You gave up the ladoos. Okay, that didn’t work. You went gluten-free because your friend told you that worked for her. But did it also work for you? No. And so you tried being vegetarian for a week, and then it was a juice detoxing program, and finally, you only ate salad for a week and ended up so frustrated that you ate half the treats you kept aside for special occasions. It doesn’t matter what you try; you can’t seem to lose any weight, but what you are losing is your mind. You only want someone to tell you precisely what and how much to eat at the exact time of day. Is that so hard?
As a nutrition coach, I hear this request all the time. However, most clients don’t suffer from not knowing what constitutes a healthy diet; the problem is that they don’t have the skills to stick with one for very long. Old habits die hard, taste preferences rule, and sometimes, more often than not, it’s a complicated dissection of understanding their sleep cycles, stress levels, dietary and exercise habits, and emotional regulation associated with food choices.
The beginning task always stays the same: to shine a flash light into all of these different facets that contribute to weight gain and tease out the critical habits that aren’t leading to your success. After all, if you don’t know what needs to change, how can you expect yourself to make the right changes? Otherwise, every day becomes a minefield of guesswork and trial and error.
By critically analysing our lifestyle information, we get invaluable data on which to base our next steps, which form the foundation of your weight loss success. But for some, there is no denying that despite doing everything right, they won’t shed the weight, no matter how much they try. If we can set a solid foundation and a client is still struggling with weight loss, we can address this by digging deeper into our analysis and seeing what critical information we can glean from various assessments or blood reports. Each layer of data we dig through brings us closer to discovering what magic mix of ingredients works best for each client’s weight loss.
Right into the DNA
But how “aware” can one person get? How many layers can we peel back to understand how someone’s body works? Everyone’s body is different, but at what level are we looking to discover those critical differences? If someone is continuously tired of trying solutions that end up not working, I can see just how far down the rabbit hole they are willing to go to find answers, and that, of course, could be as deep as your DNA.
Since the Human Genome Project began, numerous studies and analysis companies have popped up, encouraging the testing of our DNA, which can tell us how our bodies use the nutrients we ingest. DNA codes for proteins that alter how we digest, absorb, metabolize, and excrete food and nutrients. According to a study published in 2007, titled “Nutrigenomics: The Genome-Food Interface,” nutrigenomics (the intersection of DNA study and nutrition) is concerned with the impact of dietary components on the genome, meaning the food we eat contains micronutrients, macronutrients, phytonutrients and chemicals that have a role in our body’s processes and, in some cases, interact with our genetics positively or negatively. It brings a new meaning to the phrase: you are what you eat. By understanding this information, they can extrapolate a diet plan that maximizes the benefit of eating certain macronutrients while minimizing intake in others to help them lose weight.
Therefore, analysing our DNA structure is like searching for clues. Instead of presenting this to you as a confusing set of data points, some DNA diet companies have shown up to 100 ways that your genes can influence how food is used in your body and provide diet recommendations, recipes, and grocery lists for their customers to eat in a way that, at least according to your DNA, best suits you. They can even tell you what foods disagree with your unique body, such as lactose or gluten.
The science is yet to catch up
It’s an exciting area of research, and it’s one that many people, even for the sake of pure interest, would like to explore. Six years ago, the cost of this kind of testing would have been prohibitive to most people; however, due to its growing popularity and prevalence of technology, prices have reduced enough to make it an enjoyable, self-scientific experiment. However, is the science there to back up its claims?
In a scathing article released by Scientific American, with a self-explanatory title, “Matching DNA to Diet Does Not Work,” one thing was apparent: the science is not there yet. The studies where DNA diets had a demonstrable effect on weight loss weren’t replicable, which is one of the hallmarks of scientific discovery. If one study can prove a demonstrable difference in body weight after utilizing personalized DNA diets, then other studies have to be done to verify that the findings weren’t a rare unicorn in the scientific community.
In this article, the same Stanford researcher who completed an initial study in 2010 and saw results said: “But let’s cut to the chase: We didn’t replicate that study; we didn’t even come close. This didn’t work.” The researchers found that some study participants became meticulous and almost fanatical about their new diet, driving the results away from the majority of participants who became apathetic and lacked consistency in their eating habits throughout the study. A fanatical few might have influenced the outcome. And this is no different than any other diet that exists to date - whether it be Atkins or Keto, Intermittent Fasting, or Mediterranean, there will always be a few who embrace it emphatically. In contrast, others start with gusto and then taper off their engagement.
Additionally, you would think that an analysis of our DNA would provide all the information we need to clean our diets; however, that is still not the case. Habit, a leading DNA diet company, said that DNA alone “isn’t enough to develop personalized dietary recommendations” and that the company, therefore, factors in blood biomarkers and other information important in understanding a person’s diet plan.
Knowing your DNA sequence is simply information. Information is only helpful if you are given the skills and resources required to make the changes in a long-term attempt to change your lifestyle. It’s like saying that just because the microprobes in our gut thrive on fibre-dense food as fuel doesn’t mean we like eating broccoli. And just because we know what our DNA tells us doesn’t mean we have the skills to back away from the cake box at 3 am when we feel tired and lonely.
It also tells us that DNA and food intake aren’t the entire story, and there are other ways to use our epigenetics, such as exercise, which toggles on certain positive gene expressions. Just because science doesn’t fully exist right now doesn’t mean that we can’t still explore our DNA to find valuable connections and information that help unlock our human potential, but until then, it’s still only a piece of the pie.
Jen Thomas is a master women’s health coach.