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Who Runs In Your Family?

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There is a joke out there, where an overweight patient tells his doctor, “Well, the problem is obesity runs in my family,” to which the doctor replies, “actually, the problem is NO ONE runs in your family.”

It’s a common belief that obesity is a purely hereditary condition, and once it strikes a family it can never be eradicated. I will argue that it is not obesity that is passed on from one generation to another, but rather the behaviors and lifestyle that cause obesity that parents pass on to their children. If your parents never exercised and you grew up in a house filled with junk food, then chances are you will repeat those same behaviors when you are older. But unlike green eyes or big ears, obesity is not an exclusively genetic trait, and you can avoid if you understand what it is.

Obesity is a disease, and just like any contagion within a group, it can be difficult to control the…pardon the pun…spread. If you are constantly surrounded by the factors that lead to obesity, such as poor diet and lack of exercise, then you too are at risk for contracting this disease. Having a genetic predisposition just means your immunity to that disease is very low. Translation: if you are genetically predisposed to gain weight and you do not make a conscious effort to avoid it, then you will probably succumb to it.

Family history does not spell inevitable doom. Just because a disease runs in the family it does not mean you too will automatically have that disease. With medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and breast cancer, knowing that you are at risk means you are ahead of the game in terms of prevention. If your father has high blood pressure, then you probably make a concerted effort to eat a low-sodium diet and if necessary take medication. If your mother and grandmother both had breast cancer, then I bet you make the effort to get a mammogram when you are supposed to. Knowing you might have a condition means you do what you can to avoid it.

The same is true for obesity. It blows my mind that people will use family history as an excuse for something that actually is preventable. If obesity “runs in your family,” then you should treat it just like any other disease and take steps to prevent it

The best thing to do to start to prevent or reverse weight gain is to track your habits. Keep a food log and see if you can pinpoint what your “trigger foods” are that cause you to over eat. Start looking at habits and patterns in your daily schedule that are preventing you from having a healthy weight. Do you automatically come home, plop down in front of the TV, and zone out for a few hours while mindlessly munching on a bag of potato chips? If this sounds familiar, try to find other ways to decompress after work. Limit yourself to 30 minutes of couch time, or better yet, pick another activity that helps you unwind but also invigorates your mind or body. Read a chapter in a book, go for a brisk walk, or just put your feet up and listen to music. Once you start looking for different ways to unwind, you will discover dozens of little things that you can do. The key is to make it an activity that you enjoy. Take care of your mind first, and the body will follow.

Now that we’ve got the TV turned off and you are feeling refreshed, it’s time to talk about food. Remember how I said being surrounded by the conditions that cause a disease will lower your immunity to it? Well guess what, the foods in your pantry are one of the biggest factors in determining your susceptibility to weight gain. If you are like most people who struggle with weight management, then your pantry is full of processed, refined, and preservative-laden foods that are NOT good for you. Here is the best tip I can give you when it comes to proper nutrition: if it’s not there, you can’t eat it. This means if you don’t have chips or pretzels or candy or soda in the house, then you can’t break down and eat it in a moment of weakness. Conversely, if you do not stock your fridge with fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, how can you be expected to eat healthy? Get rid of the unhealthy foods, and make sure you have access to what you should be eating. You can’t eat what’s not there.

Yes, there is an obesity epidemic, but as with any critical situation, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A disease is defined as “an abnormal condition affecting the body.” The accumulation of excess body fat is an abnormal condition for the body to be in, adding excess stress to the organs, joints, and immune system. Your body does not want to be obese; your body prefers to be in a normal, healthy condition. This is good news for anyone struggling with weight management, because it means if you remove the factors that are causing abnormality and stress, then your body has a better chance to return to its normal state.

Weight can be managed, but you have to be willing to take the steps to actually manage it. Remove the barriers that are preventing your body from achieving a state of balance. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about proper diet. Go see a trainer and get a body comp analysis. Start exercising. Get enough sleep. Eat whole foods. Quit smoking and avoid drinking. Make healthy choices. Being overweight or obese is not something that you are automatically stuck with. You can prevent it. So go ahead and take that first step towards managing your weight, because if the problem is running in the family, then you need to outrun the problem.

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