Do you feel like you’ve tried everything to lose weight, but nothing works?
Perhaps it’s time to try a different approach. A fad diet that worked for your best friend or sister isn’t necessarily what will work for your body, unique genetic code, dietary needs, and lifestyle. Personalizing your weight loss experience can help you lose weight in a healthy way for your body.
When compared to other weight loss methods out there today, a genetic weight loss approach that utilizes personalized nutrition may be a smarter and more efficient way to lose weight.
What Is Personalized Nutrition?
Each of us has unique life circumstances and nutrient requirements that need to be addressed to maximize our health, both now and as we age. Often, people trying to lose weight receive one-size-fits-all advice. However, researchers have begun trying to uncover the link between genetics and weight loss to see if personalized diets can help people lose weight—and keep it off.
There is no single definition of a personalized diet, but Michael Gibney, Professor Emeritus of Food and Health at University College Dublin, and his team explain that personalized nutrition is meant to “assist individuals in achieving a lasting dietary behavior change that is beneficial for health.”¹ Similarly, Jose Ordovas and his team define personal nutrition as “an approach that uses information on individual characteristics to develop targeted nutritional advice, products, or services.”²
A customized diet can be tailored to each individual based on their genetics, age, gender, health status, current nutrient requirements, dietary habits, goals, lifestyle, physical activity, environment, personality, behaviors, and even geographical location. In other words, all of the things that make you uniquely you are taken into account to make a plan that best fits your needs.
One of the foundational pieces of the personalized nutrition movement is nutrigenomics, the study of how our unique genetic makeup impacts our dietary needs and risk for certain health outcomes.³ Early studies explored the link between using personalized nutrition to create more effective genetic weight loss programs.⁴
The initial results were promising. They demonstrated the potential to customize diets to individual needs to improve weight loss outcomes. However, we know that an individual’s health is more than just their genes—it includes numerous other factors that can also impact how they respond to weight loss efforts.
Understanding Personalized Weight Loss
Why is it so hard for some people to lose weight?
At any given time, a majority of adults are on a new weight loss diet. However, data shows that 70 percent of Americans are still overweight or obese. If you have ever struggled with shedding unwanted pounds, it’s hard not to feel frustrated.
Even if you have successfully lost weight in the past, you may have found that keeping off the weight is more challenging than losing the weight in the first place—or realized that what has worked for you before is no longer effective.
Whether their goal is better health, reduced risk of developing certain diseases (such as type 2 diabetes), or just to feel more confident, finding effective methods for weight loss continues to be a struggle for many people. In recent years, personalized weight loss solutions like genetic weight loss are garnering more attention.
This personalization applies not only to nutrition, but also factors such as daily physical activity, current fitness level, hormones, and the amount of weight an individual wants to lose. Digital health tools can be used to help capture and deliver an individual’s unique insights, and biometrics can subsequently be incorporated into genetic weight loss programs.
Why Personalized, Genetic Weight Loss Is a Better Alternative to Traditional Diets
Healthy weight loss that focuses on a balanced diet and exercise program has been established as one of the most effective measures a person can take to reduce their risk of certain diseases. However, no specific weight loss diet has been proven to be the best choice.
What we do know from clinical trials that test different diets—such as the DIETFITS study⁵—and observational data is that it might not be the exact diet, itself, but the ability to stick to the diet that creates a calorie deficit. Lasting weight loss is also related to the number of whole foods consumed as opposed to refined or processed foods. This begs the question, “What if we could take these findings and create a nutrition plan that is built around us to make adherence as easy as possible?”
As previously mentioned, each of us comes with a unique set of factors—such as our metabolism, microbiome, hormones, and the environment we live in—that we react to in varying ways. Thanks to the high failure rate of many mainstream diets, we know that what works for one person often does not have the same effect on another. Unfortunately, many of our efforts to lose weight result in failure and discouragement.
Luckily, we now have more resources and tools at our disposal than ever before. We have tests that can help us figure out our unique makeup and current state of health. Healthcare professionals have also embraced nutrigenomics. Learning more about this innovative approach enables care providers to incorporate key information into a patient’s customized care plan and support weight loss.
Even though personal data that helps us understand our own bodies and what might work best for us is more readily available than ever before, individualized genetic weight loss plans are not quicker or easier than traditional plans. Tailored plans call for in-depth knowledge of your body and situation, experimentation, adjustments, and patience. The process may indeed require more time upfront to learn what truly works for you, but the potential to find a way to work with your body and achieve sustainable results is well worth the effort.
Genetic Weight Loss
Now that you have a solid framework to create a plan for a healthier, more confident you, you can take it a step further. It’s time to understand how these different factors can further support your personalized genetic weight loss strategy. Let’s begin with genes.
How Do Your Genes Impact Your Weight?
Certain genes can actually predispose people to be overweight or obese. They can influence your eating behaviors, cravings, and the likelihood of gaining weight back—even after successfully dieting. Here are two genes to keep in mind.
MC4R – One of the most studied genes associated with the risk of obesity is MC4R (melanocortin-4 receptor). MC4R plays a role in leptin signaling, a hormone that is key in regulating energy homeostasis.
According to researchers at the University of California, MC4R gene mutations may be an underlying factor contributing to obesity in individuals with this genotype.⁶
FTO – Another gene that has been linked to the risk of being overweight or obese is the FTO gene.⁷ Evidence from the Centre for Obesity Research, University College in London, also supports that certain variants within the FTO gene are associated with obese-promoting behaviors—including decreased eating impulse control, not feeling satisfied after meals, and an increased preference for energy-dense foods.⁸
However, genes alone do not determine if you will be overweight or obese. Other factors—such as physical environment, medications, learned behaviors, and beliefs—are also important contributing factors to a person’s weight.
Understanding your genetic makeup is the first step to implementing genetic weight loss. However, your genes are only the start of the journey. Learning how your genes interact with your environment and eating behaviors is also powerful knowledge.
For example, knowing that individuals with the FTO variant may be more prone to snacking and prefer higher-fat foods can help you better understand why you make certain food choices. Once you begin to understand your dietary behaviors, you can work on making healthier choices (or removing the triggers that lead to poorer ones).
How Can You Manage Your Weight Despite Your Genes?
Genetic weight loss provides the tools you need to better manage your weight in spite of your genetics. Here are some tips that everyone can benefit from, no matter their genetic makeup.
Practice portion control – People tend to eat more food when they are offered larger portions. Many people confuse portions and servings, so a distinction should be made clear: a portion is simply the amount of food you have on your plate while a serving is a set amount of a food.
Mayo Clinic recommends having measuring cups on hand or even using everyday objects as comparisonsto help you better understand size. For instance, a medium-sized pepper is approximately the same size as a baseball. This equals a single vegetable serving.
Eat nutrient-dense foods – You have the power to choose more strategic foods that will help you stay happy and healthy. Feel fuller on fewer calories by selecting food options that are less calorie dense and more nutrient dense—such as leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy, and fish. Depending on the food, you can have a larger portion size with fewer calories. It’s all about energy.
Eat fiber-rich foods – High-fiber diets can help us feel fuller. Most fruits and vegetables have a high fiber content, which means they will provide volume and (healthy) weight rather than empty calories.
Avoid empty calories – Consuming empty calorie foods will result in few nutrients but lots of calories—likely more than you realize you are consuming or need for the day. You will not find many vitamins or minerals in foods like packaged chips and sodas.
Plan your meals in advance – Taking the time to plan and prepare meals can help you stick to a weight loss strategy and avoid compulsive eating. Simply having a plan can increase your sense of empowerment, which has been linked to better weight loss outcomes and an increased ability to keep weight off long term.⁹ Advanced meal preparation can also help individuals who have a hard time accurately estimating the number of calories they consume each day.
Increase physical activity – Getting more physical activity in your day—whether that means doing a planned workout or just moving your body more during daily activities—can help increase the total number of calories you burn off. Burning calories through physical activity and reducing the number of calories you consume creates a calorie deficit, which is needed to lose weight.
Build more lean muscle – Maintain, or even increase, your metabolism by building lean muscle. Lean muscle has a higher metabolic rate compared to fat tissue. Resistance training can help preserve or add to your current lean mass, which will result in more calories burned throughout the day.
Embrace technology – Studies suggest weight-loss interventions that utilize activity trackers, even for as short as six months or less, may be a more effective option than just a standard weight loss program—especially for middle-aged or older adults.¹⁰ It’s no wonder the popularity of these bracelets and other technological offerings is growing all the time.
Weigh yourself daily – The CDC reports that people who weigh themselves once a day are more likely to keep weight off compared to those who do not hold themselves to regular check-ins. Weighing yourself increases your awareness and motivates you to stay on track. Measurement is crucial to progress in any endeavor.
Decrease stress and get more sleep – Experts say there may be a link between poor sleep, enhanced appetite, increased cravings, and decreased motivation to keep up with physical activities.¹¹ Stress and increased cortisol levels can increase appetite, so being stressed or tired can lead to emotional eating or heightened food cravings. These factors all contribute to weight gain—and even obesity.
Stress and sleep may be big barriers to reaching or maintaining a healthy weight. Even though stress and sleep may not seem to directly relate to diet and exercise, managing these factors can help aid weight loss and management efforts
Make Genetic Weight Loss Work for You
You now have a more robust understanding of the role that personalized weight loss can have in helping you lose weight. With a DNA-focused strategy, you can keep the weight off for good this time.
Ditch other solutions that don’t work and learn how to implement genetic weight loss plans. Discover if a DNA test can really teach you how to eat in a way that supports your weight goals and ultimately achieve your optimal health outcomes.
1. Eggersdorfer M, Kraemer K, Cordaro JB, et al. Chapter 5.1 Personalized Nutrition: Paving the way to better population health. Good Nutrition: Perspectives for the 21st Century. 2016:235-248. doi:10.1159/000452389.
2. Ordovas JM, Ferguson LR, Tai ES, Mathers JC. Personalised nutrition and health. Bmj. 2018. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2173.
3. Toro-Martín JD, Arsenault B, Després J-P, Vohl M-C. Precision Nutrition: A Review of Personalized Nutritional Approaches for the Prevention and Management of Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):913. doi:10.3390/nu9080913.
4. Walker CG, Solis-Trapala I, Holzapfel C, et al. Modelling the Interplay between Lifestyle Factors and Genetic Predisposition on Markers of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Risk. Plos One. 2015;10(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131681.
5. Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Gobbo LCD, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion. JAMA. 2018;319(7):667. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0245.
6. Eggersdorfer M, Kraemer K, Cordaro JB, et al. Chapter 5.1 Personalized Nutrition: Paving the way to better population health. Good Nutrition: Perspectives for the 21st Century. 2016:235-248. doi:10.1159/000452389.
7. Livingstone KM, Celis-Morales C, Papandonatos GD, et al. FTO genotype and weight loss: systematic review and meta-analysis of 9563 individual participant data from eight randomised controlled trials. Bmj. 2016:i4707. doi:10.1136/bmj.i4707.
8. Karra E, O’Daly OG, Choudhury AI, et al. A link between FTO, ghrelin, and impaired brain food-cue responsivity. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2013;123(8):3539-3551. doi:10.1172/jci44403.
9. Annesi J. Weight Loss and the Prevention of Weight Regain: Evaluation of a Treatment Model of Exercise Self-Regulation Generalizing to Controlled Eating. The Permanente Journal. 2016. doi:10.7812/tpp/15-146.
10. Cheatham SW, Skull KR, Fantigrassi M, Motel I. The efficacy of wearable activity tracking technology as part of a weight loss program: a systematic review. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2018 Apr;58(4):534-548.
11. Geiker NRW, Astrup A, Hjorth MF, Sjödin A, Pijls L, Markus CR. Does stress influence sleep patterns, food intake, weight gain, abdominal obesity and weight loss interventions and vice versa? Obesity Reviews. 2017;19(1):81-97. doi:10.1111/obr.12603.