SparkPeople Blogs  •  news  •  family

Are Genes To Blame For Your Battle With Weight?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I've never thought I was a lot like my mother. We don't have the same features, and our personalities are very different. But as I've gotten older, I see more of her in me. I've noticed (or many times my husband has noticed) me using some of her funny phrases or doing things she would normally do. Although those similarities are more recent, one thing that's always been similar is how we carry weight. Can you look at your mother (or father) and see yourself in 20 or 30 years? New research is analyzing genes and how much they determine your body shape and weight.

There are a number of factors that go into determining your size and shape. Up to 80 percent of that is determined by our genes, but a significant portion is also determined by lifestyle choices. According to recent research, some aspects of size and shape are more closely related to genes than others. For example, the ability to build muscle has a lot to do with your genes. Weight training will help you gain strength and create muscle definition. But at a certain point, you can look at your parents to see your capacity to build significant amounts of muscle. Certain body types also have more to do with genetics. The apple shape (vs. pear) is more likely to be inherited.

Scientists have identified a new gene that may affect how much you eat. According to the research, "Scientists believe this gene, which is carried by about 20 percent of the human population, may trigger a compulsion to overeat which could explain why obesity tends to run in families the same way certain body shapes do."

So does this mean all of your hard work might be for nothing? Definitely not. Although genes play a big role in body type, lifestyle choices are just as important. The rising rates of obesity in America aren't due to changes in our genes. They are due to changes in our lifestyle- less activity and more food. Although you can't change your shape or where you tend to carry weight, you have the power to make sure that your body is as fit and healthy as possible.

Do you carry weight like your mother or father? If weight issues run in your family, what have you done to keep yourself as healthy as possible?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See more: news family obesity


I also recently became aware of looking like and sounding like my mother. I didn't realize it until I cut my hair in a similar style. My sister just about had a heart attack. She immediately said get rid of the weight and let the hair grow out. You look 30 years older than you are now. What a wake up call for me. Report
I have a simular phenotype (appearance) to my maternal great grandmother, and she was obese her whole life. I was super morbidly obese until recently (I have lost almost 165 pounds here on Spark people). I have two siblings that ate what they wanted and stayed at a healthy weight. That was never the case with me. I do believe that I am predisposed to weight gain, but I know I am not predetermined. I have learned that I have more control than I gave myself for credit for. ...but even losing 160 pounds cannot get me away from the family saddle bags. Oh well..., at least I feel good. Report
I'm actually the largest in the family of 7, though no one is particularly thin or underweight. I would just say they are average size for their heights. I'm 5'9" and actually the shortest. So the family is not petite, but not overweight either. Don't know where I got this bod from?! Report
My mother is thin and always has been. She also has excellent willpower and was always able to limit herself to just one. My father on the other hand is heavier and loves sweets. At 5'2" I weighed 106 lbs when I graduated from high school. We didn't have a car so we walked everywhere and I still do 3 miles a day, every day, regardless of weather. By the time I was 40 the lbs. had started to add but were still quite acceptable at 140 lbs. After 40 the lbs really started to add up whether aided by the coming of menopause, age, metabolism, genes, stress, or whatever. At 61 I weigh 190. I figure I took after my father's sister who was also thin in her younger days and put on weight later. I've seen the same thing in her two daughter - skinny in their younger years and much heavier after 40. I eat healthy, almost no packaged food, and very little eating out. I have an issue with sweets, find that I'm better off if they're not around at all, and try to stick to fruit. I've tried to increase my exercise but I haven't found the combination of things that work for me yet. I'm still working on it. I have some issues with my right knee and I know losing weight would help in that area also. So where genes leave off and our own actions become responsible for who and what we are is still a mystery. I know I've cut back on many of the things I used to eat in my 20's and I certainly don't eat out as much as I used to but I don't see changes where I'd like. I think it will be a work in progress for a long time.

On the other hand, my parents are both in their 90's and I've watched my mother struggle recently. She's lost her taste for food and it's a chore to get her to eat. Her muscles to eat are not working properly which is not uncommon as we age. Her weight has gone down to 80 lbs and she's about the size of a 12 year old. I know I don't want to ever be at that point either. Too big or too small is not good. Report
Thyroid disease runs on the maternal line and in my line, I mimic my great-aunt. My grandmother and her other sisters, they gained around 10-20lbs that they held all their lives after their thyroids were removed (as they used to do back then) but her oldest sister, she was always very overweight despite working hard on the farm. Sure she was like most farm women, she ate foods that people would cringe at and cooked with real cream straight from the cow, that contributed somewhat to her weight. It wasn't the main issue though. As my grandmother said, all the sisters did well with the thyroid removal but her sister, she always struggled. My grandmother told me that I mimic the ups'downs of my great-aunt, that I struggle just as she did and that its not because I'm too stupid to know how to get to a healthy weight. Doesn't mean I cannot be healthy, it means that I could stop beating myself up for doing 10x more than my friend and gaining weight, rather than losing. Report
There is no denying that genetics can play a role in our ability to lose weight, however, it is us who determines if we eat & live a healthy lifestyle.
Yes, both of my parents were overweight as are several of my siblings, and I had a doctor(Endocrinologist for my hypothyroid issue's) tell me 2 years ago that I should ACCEPT my genetics and the tendency to be other words - live with it!
I walked out his office that day a bit discouraged, but determined that there must be something I can do...and I did:

1.) I found an excellent, progressive thinking internist who specializes in health & metabolism issue's. He changed my thyroid medicine - tweaking the dosage along the way, and he encouraged me in a healthy lifestyle.
2.) I bumped up my level of daily activity. In addition to walking, I joined a few classes at our gym: Tai Chi(2 times/week), Spin classes(2-3 times/week), weights 3 times/week, hikes, swimming, gardening, etc.
3.) I found SparkPeople! Yea! I begin tracking my food & physical activities, started reading the many great articles, signed up for challenges, joined teams, gained supportive friends, and a host of other motivating things.

Since March 2009 I have lost 47 lbs.! I am so tempted to drop that first doctor a note with 'before & after' pictures, and a comment like, "Remember me? You told me a couple years ago to just accept my genetics(and stay over weight). So glad I didn't take your advice." Report
My mother died at 62 of colon cancer; she battled her weight all her life. She would be so proud of me for what I'm doing to make sure that I live a great life! Report
Both of my parents are overweight (according to BMI they might actually be obese) and both are "apple" shaped. Guess what? So am I and so is my brother. So were my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles. I come from a family of apple-shaped people.

So I can definitely see the genes I am fighting against! Report
As the sixth of seven children I can see in my siblings similarities to my parents but don't see a lot of them in myself. Ok...well not direct, I have my mother's butt and my father's gut. When in college I lost 70 pounds and looked great...a lot like my father's sister I was told. So there is a family resemblance just not as direwct as parent-child. Report
It is my desire to not fully become like my Mother or Father and to NOT fully follow my older sister. I do not want to just "live" my life and become obese because it's in my family - I refuse to believe that genes will fully control my body shape. I'm happy to read this and know that I am not the only one.
I am very much like my mother. I am so scared that I will follow her foot steps and die at age 48 just like she did. I am just now see it and I am doing everything I can to stay away from it. I joined SP to help me lose it and not follow her. She had so much medical problems that I don[t know everything. Report
neither of my parents; they are both of pretty normal size and i am overweight. however, i know that obesity runs in my family, so i'm assuming i got my body shape from SOMEWHERE down the line. also, i did learn eating habits from my family so i think that's probably why i'm overweight. we ALWAYS ate. Report
I have my Mom's fat legs and my Dad's thin upper body. I hope with increased exercise I can help my body to look more in proportion. Report
I am built like my dads side of the family.
Tall long legged.
When I was FAT I should say I would carry all my weight on my body front & back,NO BUTT!!! Report
I can so relate to this blog.......when I look in the mirror, I can see my mother in there.......and my sister and I joke about the pot-belly coming from our father's side of the family Report
My weight definitely has to do with my genes. My mom is overweight and has been ever since I was a child. Our diet in proportion to physical exercise has not been correct. So if we had a helathy physical lifestyle I'm sure that the weight would not be the degree of an issue that it is todya. But we still do have a tendency to being heavy and will have to conciously watch our diet. Report
I believe a lot of my problems are from how I was raised. My mother never had a weight problem but my father and his parents and siblings all had issues. My parents grew up during the great depression and I believe when they left home and were able to take care of themselves, their goal was to eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

As children we were also told to eat everything on our plates. We were not allowed to leave the table until our plates were empty. I have watched my father hide treats and candy from everyone else, so that only he has access to them. I have found myself doing the exact same thing. It was an eye opener for me.

I have to change my lifestyle. I know that. I'm working on that. The problems may be genetic, they may be learned; but I still have to deal with them and get healthy. Report
I don't think so.
But we do get our eating habits from our parents/family. Not just what they serve us but by what we see them eat. Report
Exactly like mom! Report
I am my mother. I look like her, have her build and catch myself saying/thinking like her. Some of this to my chagrin. My parents were never overweight. igrew up on what is now called the Mediterraen diet. My sister is size 2-4. Then there is me who started gaining around 10yrs. My lifestyle is very different from my parents. Their physical activity came solely from their work. They knew portion control inately and could stop, while I wanted to continue eating. Report
To some extent yes. Report
Genetics is a funny thing- I look nothing like, nor am shaped like either my mother or biological father's families, but look exactly like my stepfather and his family, and I didn't even meet him until I was 7! But on principle I do agree that not only is our encoded genome a large factor in how we look and physically behave, but that the environment of our mother's during pregnancy and after can affect our physical appearance and behaviors despite what our genes encode for. So while I understand that for many, the genetic link can help explain our behaviors and appearance, it is not a end all excuse that just because my genes say I'm fat means I have to be fat. There are many things encoded in our genes that we can avoid or fight just by deciding to follow certain behaviors. In other words don't let genetics be your excuse for choosing not to be healthier. Report
My father, a very thin person for his entire life, had a finely-honed sense of how much to eat and could tell within 1 or 2 bites when he was full. My mother and I lack an 'off' switch. I can consume an enormous amount of food. I now weigh my food so I know how much to eat. Since I am rarely full, I try to stop eating when I am no longer hungry. However, I will never be able to eat as little as my father.

If you have 2 bites still sitting on your plate, would you normally eat it - or stop because you have had enough? Report
They've found some pretty good evidence that if one generation of people is malnourished, they will pass down traces of that experience to their children, who will show signs of malnourishment and chronic disease, and on down the line. It was first noticed in the Netherlands during World War II when an entire town of Dutch people was deliberately starved. The pregnant women who carried to term around the end of their starvation period had low-birthweight babies. The babies grew up being fed normally--but when the girls grew up *they* had low-birthweight babies, exactly as if they'd starved all through their pregnancies. That got the attention of scientists, and there have been other examples of that weird kind of heredity since that time, leading to the founding of a scientific field called epigenetics.

They're finding that chromosomes respond in certain ways to the experiences of the organism, and that they can pass themselves on, in that condition, to the offspring. So even though the DNA code hasn't changed, how the genes are expressed does change--genes get turned on and off by the experiences of the organism, so the genetic code expresses differently in descendants.

It is not an absolute thing and not all nutrition-related problems are carried down to descendants in that way. There were experiments done with pigs in the early part of the twentieth century in which the sows were deprived of vitamin A, causing their offspring to be born without eyes. The offspring were then fed normally, reached maturity and had offspring of their own. They were fed vitamin A during farrowing--and the babies had eyes.

I agree with some of the commenters here who say it's not inevitable or a "normal" genetic thing for people to walk around fat. We *can* influence the metabolisms of our children by the choices we make before they are born, though. Nevertheless, there is hope. If enough people change their habits for the better before they have kids, it will start to turn things around on a nationwide level.

And... by the way... I predict that gene mentioned in the original post is going to wind up being a dead end. The science already points strongly to the probability that fat people eat more because we're fat, not that we got fat because we overeat. Eating too much of the wrong things and eating too much food, period, are not the same thing. I don't know why researchers (and diet gurus!) insist on continually re-inventing the wheel when the answers are already there. Get your insulin and blood sugar under control and watch the constant hunger go away. Report
I think it's more what the parents are passing down (bad habits) to the children, rather than genes. We aren't really structured to be heavy. We're just not. Now, I do agree that SOME (very few) are slightly prone to be heavier, but this isn't common. We're taught so quickly after birth to avoid listening to our bodies that we're screwed from infancy.

I can still hear my Mom, "Well, you don't get dessert if you don't eat all of your veggies and meat." I will never do this to my children. (No I won't let them ONLY eat dessert, but structure will be different...and our desserts will be fruit and yogurt, etc) Report
A mixture of both leaning more towards mom. I have had the same yo-yo diet affect as my mom has. Trying now to change so my daughter doesn't follow those foot steps. Report
This made me think (and laugh)
I've got my Dad's coloring, height, bowed legs
I've got Mom's shape, face, weight.
Really a mix of them both! Report
My mother was heavy all of her adult life especially after having eight children. I have never had a weight problem. In fact, my metabolism is completely different. I am blessed to never having to worry about my weight. Report
I have been blessed with both my parents shape which is slim build. My mom is a health freak and always focused on healthy eating. My dad loved to be active. Even though I have those benefits I realise that I still have to work at being fit for myself or things can easily get out of control. Report
I see my mom in me a lot. I see her mannerisms, her sayings & beliefs, her smile, and even the way she use to walk(she passed away 5 years ago). She was never as heavy as I have been or am right now. My dad however, has the weight problem and is probably where I learned to overeat. He's doing better these days with his weight and overeating, but he could do better. Anyway, I think being away from him is good for both of us in regard to our respective eating habits. I think we give each other permission to eat what and how much we like. I like my new lifestyle eating style and hope my dad can adopt that as well. Report
It's definitely a combo of nature and nurture. My family carries such strong genetic resemblence that, when any group of us are together, we look like a growth chart. My uncle, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist, reminds us on a regular basis that we shouldn't hate ourselves for being prone to weight gain and find it ifficult to shed that weight, not to mention easy muscle-building for most of us. If we question him too much, he pulls out the punnett squares and double helix and explains it all over again. CAN we lose weight? Yes. Can we blink and put it back on? Yeppers. Our bodies are genetically predisposed to enjoying the fluffy life.

As for nurture, this plays a huge role too. Did mom eat veggies? Did anyone cook? Was food associated with reward/punishment paradigms in your house? All these things can affect someone's relationship with food. If you have hefty genetics PLUS unhealthy habits learned in's definitely an uphill battle. Report
I feel like my family members who are overweight use the hereditary factor as an excuse. They often say, "I have the ____'s hips" and imply that they can't do anything about it. I just sort of raise my eyebrows and don't respond. Because, I too am a _______, but I don't have those hips. Thank goodness! My mother was overweight and would often say to me, "When I was your age, I was built just like you." I heard that so often that finally I asked, "When exactly did things go wrong, so I can watch for it?" She smacked me and laughed. Report
I carry my weight like my mother's side more. They all tend to be overweight and I can definitely see my mom when I look at myself in the mirror. I've decided I don't want to be like everyone else in my family. I love everyone dearly, but they don't take of themselves like they should, and I why should I do the same? I should be different so they will have someone to look at, and then maybe I can be a great role model for them. If they see that I can get healthier and lose my weight, maybe that will inspire them. That's my hope anyway. Report
my entire family is overweight -- my mom has battled weight issues all her life, and as the years have passed, my dad has definitely seen the pounds creep on, too. my stepdad is overweight, my brother used to be morbidly obese as a child (but then turned to football and is now just a behemoth of solid muscle) and my sister has always been very curvy. my stepmom, too, but she always seemed to be the one with the best body image. i have to work very hard to keep the pounds off, especially when i'm visiting them, but i've really grown to love the gym and now whenever my dad and stepmom claim they're going on some trendy diet, i always just have to stop and wonder why. i work out the most out of anyone in my family, but i know that if i relent, i will gain weight in my midsection just like every other member of my family has! Report
Mom is an apple shape. She carries alot of her weight in her middle and chest. So this worries me...but I know that she could exercise and improve her eating habits. So even if it is genes, hopefully my better lifestyle will keep me from becoming her in the future...
Dad is stick aunt teases that he is a pencil! He is tall and very thin. Yet...he eats a ton of stuff! Like Reese's pb cups for breakfast, tasty cakes at lunch, and snacks on things like that throughout the day...according to him he was pudgy in childhood. When he became a teenager he ate only at lunch time (and unhealthy stuff: chips, cake, soda) and suddenly lost weight. He seems to be able to eat anything now... Report
Don't take after my mom at all. Maybe I take after my dad's side of the family. I have one son whose body type is the same as mine and is now aware that he has to exercise more and watch what he eats, especially after quitting smoking.Staying active with good eating habits is the key to success Report
I have my mother's apple shaped body, but was determined not to gain weight like her. I have succeeded in not gaining AS MUCH as she did, but still struggle with weight!! I knew as a teenagers, it was not going to be easy... but with much determination, I am hoping to have taught my daughters more about good nutrition than I knew when younger! Report
I may have inherited my dad's body shape and tendency to retain weight, but I'm very fortunate to also have inherited his discipline and tenacity. My dad is actually one of my role models, having lost a lot of weight in his 40s and kept it off for over 40 years. Report
I have to say I do share my mothers genes. But even tho that includes a big butt and a slow metabolism I had much rather have that than my 3 sisters traits. They took after my Dad's people and that is extremely short and very heavy in legs and butt. So I am thankful and so is my husband. LOL Report
i think that i'm a mixture of my mother and father. i just got the bad end of the gene pool. lol. i have my mom's thick arms, and my dad's meaty/muscular thighs. it's really hard to tone either one of these areas. they are my biggest problems. i guess having a baby doesn't work too well with my stomach either. but i've learned to accept my curvy body for the way it is. it's definately a learning process when you see the models on tv and what-not. god gave me this body for a reason, and all i can do is work with what i have! so although my thighs are thick, they also are very strong. and my arms may be larger than some, but they too are strong arms that are meant to be holding a million things at once, including a two year old! Report
I have a VERY different body than my mother, though my father has mentioned that my body shape is similar to his mother, my grandmother. My mom is an extremely fit and thin runner but is "boy-shaped". I'm curvy and carry my weight in my hips and thighs. I'll certainly never be as lean as she is but I admire her fitness! Report
I am shaped like my mother. We both carry our extra weight in our belly. Our shape is closer to an apple shape then a pear, but don't really fit either. Report
Explains a lot doesn't it? Report
I take after my's easy for me to build muscle. My dad was short, I'm shorter. I used to have his small butt until child oldest daughter has notice a similar result! I have his short wide neck and wide feet. Not shaped anything like my mom but have noticed I have some of her mannerisms. I'm built in proportion, it's just the size of the proportions is the problem! Working on that... Report
I think genetics do play into body shape, but lifestyle choices may also be influenced by family patters. Growing up, my family regularly ate balanced meals but didn't emphasize the importance of veggies and fruits; therefore, I find I have to consciously remind myself to eat a couple extra ones every day. So, in an indirect way, not only have my parents' body types affected mine but so have their eating patterns affected mine. Report
I look nothing like my mother or father's body types (although I certainly share her tendency toward poor self image) but I am a lot like my fraternal grandmother. I think if my father had sisters, I would look like them,. Report
This feels like the age old question... nature vs. nurture and I know I believe its both! Report
I was adopted in 1970 and have very little knowledge of my birth parents. However, I did obtain a very brief medical history from the adoption agency many years ago and discovered that my birth parents and my birth mothers immediate family all have weight, height and build identical to mine. My parents (the ones who raised me) are the opposite of the birth parents. I find it interesting to say the least! Report
I have a combination of both parents. My father is of average height and very stocky (musclular w/padding). He is also diabetic and has heart issues. My mother had large arms and an obese abdomen. She was also diabetic. My family also ate large amounts of fried foods, cornbread, and sweets/pastries. They both probably would have had nice figures if they had made different choices.
I made very bad choices during my years of college, while working full-time, and getting married. I have the padding to show for it! Before I lost track of myself, I had a nice figure. I've never been skinny, but had a nice shape. Very much like my mother's. I'm muscular like my dad, so my body's looking more like his now than my mom's!!
When I eat right and exercise appropriately, I experience what both of my parents probably would have experienced if they had changed their habits. Report
Great info--I got my mother's genes Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.