normal” eating and weight loss difficult. However, you cannot rule out that your biology is what makes achieving your eating goals so darned hard. So go easy on yourself when you watch a friend take off 10 pounds in a flash and wonder why you can’t, or when you hear about someone shedding and keeping off 150 pounds. We all start out in a different place with food and weight and everyone has a different finish line.
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