Don't Let Your Genetics or Your Past Hold You Hostage

Genetic and family food rules and your risk for eating disorders

Posted Sep 28, 2014

Genetics plays an important role in the development of eating styles in children.  If you have the genetic predisposition to obesity, as a child you may have had a bigger appetite than your friends or family members.  You may also have engaged in eating when not hungry or had difficulty recognizing when you were full.  These genetic traits would have made it more difficult for you, even in childhood, to maintain a healthy weight despite your desire to do so.  The genetic predisposition to obesity is also made worse by the easy availability of poor quality foods that promote obesity (foods high in calories but low in nutrients) (Carnell 2008).  The interplay between genetics and the environmental causes of obesity are a vicious cycle.  For example, the genes that affect your ability to feel full are just one part of the problem.  The other part has to do with the composition of your meals, which can then positively affect whether those obesity genes are expressed or not.  If your meals consist of foods that are higher in nutritional value as opposed to “empty calories” you will tend to feel more full (Scaglioni S 2011). 

Another factor in eating styles are family food styles and rules.  For example, depriving children of “bad” foods (usually sweets or fatty snacks) or using food as a reward or putting pressure on children to only eat “healthy food” (translated to fruits and vegetables) are all more likely to cause weight problems.   Eating at regular set meal times is helpful in preventing weight issues (Scaglioni 2011). 

If you were a picky eater as a child or disliked eating anything new or different, you’re not alone.  About twenty to thirty percent of all children dislike new foods and this trait may be partly genetic.  This dislike of new foods, however, is also related to exposure to new foods before age eight.  If your parents responded to your fussiness or fear of new foods by cooking you only your favorite foods, this may have just reinforced your dislike of unfamiliar foods and you may have carried your restrictive eating patterns into adulthood (Cooke 2007; Skinner 2002).

No matter what your genetics are, no matter what your family taught you about food, your current lifestyle can either turn on your genes for obesity or eating disorders or turn them off.  If you are able to eat healthy, regular meals, move your body regularly and manage stress, you may escape the destiny of your genes.  If your family food rules or eating style put you on the path to obesity or to an eating disorder, you can work with a nutritionist or dietician and your health care provider to change patterns that are no longer in your best interest.  You don’t have to be stuck in the past or governed by your genetic predispositions.  Avoiding fad diets or radical changes is important as these approaches never last in the long run.  Take small steps that you can maintain and seek help where needed to change course towards a lifestyle that allows you to express and be all that you are meant to be.