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Being Overweight - Choice or Genetics?

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Old 02-12-2013, 04:30 PM   #16
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Genetics just may be another hurdle you have to jump; for most people it isn't a life sentence. There is a genetic predisposition in one side of my family, towards heaviness. I say genetic because I've seen first hand some very disciplined people do everything "right", and still always be carrying at least 30 extra pounds.

That being said - 30 extra pounds is a heck of a lot different than the 230 extra I ended up carrying. Did my genes figure into it? Probably. Did emotional and mental health issues that run in my family lead me and my father and a lot of my relatives to binging? Even more likely. But at the end of the day, bad food choices and lack of activity got me here, and my genetics are a minor hill to climb.
That's a really good point about the AMOUNT that seems to be perhaps harder for some than others. I definitely think that people have all variations of what weight is "comfortable" for their body, and then it's of course up to them whether or not to fight it. But I'm talkin' that 5 to maybe 30 pounds -- as you mentioned, defintely not enough to make a person obese.

I'm sure there are medical conditions that make people gain weight more readily, but a calorie excess is still needed. I'm even more sure that there are emotional and mental conditions that factor hugely into weight gain -- binge eating (*raises hand*), depression, anxiety etc etc. Those all may be (definitely are??? I don't know!) genetic, and therefore making weight loss more difficult.

It still comes down to lots of choices though doesn't it!? Seeking help for mental/emotional/physical issues. Doing the work to aid in healing said issues. It isn't just about weight, hardly ever anyway.
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Old 02-12-2013, 04:37 PM   #17
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I think it can be one or the other, or both, or a medical condition (not related to genetics) or simple lack of understanding about how bad the standard American diet actually is. Obesity is epidemic for more than just a single reason, although I do think that the American diet with it's huge portions, highly processed foods, and HFCS in so many of them is probably the biggest culprit.
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Old 02-12-2013, 04:59 PM   #18
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Ultimately, I think being overweight is a choice. That said, it's not the SAME choice for everyone.

Some people can maintain a healthy weight by eating approximately 2000 good quality calories a day, having a small treat 2-3 times a week, and going to the gym four times a week.

Other people can only maintain a healthy weight by eating 1500 or fewer calories and going to the gym six times a week.

Still others can maintain a healthy weight on non-exercise activity alone or going to the gym once or twice a week.

Some people have to count calories to stay in the right range to get to a healthy weight. Some people tend to gravitate toward a good range for weight maintenance automatically.

Some people can eat starches/carbs in reasonable quantities and still be a healthy weight. Others have bodies that really fight them on that, so to keep a healthy weight, they have to limit them or cut them out.

Making a choice to eat 2000 calories a day of a wide variety of healthy foods and the occasional treat, and go to the gym once or twice a week, is different, IMO, than a choice to eat 1500 calories a day, go to the gym 6 times a week, and skip carbs and treats.

So yes, it's a choice. But there is a genetic/medical/inborn component to how difficult it is to execute that choice for a single individual.
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Old 02-12-2013, 05:01 PM   #19
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I'm not really sure that anyone "chooses" to become overweight or obese, especially considering the the negative stigma that is attached to it in our society... So then for me the more important question becomes what is it about what we're eating that could be possibly causing the problem?
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Old 02-12-2013, 05:18 PM   #20
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Very good point Tripswitch.

I've educated myself enough on health and the north american diet to know that what got us here wasn't necessarily poor intentions on our part. We've been indoctrinated with the Standard American Diet, and marketed products produced full of chemicals and excess calories. Low fat products are a great example of this. Top that off with the fact that the cheapest food out there is ther worst for you, and you have a recipe for obesity.
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Old 02-12-2013, 05:53 PM   #21
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I didn't choose to be overweight in the sense of having a preference for it. But I have to say that I did choose it in the sense of deciding I'd rather give in to my laziness about activity and desire to eat junk food in whatever quantities I wanted, even when knowing that I would continue to gain weight by doing so. And if I could lose weight by doing that, I probably still would! I mean, yeah, I do like feeling better when I eat cleaner but I've never been one of those people who lose their taste for the junk. No matter how long I've stayed on a diet, even eating really clean, the junk still tastes good to me when I have it again.

I didn't delude myself into thinking I was eating in a healthy way, I knew exactly what I was doing, and that the foods I was eating would make me gain weight. But I still chose to do it.
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:07 PM   #22
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I'm not really sure that anyone "chooses" to become overweight or obese, especially considering the the negative stigma that is attached to it in our society... So then for me the more important question becomes what is it about what we're eating that could be possibly causing the problem?
That's very true.

I guess you could compare it to, say, someone who is in prison. They didn't really CHOOSE to be in prison, but they did choose the behavior which lead them to be in prison.

So, you're right. People don't necessarily choose to be overweight, but every time we eat it's a choice (what, when, how much etc), every time we choose to either be active or not to be active it's a choice. Being educated on those choices is definitely very important, some aren't, some are but still decide on things that promote being overweight.




As someone else said -- the obesity epidemic is much much more than just ONE thing. I suppose that's why it's such a difficult issue to tackle!
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:16 PM   #23
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I think it's a bit of a silly question because as a species we're quite capable of getting fat and we're in an environment where food is cheap and plentiful.

Public education on the matter is pathetic - heck half of the people on this forum don't realize the simple fact that calories dictate fat loss and gain.

So ... you might realize that eating Mcdonalds every day isn't great for you but one can easily lose fat eating mcdonalds every day and someone can easily gain fat by eating only "healthy" foods they've cooked at home.
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:18 PM   #24
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I don't think it's a choice. I think a lot of bad habits are developed throughout childhood very often and then it can take a lot of time and effort to correct it.

I've tried many times to lose weight, many different ways. Yeah, it's as simple as eating less and moving more but if you've been significantly overweight and struggled with BED or compulsive overeating then you know there's more to it than that.

One person might excel where others fail. I personally can't eat things 'in moderation'. I'm learning I have intolerances and that I fare better eating certain things.

People are plowed every day with information about 'how to lose' and then when it doesn't work were are we to turn? To the next thing, hoping it will help. Sometimes this can take years while you try to find the right path. That obese person, unless you're watching them eat a supersize McDonald's meal in front of you, might be on their 48th attempt. Just trying to find what works best for them and can help them.

So I don't think it should be considered a 'choice', because oftentimes once someone's decided to take the step to lose there's a myriad of things to sift through and mistakes a plenty to be made before the weight can come off and stay off. This could mean years of obesity spent just trying to figure out how to get the weight to start coming off.
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:18 PM   #25
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Choice. It may be an unwanted choice but still a choice. Just like any other habit.
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:37 PM   #26
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There are some excellent responses here.

I don't think most people "choose" to become overweight. Obesity is a multi-faceted issue that involves our genes, environments, physical traits, emotional traits, and outright ignorance. I'm not trying to call anyone here "ignorant," but I'm sure many of us went through misguided attempts at dieting at some point simply because we didn't know better, or acted upon misinformation in attempts to eat right. I mean, most people still don't seem to realize weight is entirely dependent on calories in, calories out!

We live in an abundance of cheap, tasty, chemically processed, easy to access food. Some people may have genes that push them into powerful cravings of food that used to be scarce. Some may deal with anxieties that compel them to eat for reassurance. Some may not have that internal "switch" that tells them they're full. Some may have suffered through physical and/or emotional abuse and find comfort in food. Some may use their weight as a cloak of protection or invisibility. Some may not realize their current diet compels them to overeat. It's so extremely complex that the obvious answer (eat less, move more) is often not the easiest answer.

Those that struggle with their weight typically need to look beyond what they're eating to see why. Understanding that why is probably the most difficult aspect for most of us. As a kid I used to eat directly out of the sugar bowl by the spoonful. Is that normal? Probably not. I was still a grade-schooler when my mom taught me to hide the wrappers of whatever we were eating so the rest of the family wouldn't see, and I learned to hide things well because if she caught me binging on my own, I was in trouble. I used to horde and binge on Hostess pudding pies when I was in junior high, and kept a stash of canned frosting and plastic spoons hidden in the book shelf of my room long before I could even drive. How much choice does a child have in getting fat when their parents are teaching them to hide the evidence of a binge? When those habits stay with you as you grow older, it's easy to be blind to them, or even see them as "normal." And as you begin to realize it's not normal at all, it's even easier to beat yourself up over so feeling out of control with it like I did.

No one ever took me aside and told me I had issues with anxieties, all I ever heard was that I was a fat, overly-sensitive crybaby that lacked self-control. And since I was always known as the class crybaby that had absolutely no friends, I often turned to food. I became asthmatic and allergic to practically everything in sixth grade, and spent a lot of time in the hospital. When I was back in school again my lungs were so weak I wasn't even allowed to use the stairs, let alone participate in gym. It was a vicious, vicious cycle and I had no idea how to break it; all I knew was that I had become fat and "ugly," believing no one loved me because of it. I remember always feeling extremely, utterly exhausted and being told I was lazy when I couldn't keep up with everyone else. Not fitting in and hating myself made me eat even more. So even if no one forced me to buy a package of cookies and down it in one sitting, I literally could not stop myself because I did not understand the emotional and even physical issues that drove me to eat the way I did.

I come from a big family on both sides. One of my aunts once fell out of bed; it took a team of 6 emergency response volunteers to get her back off the floor. The same aunt had a tumor in her neck the size of a baseball, but nobody knew since her neck was already so big. Most of my immediate family had issues with their weight as well, and I've lost both parents to cancer at much too young of an age (my mom when I was still a teenager, my dad only a few years later). My dad had severe issues with cholesterol (90% blockage in one of his arteries) and I'm pretty sure he believed he ate right (no fast food, not much junk) and he got exercise every day, but in the end he still ate more calories than he burned. But with neither of us really understanding calories, how was there any hope if he was already "eating right?"

Heh, I didn't mean to turn this into a big whiny rant, but I wanted to point out that it took me years and years to break the cycle. I turn 37 this week and I'm still fighting it. I had to learn what my trigger foods are and why I've always been prone to overeat. I've had to discover and acknowledge what my weaknesses are and that I'm basically a drug addict, just that my "drug" is processed sugar (and this is speaking as a former smoker and alcoholic). I've had to acknowledge that I was sexually molested throughout my childhood and that it was one of the earliest roots of my many issues. I've also had to battle with my anxieties and eventually discovered that a vitamin deficiency was basically causing my nervous system to short-circuit, and in the past the only way I had to even remotely calm myself was to eat. I felt completely helpless. I still do in weak moments. I'll always be a recovering fat chick, no matter how much weight I lose and keep off. I believe that for those of us that have had any issues with controlling food to the point of obesity (or beyond) will always have to manage it like the chronic illness it is. I mean, I can't eat certain foods in moderation outside of a controlled setting; it's not as if I chose sugar to be my drug, it just is.

So is it genetics? It's not that simple. Is it our environment? It's not that simple either. And it's definitely not as simple as eating less, moving more . . . even though that's the final answer we need. And in the end, I don't believe it's a "choice" by the normal definition. The true choices lie in gathering information, finding out what makes us tick, and thus learning to deal with the cards we've been dealt. Some can simply go on a diet and lose the weight, others have trouble sticking with diets (or healthier lifestyles, whatever you wanna call it) because they've yet to deal with their underlying issues.

I think calling it a "choice" is more or less a judgment upon others, simply because it comes off as an assumption over an issue that "shouldn't" be out of control, yet it often is because it's not something fully understood. Just my opinion though.
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Old 02-12-2013, 07:40 PM   #27
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Studies have been shown that genetics do play a role. Genetics do not make you overweight, but they can give you a higher chance to be overweight.

For example, perhaps your family is much more sugar sensitive than others. Chances are, you will also be more sensitive to sugar.

It just means you have to be extra vigilant in regards to your weight.
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Old 02-12-2013, 08:04 PM   #28
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Genetics loads the gun, our choices pull the trigger. Gaining massive amounts of central body obesity and having an appetite that could rival my huge, active brothers? Not a choice. Hunger dictated my eating. I didn't have much on an off switch. Was active and ate mostly healthy choices, certainly better than the majority of my peers. And I managed to get up to a morbidly obese BMI as a teen.

I didn't ask to come from a line of diabetic, cancer prone, stoutly proportioned folks. It happens. To 'fix' that, I have to account for it. I have a predisposition toward obesity and have pounds of emaciated fat tissue trying, at all times, to refill themselves and be in homeostasis again. I didn't just fill fat cells, my body grew NEW ones. And all those cells exert a strong hormonal influence on my body and drive the hunger/satiety feedback loop I live in. Genetics determined quite a bit of how my body responds to nutritional stimuli, and that's not in my head.

Now. That doesn't mean there isn't a choice. There IS. This is the body I have to work with, so I have had to tweak, experiment, and work my way down the scale, in the midst of living in an imperfect world with this body I've been given. That means I must be smart - I am very hormonally sensitive, and I can't eat like I'm not. I can't lose weight without ravenous hunger beyond a certainly point because of all that empty fat tissue sending signals to my brain that they are starving. Okay - so I have to manage my hunger without causing them to store energy, and give my body a satiation cue without taking in enough energy to rebound to my initial size. For me, this means low carb and whole foods, together.

I'm also blessed with a strong immune system. Too strong, actually, as it ruthlessly attacks the tissues of my body when certain inflammatory factors are present. So my diet must also manage that inflammation, or I feel like crap and can barely move for the fatigue, all cravings and sleep disturbances aside.

Then there's the reality that I'm pregnant or nursing frequently and have been for the entirety of my weight loss. So I must manage nutritional (micronutrients/vitamins/sufficient protein/fat) for physiologically demanding processes while not bouncing back up the scale. That's a trick, too, and takes lots of attention to detail and tweaking.

There are plenty of choices I have made that can and do equal my long term weight and health management. But it is asinine to ignore that different bodies have different requirements and challenges, and that the sweet spot for one person is going to be entirely different than for another. My body doesn't demand energy or respond to the input like a woman with ten vanity pounds to lose. I'm not built like that, my metabolism doesn't function as sensitively, and the hormonal cocktail my body manages is different than someone who isn't metabolically resistant and has never had profound pediatric obesity.

I also can't eat like someone whose blood sugar is more tightly controlled and doesn't dump massive amounts of insulin at a lick of a prune or banana. I can't eat like someone who doesn't get sick from proteins in most grains, or metabolizes yeast well, or doesn't get patches of skin falling off with too much sugary dairy. It just isn't happening. Those things are NOT a choice.

But what I do with them? That is. My physical vessel was given to me. My response to that is where the difference lies. And a culmination of hundreds of little choices every day is why I am not as wide as I am tall and on the expressway to a sick life and possible early death.

But a key distinction to make - the choices that might make one person's body smaller or healthier might NOT make mine smaller or healthier. Calories matter, but it is only a part of the equation. There is so much variation and that absolutely must be accounted for. Feeling starving at 195 and unable to stick with my diet vs perfectly satiated at 163 wasn't some massive feat of my willpower. Nothing about me essentially changed. The difference was the diet, the method I used to manage my symptoms. One method, that worked perfectly well for dozens of folks, was leaving me starving, cold, and miserable. Another, which regularly gets lambasted by folks who do NOT have the same kind of body I do, has been dietary salvation for me. Suddenly I DO have that off button I never had as a kid. I CAN consume normal portions of food and feel satisfied, rather than starving for more just two hours later. I can wake up refreshed instead of more tired than I was the night before.

Choices are part of it, but the right choice isn't always so simple as just eating less. And genuine, physiological hunger can still be felt even when one has hundreds of pounds of stored bodyfat they should utilize first. Distilling it down to either genetics or choice ignores that our bodies are dynamic, unique environments unto themselves, and every bit of stimuli (food) we put in them has a real and measurable effect throughout our body's systems. It isn't a math equation or moral failing that makes many people obese, any more than it is hyperventilating that makes someone asthmatic. Obesity is a symptom of how our body manages or mismanages nutrition far more than the cause of it, especially in most people with early onset and morbid obesity to contend with.



/end novel.
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Old 02-12-2013, 11:09 PM   #29
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I always find it interesting in these discussions that when someone says it's "genetic", then they're viewed as lazy or making excuses.

For me, the more interesting issue is whether living with "weight issues" is genetic or environmental. Like an alcoholic who's been sober for many years is still an alcoholic, I have been maintaining for almost 3 years but still have "weight issues." I still have to fight or resist certain urges every once in awhile. Where do those urges come from? Do I choose to have those urges?

Anyways, I know most people would "well, it's both, duh!" but those types of answers are boring.

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Old 02-13-2013, 01:03 AM   #30
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I'm not sitting on the fence. I think it's a combination...choice AND genetics. Some people can eat anything & everything, but not gain a thing. Others can eat healthy, exercise but the weight is soooo stubborn in coming off.
I think my own family is a perfect study since there are so many of us: 7 kids, parents, 6 sets of aunt & uncles, grandparents then throw in about a dozen grandkids & 10 great-grandkids. Some have a propensity towards being heavier others not so much. I see it like height, eye color & hair type. I have a maternal aunt who's always been heavy regardless of what she does, while 2 have never gained an ounce in over 40+ yrs & are/were skinny rails. My mom is STILL the same size she was when she gave birth to me nearly 50 yrs. ago. She's not as active any more because of her age (85 this summer)/arthritis, but still NO gain. I'd LOVE to be more like Mom & a little less like Daddy...Daddy always was a little on the heavy side.

So I say, "Mix!" Genetics, what you learn at your home & what you choose to do. You have to take all parts into consideration. You can overcome some genetics with persistance & patience.
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