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10 things I learned about losing weight and DNA

Ever wonder why some people can eat like a teenager their whole life and never gain a pound, while others work tirelessly to lose five pounds?

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Woman standing on scale

Masterfile

Ever wonder why some people can eat like a teenager their whole life and never gain a pound, while others work tirelessly to lose five pounds?

For those of us on the never-ending roller coaster that is weight loss, there’s hope in the form of a growing understating of our genes. Researchers and geneticists are gaining better insight into why our bodies respond differently to the same things. So when I heard about Newtopia, an Ontario-based company providing a look at, “the genetic cause behind your weight gain and how you manage stress,” my interest was piqued.

Providing personal nutrition and coaching sessions (all done remotely through Skype and the company’s website) the program maps your DNA to judge whether a genetic modification is what’s keeping your from losing the weight you’d like to and tailoring a program based on your unique results. We gave the program a try, and spoke with a two successful participants to see how understanding our genes can change the game.

1. Understanding your genes helps mould your program. Developed by geneticist Dr. Louis Pérusse, PhD the test Newtopia uses looks at three possible gene variations — the body fat gene, the appetite gene and the eating behaviour gene — to assess the right eating and lifestyle program for you. This is a vital step in figuring out the right approach for your success.

2. The appetite gene is mostly about behaviour. What could also be referred to as,“the full gene”, people with a variation in this receptor are prone to consuming high caloric diets. They overeat because the message that they’re satisfied is either dulled, or non-existent, hence they never truly feel full.

The fix for this is a reduced-fat diet with an increase of protein and carbs. The main goal is to educate people on slowing down their eating habits, helping them become more aware and controlled so they don’t get off track when presented with food.

3. Dopamine has a lot to do with eating behaviour. The eating behaviour gene (DRD2) relates heavily to a person’s feeling of satisfaction. When we become stressed the body longs for something to make it feel good again, and unfortunately most of us turn to food. The same way sex and exercise release dopamine, so does eating. People with a variation in this gene typically have decreased dopamine activity meaning a snack will never produce enough dopamine to satisfy them which leads to overeating. Recognizing this gene in participants helps them become aware of mindless eating and also helps them understand their emotional relationship to food.

4. Balance your lifestyle based on your genetic makeup. When my tests came back with no gene variations I initially thought I was home free. Though only nine percent of clients have no variations, it wasn’t long before I realized my own commitment would have the biggest influence on my results. Working with my coach Anna made me realize that because I have no genetic reason to struggle to lose weight, that what I really have to change was me. It’s more my lifestyle than anything that will hinder my success versus knowing that I need to train harder than most to see the weight come off.

5. Write everything down. Like similar programs and apps, Newtopia’s clients have access to a digital journal where they input everything they’ve eaten along with their sleep patterns, exercise and daily vitamin intake. But unlike most programs, Newtopia’s doctors (geneticists, nutritionists, dieticians) look over all the information figuring out where you need to improve your eating and making recommendations on exercises specific to your needs (complete with instructions and images).

Bonnie Kehl, a patient who had three gene variations says, “I am so much more aware of my food choices.” Writing down what she ate gave her the accountability she needed to get on top of her out of control habits.

6. Make it easy on yourself. Whether it’s preparing food on Sundays, or having a selection of precooked lean meats in your refrigerator, the program empowers you with ways to ensure you succeed. The first week starts slow based on your past physical activity level ensuring you’re not scared off by intense workouts, sore muscles and a completely limited diet.

7. Small changes can make a huge difference. Regardless of gene variation, working with someone on a weekly basis made me realize where I could make great adjustments to my diet. As hard as it was to be honest (especially when it came to weekend drinks), I came out of the three month program with skills to carry through life. Having someone make you see the patterns in your eating habits and how they affect your emotions makes you realized that no matter what changes you make to your fitness, if your diet isn’t supporting it, you’ll never succeed.

8. It’s about making smarter choices. Tips like switching from tuna to salmon (for the added bone nutrients), rinsing canned peas and beans well before eating them (to reduce the sodium) or ensuring I eat more protein in the afternoon are a few of the shortcuts I learned to optimize my eating. The program is focused on keeping the proper balance of fat, protein and carbs for you.

9. Lose the guilt. Sindi Hendler Kachuck of Toronto says that after trying four different diets in less than five years, Newtopia helped her manager her feelings and her reality. She didn’t want to commit to the grueling and time consuming workouts that most of the others plans recommended. Her coach suggested walking a few times a week and it worked for her.

Having a marker on each of the three genes also helped her lose the guilt she felt about why she wasn’t succeeding. “I could feel a little less guilty because I was ‘wired’ this way. It wasn’t just about being lazy and [having] no will power. It was a huge eye opener. I really had to move if I wanted to be healthy and lose weight – the science proved it,” she explains.

10. Get the right tools to succeed. When you sign up for the program you’re sent a pedometer that syncs to a downloaded program on your computer. The small device, which fits onto your shoe, uploads your steps taken, calories burned and total distance covered acting as a great motivator to ensure you’re getting a minimum amount of exercise everyday.

I wore mine on a recent trip and was thrilled to find that I’d walked more than 40 kilometres in five days. Even wearing it around the office has motivated me to get up and ask someone a question instead of just emailing them. Being able to track my movement and intensity makes me want to keep improving on the last day’s distance.

For more information on the programs available, and the science behind your genes, visit newtopia.com.