A Weight Loss Plan Based on Your DNA. Really.

Can Knowing Your Genes, Not Your Jean Size, Help You Lose Weight?

A few weeks ago, a company called DNA Diet announced the launch of a weight loss program that is based solely on a participant’s DNA profile. Members simply upload their AncesteryDNA or 23andMe data and the company provides customized meal plans, grocery lists, new recipes, exercise plans and exclusive content into how genetics play a role in weight loss and healthy living. Each member also has the added benefit of access to health and wellness information from the Mayo Clinic.

The DNA Diet Plan promises to deliver an analysis of up to 20 insights into participants DNA, such as their risk of obesity, sensitivity to alcohol, caffeine or lactose and their tendency to be an emotional or “hangry” eater, among other factors. Membership to the DNA Diet Plan is $9.99 per week for 12 weeks or $99 for 3 months. The program is available via a personalized desktop dashboard at DNADietPlan.com. The DNA Diet Plan also offers an extra incentive and motivation to lose weight: If a member completes 12 weeks of the DNA Diet Plan and loses weight, their entire membership fee will be refunded. Not a bad incentive, but is it more hype than science? Being able to successfully follow any weight loss diet for 12 weeks, should result in a reduction of body weight, regardless of your DNA.

Call me a skeptic, but it sounds to me like members are actually paying to participate in a hidden Mayo Clinic study on obesity and genetics, which if true, isn’t exactly honest. Additionally, we all know by now that genetics do indeed play a part in how we retain fat and how much muscle mass we have. Anyone who has grown up in a family where one or both parents struggle with weight, know they, too, may also struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. And science supports this conclusion, however it remains deeply divided over how much of it is behavioral and how much is actually built into our DNA.

While scientists remain divided over the issue, the data is clear that there is a DNA link to obesity. Thus, we can’t continue to ignore that more than 60 relatively common genetic markers have been implicated in causing a higher susceptibility to obesity, which also suggests that the etiological cause of obesity is far more complicated than the old energy consumed and expended theory. Clearly, obesity is a complex metabolic disease, however, simplifying it to one’s DNA may be a big a mistake. “Few individuals ever truly recover from obesity; rather they suffer from obesity in remission,” said Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York. “They are biologically very different from individuals of the same age, sex and body weight who never had obesity.” For more information on this, view my previous article, Why Are You So Fat?

Regardless of what diet someone may follow, if a person is truly obese, the data on achieving permanent weight loss is grim. In addition, restrictive diets may cause more long-term damage. Even the dumbest among us know that “starving” yourself for potentially long periods will lead to weight loss. The trouble is, almost no one has the superhuman strength to maintain a draconian lifestyle of indefinite restricted calories and fat-burning physical exercise. Worse, long periods of deprivation may actually harm metabolic systems that researchers don’t know enough about.

Investigators at the National Institutes of Health tracked 14 contestants from “The Biggest Loser” —13 of whom regained much or all of their weight in the 6 years following their initial weight loss during the competition—to learn more about factors that might impact weight regain. What they found was that when these contestants lost the weight, their metabolic resting rate, or what we call metabolism, was lowered. As they gained the weight back, their metabolic rate remained the same, making it extremely difficult to lose weight again.

Although the DNA Diet Plan may provide some insight into the genetics of obesity, it’s a stretch to believe it will actually help people maintain weight loss for any length of time. Having an insight into the genetics of your obesity risk isn’t the same as being able to change it. That’s not to say we should just give up on achieving a healthy lifestyle, we just need to do it with our eyes wide open. #Reignwell

 

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