Genes, Sensitivities & Nonsense



I began work in the fitness industry for the simple reason that I enjoyed studying exercise and nutrition. Poring over research papers, as opposed to reading the short articles that simply report minor aspects/abstracts of those research papers, reassures me that the solutions to many dietary and training challenges are clear. Sound evidence exists to support many logical methods to optimise human health and performance.


The manufactured confusion regarding the subject of effective fat loss has created an abundance of distractions and, dare I say, excuses. I have had too many conversations to count with doctors, fellow personal trainers and highly educated students of nutrition regarding their personal inability to lose body fat.


“I think I may have an issue with my gut bacteria.”


“I think I have a sensitivity to [insert food here].”


“I might get a genetic test done to see if there is anything they can find.”


Genetic susceptibility is the most recent reason we can’t lose fat. The news will regularly report finding a “fat/unhealthy gene” that, if we are one of the unfortunate many to poses, means we may as well give up hope and accept our fat(e). To this point specifically (genetic resistance to weight loss), it is worth taking some time to understand how far from the truth we now find ourselves reaching for answers.


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Genes & Fat Loss


Most of us have a gene called the DRD4 gene. However, some of us have a variant of this gene called DRD4-7R. This variant is a “bad gene” and reported as being associated with various bad behaviours such as ADHD, alcoholism and a propensity to violence. Not good!


Ariel Knafo conducted a study on children with this particular genetic variant and found that, in the large group of three-year-old children studied, those that had the worrying 7R variant were more likely to share their sweets than those with the typical DRD4 gene.


Well that’s odd, isn’t it? Why were the children with propensity to violence and alcoholism more inclined to share their sweets than those without? After all, at three years of age, humans are not known for selfless acts when it comes to sweets.


A particular gene can be thought of not unlike a kitchen knife (E. Barker, 2017). A large kitchen knife can be used for “good” or for “bad”. You can cut vegetables with a kitchen knife or you can stab someone to death with it. It is not the knife itself that is “bad” but the context (or, in this case, the hand) in which it finds itself.


The whole story discovered by Knafo was that 7R children who were raised in abusive families showed greater propensity towards violence than control children. However, 7R children that were raised in families with ‘effective parenting’ were shown to be more considerate and caring than control children. The context changes everything.


The example above translates broadly to the study of genomic influence. You, or I, may have a gene (or multiple genes) that make obesity or type-2 diabetes more likely… if we expose ourselves to a lifestyle conducive to these ailments: poor dietary choices, lack of exercise, alcohol, unhealthy lifestyle habits etc.




Losing fat is not a mystery. The most effective methods have simple become confused through media and marketing. We know how body fat is gained and lost physiologically and practically. The correct path to reduce the amount of fat on our bodies is not easy but it is clear and well trodden.


My industry is one in which consumers, like yourself (reading this), are won with promises of ease, simplicity and convenience. However, I’ve yet to see either produce consistently fantastic results. The number of consumers left wanting is too high.


If you are struggling to lose fat, I beg you, don’t fall prey to complicated rationale genetic variants and sensitivities to dozens of foods. Whilst both of these factors can play a role, the role is far smaller than we are lead to believe. You can lose significant amounts of fat by learning the basics and implementing them intelligently and consistently. If you tick all other boxes, the box regarding your genetic susceptibility becomes fairly arbitrary.


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