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Illusion Chasers

Illusion Chasers


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Fat Tuesday: Even if you eat a healthy diet, your genes can make you fat

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Credit: Boston Children's Hospital. Three sibling mice. The one on the left has a genetic defect that causes it to grow fat even though it was given the same diet.

A recent report in Science Magazine shows that mice that have certain genetic defects can eat exactly the same healthy diet as their genetically normal siblings, yet still gain weight to the point of obesity. This is further evidence that obesity is not necessarily about gluttony and lack of will, but about your body’s metabolic control system.

Gina Kolata of the New York Times wrote an excellent lay summary of the research.

Stephen L. Macknik About the Author: Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik are laboratory directors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Follow on Twitter @illusionchasers.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Silkysmom 2:12 pm 07/24/2013

    In that case the animal with the genetic defects needs to eat less. The short answer is: One gains weight if calories consumed is more than calories burned.

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  2. 2. Stephen L. Macknik in reply to Stephen L. Macknik 10:57 pm 07/24/2013

    The accumulating evidence suggests that the calorie-in calorie-out theory of energy balance is just plain wrong. Calories from sugar, carbs, proteins, and fat are all processed differently. It is not at all clear that the body uses every calorie it ingests. Case in point: when you are in ketosis (your body’s fat-burning, rather than glucose burning, mode), you don’t store fat.

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  3. 3. leoluca criscione 3:53 am 07/25/2013

    This is exactly what is described in the book: “Eating healthy and dying obese”! By the end, the genes influence the amount of calories a given person can burn by influencing the personal Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). The RMR represents the amount of calories a person needs at rest to keep the body’s vital functions working (like body temperature, heart rate, brain and kidney functions). The RMR is in part genetically driven and thereafter differs from person to person! The RMR influences the calories a person also burns during any occupational or leisure activity! This means that two persons with a different RMR value burn a different amount of calories, even at rest or by exercising with the same intensity and duration! The good news: The RMR, our days, can easily and quickly be measured with the so called Indirect Calorimetry! See the data presented at the last EUropean Congress on Obesity (ECO2013) on Calogenetic Balance, an educational program for lifelong weight control based on measured resting metabolic rate and intake of favorite foods! http://www.vitasanas.ch/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/poster-only-eco-liverpool-ok.pdf

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