Have you got the hunger gene?


Struggling to shift those last few pounds? Sadly your DNA may be to blame but all is not lost

If you’ve been blaming your body shape on your sweet tooth, it might be time to give yourself a break. Research from the University of Cambridge has revealed that your slimming success could hinge on how you fared in the genetic lottery, rather than the strength of your willpower in the face of triple-choc brownies.

While hundreds of genes influence our weight in many different ways, mutations of specific genes make some people more susceptible to obesity. ‘Gene variations are quite common in the population, but can nevertheless have substantial influence on body shape,’ says Dr Trevor Jarman, biochemist at My-gene-diet (my-gene-diet.com).

The findings from Cambridge explain why a lucky few can gorge on treats and not gain a pound, while others struggle to stop the scales tipping. The scientists found that mutations of a gene called KSR2 impacts the body’s ability to metabolise fatty acids and glucose properly – processes that are vital for providing energy – and these mutations are more common in people with severe obesity.

To make the link, researchers analysed the genetic sequence of thousands of patients suffering from early onset obesity. The results showed that about two per cent of the patients had multiple mutations of the KSR2 gene, more than twice the rate found in non-obese people. They also found that the patients with gene mutations noticed an increased drive to eat as children, and a slower metabolism.

Fortunately, experts believe that while DNA plays a big part in your weight gain destiny, it isn’t the whole story. In fact, a whole heap of environmental and lifestyle factors such as stress, exercise and sleep quality play a huge role in determining your weight, so hold fire on skipping that gym session and stuffing yourself with pepperoni pizza. ‘Activity levels, exercise, correct diet and appropriate calorie intake will interact with our gene variations to determine body weight,’ explains Dr Jarman.

Try these tips to maximise the potential of your DNA and get your metabolism firing on all cylinders.

Build muscle

The more lean muscle you have, the higher the speed of your resting metabolism. ‘Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than body fat, so an increase in your lean body mass leads to a better metabolic rate – meaning you burn more calories when you exercise, but also when you rest,’ explains Dean Hodgkin, fitness expert at Ragdale Hall and Energie Fitness (deanhodgkin.com). ‘Resistance training is the key to boosting lean body mass, but it also leads to greater post-exercise oxygen consumption, which means your metabolism keeps working long after your strength training is finished.’

Munch little and often

Believe it or not, the more often you eat, the more you’ll stoke your body’s furnace. When you leave long windows between meals your body goes into starvation mode, conserving its energy to keep you going. Aim to eat three good meals and two snacks each day, at three-hour intervals.

Eat well

It’s not just how often you eat, but what you eat that keeps your metabolism ticking over nicely. Combine protein with complex carbohydrates at meals (think salmon with sweet potato) and either lightly steam your veggies or eat them raw. Food that takes more effort to chew equals a higher calorie burn.

Stay active

If you can’t fit a lengthy workout into your daily routine, try a Tabata session instead. Perform high-intensity exercises like burpees and jumping lunges for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat eight times. ‘And if you can make it to the gym make sure you do heavy load, low-repetition weight training, kettlebell workouts and sprint intervals, ideally four sessions per week to allow a day of rest between each,’ recommends Dean.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can do serious damage to your slimming strategies. Inadequate snoozing time can throw your appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin out of kilter while sending the stress hormone cortisol soaring – which is really bad news for your waistline. Make sure you get enough pillow time by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning to regulate your body, and try to aim for around eight hours of good-quality shut-eye.

Spice up your food

Incorporate spices like chilli, cayenne pepper, turmeric and cinnamon into meals, as these have major thermogenic properties. That means they heat you up from the inside out, revving up your metabolism. Sprinkle the spices into soups, stews and curries.

Balance your hormones

An imbalance of hormones in your body will make it harder for you to lose weight by affecting systems such as your adrenal glands, which produce thyroid hormones that regulate your metabolism. If you think your thyroid might be sluggish, it’s worth getting tested at your local GP. Loading up on selenium-rich foods, such as Brazil nuts, and iodine-rich foods, like kelp, can also help once you have a clearer picture of what your hormones are doing.

Keep stress to a minimum

If you really want to beat the fat factor, chill out! Stress is a key trigger for weight gain, so try to manage pressure to keep your body fat in check. When you’re stressed out, your body goes into fight or flight mode, storing energy in your fat reserves. Herbs called adaptogens can help your body deal with stress better – these include ginseng, rhodiola and ashwaghanda.