Proof Your Weight Is Almost Entirely Genetic And Not Your Fault

Woman Eating Indian Buffet

Nobody can resist all you can eat Indian buffet.

This post might positively change your life forever. After reading this post you will hopefully: 1) stop beating yourself up for why you aren’t in shape, 2) stop feeling guilty about what you eat, 3) stop spending money on diet fads, 4) stop spending money on exercise equipment, and 5) gain more confidence and self-esteem.

I’ve struggled with staying in fighting shape ever since I entered college. As an athlete who played competitive tennis, I was always about 152-155 in high school with a body fat percentage of under 7%. I benched 1.5X my body weight and clocked a 4.5 second 40 yard dash. When tennis season was over, I ran the anchor for the 4X100 and 4X200 relay. Sports was a huge part of my life and I don’t think I can happily live without it.

By the time I graduated college, I permanently gained the freshman 10. After my second year of working 70 hour weeks in NYC, I ballooned to 175-180 lbs. My strength and speed dissipated. I got sick a lot, had horrible allergies, and even came down with the weirdest case of plantar fasciitis.

My breaking point came when a female colleague I fancied nonchalantly said I looked like another out of shape colleague. I was crushed, but knew she was telling the truth as I looked in the mirror to spot the first signs of jowls. What the hell are jowls?!

I proceeded to work out like crazy for six months in the gym upstairs. I even bought those “Ripped Fuel Extreme” pills filled with ephederine, a substance that is now banned! In three months, I got down to 165 and felt better. But you know what? I’ve been 162-170 for the past 13 years no matter how much I exercise or how little I eat. Something must be up!

GENETICS DETERMINES YOUR WEIGHT

On Sept 18, 2012 an Ohio state parole board recommended that an obese inmate on death row should have his sentence commuted to life in prison. At 470+ pounds, Ronald Post (CBS news article), 53, was sentenced to death by a three-judge panel in 1985 for the 1983 aggravated murder of a hotel clerk after entering a plea of no contest. In other words, Ron has been in prison for 27 years, and is still obese. We’re not talking 20-50 pounds overweight. We are talking 250 pounds overweight.

When you think of prison, you think of minimalism. They are not serving double cheeseburgers, scallop potatoes, rib-eye steaks, nachos, Twinkies and other fine foods. Instead, prisons are feeding inmates carefully rationed amounts which fall under general recommended guidelines. In fact, here is the 2012 Federal Bureau of Prisons Certified Meal Menu. Most states are also under siege due to budget constraints. Therefore, the last thing a prison will do is give inmates more food than necessary.

If you are in prison for 27 years and you are still obese, how do you not concede genetics has almost everything to do with weight? Sure, we can watch what we eat and exercise a bit to improve our fitness and lower our weight at the margin. But, the vast majority of our weight explanation seems predetermined.

TAUTOLOGIES ARE TAUTOLOGIES

You think I’m being stupid for thinking we have no control over how we look. That’s fine, but I’m trying to be unbiased and 100% rational here about the explanation for how someone could be obese after 27 years in prison with budget cuts and food rationing. We do have control over how we look, but how much control we think we have is an illusion.

I used to believe working out and eating healthy made up 70% of the reason why we look the way we do after watching contestants from The Biggest Loser shed literally hundreds of pounds over a three month filming. The remaining 30% was due to genetics. I was pushing 170 pounds at the beginning of the year and needed to believe I could make a difference.

After eating less and working out vigorously, I ended up hitting 158 lbs and stayed there for several months until I went on a 2.5 week cruise to Scandanavia at the end of September. During this trip, I gained everything back. Only after joining my friend’s social exercise site (here’s my group page if you want to join and app) and focusing on my diet again for two months was I able to get down to about 163 lbs. Unfortunately, I’m still 5 lbs over what I achieved last Spring.

YOU CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH

Genetics plays a greater part in our body composition that we think. No matter what, my “happy weight” will always hover around 160-170 lbs. I’ll be happier at 160 lbs than 170 lbs, but below 160 lbs I’ll start getting pissed off because I’ll always be hungry! At over 170 pounds, I’ll also start getting annoyed because I’ll be slower, my pants will feel tight, and my face will start looking like dough.

Genetics has an immutable way of normalizing our weight back to a predetermined range. Exercise and extreme dieting can help you get below your range briefly, but you’re going to mean revert sooner or later. How else do we explain why the large majority of diets fail?

Everybody needs to stop beating themselves over the head wondering why they can’t stay thin. Stop thinking we need to look like the actors we see on TV or the models we see in magazines. The industry is simply selecting those people who have weight bands much lower than the average person. Folks we see on the big screen are also more attractive than the average person. They are the anomaly, while what we see all around us is reality.

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Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. gary martins says

    first time commenter, love the blog! going back into the archives on page 14 so far… “how do you explain Steve Jobs dying of cancer in his 50s when he was a vegan and exercised regularly?” – sugar is a primary substrate of cancer and soy, a staple of vegan diets is estrogenic –> cancergenic

  2. Umut Uğur Köse says

    Rather than whether it is 100% under your control or you have 0 control, one must ask if it is worth the hassle. Some people may need to struggle harder for a normal weight. Both physically and mentally ( genetics and impulses ) I can easily lose up to 25 lbs in 8-10 weeks if I stick to a diet patiently including exercise but I find it impossible to keep it for a lifetime. I keep going up and down in weight. I love desserts and I know people who just don’t like eating that much. So I wonder : is it worth all the emotional and physical stress just to keep a normal weight ? Funny thing is I crave sugar when I am stressed and dieting creates more stress :) It is like a curse :)

  3. omes11 says

    Sam,

    First off, I love your site and thanks for creating it/posting.

    In regards to the post, I believe your “mystery” (of why you yo yo in a 10 lb band) is quite simple actually. There have been enough posters above to completely ridicule your argument based on a sample size of 2 and utterly devoid of any sophisticated understanding of health/exercise (beyond “proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are nutrients and calories in = calories out …” level understanding), so I will not even touch upon that except to say that it is fairly common knowledge (as well as common sense) that BMI is not a very meaningful value for more muscular/athletic people (which you claim to be/have been). Instead I will focus on your situation:

    First some assumptions: these are based on reading almost your entire site and so I think fairly accurately describe you, obviously if these assumptions are wrong then my explanation is not as strong

    1) you hate traditional workout methods, you have written that you don’t see the point of spending “hours in the gym” and you dont like doing “mindless activities” such as cardio and weightlifting and that you would much rather be productive with work/projects rather than “waste” time at the gym, hence your choice of tennis as exercise

    implication: I hate to burst your bubble but tennis (like most sports) is not a continuous activity and does not burn the same level of calories as cardio exercise (i.e. you can play tennis all you want but unless you man up and actually do a real workout in the gym you are vastly overestimating your calorie expenditures). Tennis involes 10-20 seconds bursts of movement followed by a minute+ of standing around. Not even close to continuous cardio activity! I understand you hate workouts (cardio/gym) so my explanation is that this post/opinion is your own mental way of giving yourself a free pass from the guilt that you feel due to avoiding real exercise. It can’t be the type of exercise you do (i.e. i only like to do fun activities like tennis but cant force myself to do cardio), so it must be genetics, right? I believe you are deluding yourself and not owning up to the fact that you are lazy in your choice of exercise (which is very surprising given that you are so extremely productive in probably every other walk of life). I am surprised you don’t see the connection here. Maybe you think “well im definitely not lazy as evidenced by x,y,z so it can’t be that im lazy with exercising” but yes based on what you have written I would say that by avoiding traditional gym exercises you are definitely lazy in that regard.

    2) You most likely give yourself way too much credit for your eating habits. You have written that in your previous career you were frequently wining and dining with clients and that you are a “foodie” that loves eating good food. After years of this behavior, it becomes habitual and very hard to break/curtail (I know from experience). Given that you have the means to do so, you are most likely eating out/ordering in several times a week AT LEAST, if not almost on a daily basis as you are wealthy and money is not an issue. Eating out frequently is your way of life. It is an integral part of your social and former (current?) professional life and I would venture to say that you don’t have a very strong willpower when it comes to food. My guess is that when you approach the lower end of the 10 lb band you are actively and diligently cutting down on eating out and eating much cleaner. Due to your willpower, this “dieting” period only lasts a certain period of time before you can’t maintain such a drastic lifestyle change, after which you revert back to your old eating habits (frequently eating out) and the weight comes right back and brings you to the top range of the band. Once again (as with laziness in choice of exercise above), I believe your motivation for a post like this is because deep down you feel guilty that you don’t have the willpower to make a lasting and drastic change to your diet so instead you have to blame genetics for your inability to stop “being such a foodie”.

    • says

      At 5’10” and 162-165lbs, I have no doubt I am too lazy to workout hard enough to get down to my high school fighting weight of 152-155lbs. Eating out has become my way of life, especially since I live in San Francisco where there is so many good restaurants.

      I’d love to hear your stats and your story about weight. How’d you find my site btw? Always curious.

      Cheers,

      Sam

  4. Liz says

    I have been fighting my body mass all my life. I exercise 1h every day, eat extremely healthy, control my weight every week. I did some diets with the guidance of my MD, which unfailingly worked, but afterwards I regained my lost weight, pound after pound, without any specific reason. And, no matter what, I can’t seem to be able to lose weight anymore. I.e.: you are completely right, our bodies are programmed to be so-and-so, and we have relative control on that. And, no matter what, I have decided to feel confident about myself and my body.

  5. Krystal says

    You are dead right. People bleat on and on about how the inmate can buy cookies on commissary. So what? The thin inmates also can buy cookies on commissary. And, you cannot buy that much on commissary. There are strict limits. Prison is all about strict limitations. Most people who lose weight regain it. People bleat on and on about calories in versus calories out. What if the amount of calories you “need” to be at a certain weight is much lower than another person’s? Should you have to be hungry all of the time? What kind of life is that? The lemmings just want to believe that they have more control than they do. They say you cherry picked data? Go to visitation hour at prison and you will see many inmates of all sizes. Some are fat…some are thin….some are plain obese. But they are all eating the same portioned slop at the cafeteria. Genes are king.

    • someone says

      I’m not fat, obese or overweight so I have good genes? My sister has a lot of fat on her face and some on her legs. My brother has a bloated belly, my mom has some belly fat and my dad is overweight. Most of my dad’s relatives are not overweight. But he is getting slimmer and getting rid of the face, belly and leg fat. So genes reign supreme?

      Eating the same amount of food at prison doesn’t prove that it’s their genes that is controlling how fat they are. Some may have eaten a lot of food before going to prison and some may have not. The ones that did probably have “starvation mode” activated because they can’t just grab a bunch of calories whenever they want to. Typical US prison menus contain moderate calories so the fat inmates’ bodies aren’t used to the sudden reduction in calories.

      Stop blaming your genes. Unless you have thyroid problems, it’s not like you’re doomed to live that way forever.

      • Razwell says

        It’s time to lay off of obese people . Science shows us that GENES have a MONUMENTAL say in our body shapes and sizes. The MOST say. You are reasoning from BELIEF , NOT from evidence. The great thing about science is that it challenges our beliefs and makes us uncomfortable. it is called LEARNING and growing….

        In science, we reason from EVIDENCE. We force our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality. Dr. Friedman has shown obesity is largely genetic.

      • Elizabeth says

        Hello. I agree that not losing weight in prison is not necessarily an indicator of genetic predisposition.

        It’s not necessarily the quantity of the food but the quality. I can imagine a prison diet being very starchy, insulin producing foods as these are the cheap foods but are often devoid of nutrition so the body will not readily release its excess weight because it views itself as starving.

        Eating LESS food not more is often why people don’t lose weight because metabolism slows. Also, a body with insulin constantly coursing through the veins will not release fat. It’s the science of metabolism.

        I like the hypothesis but I believe there is more to it. It seems genetics play a part in the Ecto, Meso, Endomorph body types that do seem to respond differently to diet and exercise.

  6. Razwell says

    GREAT POST, FinancialSamurai . :)

    You are correct.

    The genetic component /heritability of obesity is EQUAL to that of height ( Friedman Leibel Rosenbaum). GENES have a MONUMENTAL say. The MOST say by far.

    When it comes to out levels of fat mass and our body size, the body has a mind of its own – its own agenda. This has been very, very, very, very well studied by Dr. Rosenbaum and others using top quality ” A1A experiments” and they were ran back and forth 6 different times.

    Humans are laughable creatures with belief systems. This is apparent with the topic of obesity. I get tried of the politics and belief systems.

    In SCIENCE, we FORCE our beliefs to CONFORM to the evidence of reality. We DON’T make the evidence of reality conform to our beliefs. This is a NO-NO, in science, and it is what 99 % of the population does.

    The evidence from honest scientific experiments ( the evidence of reality) tells us that the body has numerous powerful involuntary defense mechanisms and biological safeguards. The heritability of obesity is EQUAL to that of height . And voluntary measures have VERY LIMITED ability to affect body mass/size over the very long term.

    FABULOUS post. I hope it ruffles the feathers of people with baseless belief systems about body size.

    Wishing you the best,
    Raz

  7. says

    I was writing a letter for a wellness forum I was putting together when I found your blog about genetics and the obese inmate. I have been in the business of teaching people how to maximize their health status, for over 25 years. In a brief look at the posts it would appear that the most important factor in determining good health was not even mentioned. That most important factor is your thoughts and beliefs. If you believe you are doomed to be this or that, skinny or fat, then guess what? You are! Just one simple statement about the samurai premise of “genetics are the reason” he can’t be a healthy weight. Your genetics are probably pretty much the same now as they were when you were in school and “fit”. So I guess its something else? And age is not a big a factor as you would be lead to believe so don’t use that one.
    Believe me, if you don’t get your head “right” you cannot have your best possible anything. So if you want to blame someone or something for anything bad in your life then you have just given them or it the power over you. Just take it back by taking responsibility for your life. Choose to be happy and healthy and stop looking for reasons why you are not.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by, and great point about the power of a positive mindset.

      Attributing things to genetics takes away one’s power, and a negative cycle occurs. Unfortunately, I think genetics is a 70% factor for our appearance and weight.

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