Weight management is an area of much debate. New diets that promise quick and lasting weight loss pops up all the time and the scientific studies in the field are fragmented. Some of the diets with the strongest research support are the low-fat diet, the low carbohydrate diet and the Mediterranean diet. Yet, none of these diets seem to be beneficial in the same way to every individual, making it hard to know which way to go when making diet choices. As a matter of fact, there is no one-size-fits-all diet that is going to be perfect for everyone, since we are all genetically and biochemically unique. Therefore, to be able to find the right diet we need to look into our genetic makeup.
Whether we are finding it hard to keep our optimal weight stable or to lose some extra weight, part of the answer could lie in our genetics. Some of us are, for example, more prone to snacking and falling for sweet treats. Moreover, some genetic variants have been linked to a decreased ability to sense and respond to satiation, creating a risk for overeating. Having this knowledge can empower an individual to make an active change. For example, if your genes are predisposing you to heightened snacking or diminished feelings of satiation, you would benefit from not skipping meals, incorporating regular healthy snacks and mindful eating techniques as well as making sure to eat a diet high in fibre and vegetables with healthy fats and proteins. Another area linked to weight management issues is that of sleep. Getting enough sleep is very important for our overall homeostatic balance, and our individual circadian rhythm can impact our eating habits as well as our hormonal levels. For example, someone who is genetically wired to have an evening preference rather than being a “morning person” might stay up longer in the evenings and therefore get less sleep. The resulting sleep deprivation could in turn lead to higher levels of cortisol and insulin, and thus more fat being stored in the body. In addition, it might lead to an increase of ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone), which in turn could cause increased snacking and therefore weight gain. Being aware of one’s circadian rhythm will help tailoring a sleep hygiene that decreases the aforementioned risk factors.
Apart from our snacking and sleeping habits, there are several other factors that play a part in how we best manage our weight. For example, some of us might have gene variants that are associated with a tendency to gain weight easily, if our diet consists predominantly of carbohydrates. In such a case, it would be beneficial to incorporate a low-carb diet consisting of healthy fats, proteins and vegetables, while keeping the overall carbohydrate intake low. Other people might carry genetic variants that cause predisposition to weight gain while on a high fat intake. In that case a low-fat diet consisting mainly of healthy carbohydrates and high-quality proteins will be beneficial. A third group of people may have genes that benefit more from a Mediterranean inspired diet, consisting predominantly of plant-based proteins and carbs with an addition of proteins from fish and seafood as well as fats from olives and avocado. Furthermore, the way our bodies respond to physical activity can differ somewhat depending on our genetic makeup. With the help of a DNA test, the optimal level of intensity as well as the amount of exercise required to keep a balanced weight can be calculated.