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Genes and Your Sweet Tooth

Ever wonder how some people easily pass up sweets while you can’t seem to say no? Part of your response is from the way you were raised and your beliefs about food, eating and weight, but there also may be a physiological component to your problem. Nothing about food is ever simple, is it?

An article entitled “Sweet Tooth” from February 2009 on explains: “Some of us really can’t have just one sugary treat. A gene that tells our brain when we’ve had enough is less sensitive to glucose in certain people, so they may overindulge, a study from the University of Toronto reveals. People with this gene variation are more likely to have a higher body-mass index than those without it, but they aren’t doomed to be overweight. ‘Factors you can control, like the snacks you eat, have a bigger impact on eating habits,’ says study author Ahmed El-Sohemy. Ph.D.”

Take a minute to reflect on what you’re feeling about the study’s conclusions. Are you wondering if you have this gene variation? Angry that you might? Relieved that there may be a biological basis to your cravings? Disappointed or hopeless that you can’t change how you were born? A good way to think about the issue is that you can make more informed decisions when you know more about what’s really going on with yourself. Nowhere in this brief article does it say that this gene means you’ll always have sweets or eating problems or that you’ll be forever overweight.

Assuming for a minute that you have this gene, consider how can you problem-solve around it. As the article says, you can watch what foods you keep around. I’d add, as long as not having them around doesn’t make you feel deprived or you work through your deprivation issues. Through mind over matter, you can use portion control to have some sweets. When you crave them, you can remind yourself of your health and weight goals, and focus on whether you want to start something—eating—that’s hard to stop.

It’s true that you might have a harder time saying no to sweets than other people, but the task is not impossible if you spend time problem-solving. Your enemy is not biology! It’s mindless grazing, denying health consequences, rebellion, allowing yourself to get so hungry that you choose foods unwisely, and ignoring the rules of “normal” eating. It’s fine for you to recognize that you might have this gene variation. You won’t know unless you have genetic testing. Gene variation or not, the fact is, sweets taste yummy and the majority of us have to curb our impulses to eat too much of them, so join the club!