Based on the fact that humans have only recently undergone massive changes to our diets, the paleo diet cuts the refined sugars, grains, and legumes most of us now eat in abundance, but which our bodies aren’t suited for. It’s a diet that works wonders for many people, but there are a certain few for whom paleo doesn’t live up to its expectations. So if paleo is fundamental to our human core, why would it work for some but not for others?
One issue lies right in the theoretical basis of the paleo diet — our DNA. Humans grow and adapt to our environment. We experience variations in our genetic code that alter us over time, and they are not the same for everyone. So whatever genetics our ancestors had a few thousand years ago, they are not necessarily what we all still carry today. Some variations make it easier or harder to see results with the Paleo diet, or any diet plan.
Once we account for some of these variations, however, Paleo can work again.
One issue lies right in the theoretical
basis of the paleo diet — our DNA.
Take for example recently identified genetic variation known as FTO. An FTO variant has been shown to increase desire for energy rich fattening foods. An appetite for high calories foods is bad enough, but this FTO variant also leads to another outcome — it creates more fat cells! A study at MIT showed that those with the FTO variant gene also create more white fat cells (those which hoard fat) than brown fat cells (those which burn energy to produce body heat). So the net effect of the FTO alteration is a larger appetite and a higher propensity to create white fat cells. It’s a combination that would make it hard for anyone to lose weight!
Our genes are changing on an ongoing basis. And for the last few centuries that we’ve had farming and industrialized food our genes and bodies have changed further. Paleo is a sound and sensible approach for most. But if you find paleo isn’t quite working for you, the answer may be in your genes.
Fortunately, researches who study obesity genes say that exercise doesn’t just combat fat but also the effects of “fat” genes. For instance, research at Mt. Sinai in New York showed that 30 minutes of activity 5 days per week reduced the effect of the FTO variant by 27%. Dr. Ruth Loos, the lead researcher of the study, mentions that the exercise “doesn’t have to be overly vigorous, as long as you start to sweat,” which means even biking, gardening, or going for a brisk walk will work. Of course, that still leaves 73% of the gene’s effect intact. To ratchet up the fight, research at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana showed that more intense activity will blast through genetic predisposition to fat. It seems that once we enter a specific range of exercise, the body kicks in to lose fat no matter what our genes want.
But that’s just exercise, fasting is another way to burn stubborn fat. Fasting will induce growth hormone (which peaks at night) and amplify your fat burning pathways. Extend the overnight fasting period from 5 pm to 11 AM the next day to increase growth hormone production and fat burning.
You should also look to remove obesogens from your diet — these foods mimic estrogens and can lead more fat. They are found in plastics, pesticides, and preservatives and even some plants such as flax and soy. You could be following the paleo diet to a T, but if you’re exposed to obesogens your chances of maintaining fat are much higher.
Stubborn fat is a reality for many. You may have biological reasons why you don’t lose weight as quickly as your neighbor. However, you can make almost any diet successful, as long as you understand your fat first — including all the ways we get fat and how fat fights to stay on us. I explain all the unknown facts about fat in The Secret Life of Fat.