This article is intended for educational purposes only. As more research is being conducted, further information about genetics and weight loss is still being discovered.
If you’ve ever wondered why two people can eat the same foods and one puts on weight while the other doesn’t, it may be time to consider a more scientific approach. The recipe for weight loss success may be more than adopting healthier eating habits and increasing your activity — it may include understanding your unique genetic makeup. Read on as we discuss why your genes may hold the secret to weight loss success.
What are genes?
According to the National Institutes of Health, genes are “the basic physical and functional units of heredity.”1 Made from DNA, genes are passed along from parents to their children and determine specific traits such as eye and hair color. And there’s a lot of them. In fact, it is estimated that humans have between 20,000 to 25,000 genes.1
How are genes and weight connected?
Just like genes can influence a person’s eye and hair color, they may also influence how easily a person can lose or gain weight. Genes have a significant influence on the way our bodies function, develop and adapt, and while most genes are the same in all of us, there are a small number that differ between people.1 When you think about the fact that two people rarely lose weight in exactly the same way, it starts to make sense that there’s more to the picture.
An additional ingredient to weight loss
Obesity in humans can be affected by a complex combination of gene interactions, behavior and environmental elements.2 Varying studies, involving twins and families, estimate that obesity is highly heritable,2 meaning it’s likely that genetic factors help determine traits3 related to obesity.4 Researchers point out that environmental factors, such as stress, may play a role in influencing these genes.5,6
Can you be genetically predisposed to becoming overweight?
If you’ve ever wondered if there really is a gene associated with obesity, there is.7 This specific genetic mutation is rare, but there are many other genes that contribute toward what’s known as “common” obesity.8 If you carry one of these genes, research8-9 suggests you may have a 20-30% greater risk of being overweight than someone without it.
Genes work in different ways
While research is ongoing, many studies support the genetic influence on weight.
- A group of researchers uncovered a rare genetic mutation in mice that prevents them from burning fat calories; that same gene is present in a certain group of people, too.10 (In the experiment, the mice with the genetic mutation ate less, but put on about twice as much weight as the other mice without the variation.)
- Another group of scientists discovered a specific form of a fat-mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene that has the power to increase cravings for high-fat foods.11 Other research uncovered a mutation that can occur in leptin,12 a hormone made by fat cells, which is responsible for letting your brain know your stomach is full and that you’ve had enough to eat.
- Interestingly, some genes need outside influences, like stress, to be “switched on.”13 For example, male-pattern baldness is influenced by two different types of hormones. However, the trait is only seen when both hormones are at high levels simultaneously. While it is common for men to experience balding, when women experience a high level of stress, this can contribute to a rise in both hormones and result in hair loss.13 Research14 suggests the same may go for certain genes associated with obesity: Once they’re up and running, they may influence your body to metabolize, store food, and regulate your weight in a certain way.15
Without question, the body is full of complex metabolic processes that all play a role in influencing your weight: from your brain and how it controls your appetite, all the way down to the enzymes that convert the food you eat into energy. Researchers, who have already uncovered much information, continue to conduct studies to gain a nuanced understanding of the role genes play in influencing your weight.
Learning more about your genes gives you the opportunity to make healthy, positive lifestyle changes to support your weight loss. Based on this evolving research, Jenny Craig developed a groundbreaking DNA program to further personalize your weight loss experience and work with your body in the most natural way possible. Jenny Craig’s DNA Decoder Plan identifies specific nutritional and behavioral genetic markers to match your genes with an optimal weight loss program tailored just for you.
Update: We have paused our weight loss insights plan for now. In the meantime, stay healthy and check out our new meal delivery options.
Sheryl has penned hundreds of print and online articles for publications and websites, including Parade, AARP, Chicago Tribune, Family Circle, Woman's Day, Everyday Health, WebMD, HealthyWomen, CNBC and many others. Her writing reflects her deep passion and curiosity about nutrition, health, beauty, fitness, and wellness.
Favorite healthy snack: watermelon (a big bang for the buck!)
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.