Diet blog: fat genes

Judith Wills / 22 September 2016

Our diet expert weighs up the evidence for a fat gene.



Way back in the ‘70s when I was editing a slimming magazine, there was much talk of obesity being linked to genetics.  Overweight readers would very often cry “I can’t lose weight – it’s my genes!”  And a debate simmered gently within the medical and nutrition professions about the likelihood or otherwise of this.

The debate has continued and grown louder over the years, with various named genes being mooted as the cause of obesity, rather than the reason I have always plumped for (forgive!) - that food has become so plentiful, in your face and varied over the decades, mirroring almost exactly our growing battle with weight.  I.e., the resultant overeating is the cause.  And if not the whole cause, then certainly a huge part of it.  And in thinking this way, I’ve been far from on my own.

Are your hormones making you fat?

Now it seems that perhaps both schools of thought may be partially correct.  The latest study published in the British Medical Journal*, which was conducted on trials of nearly 10,000 people, finds that while people carrying ‘fat’ genes do tend to be heavier than others, having those genes doesn’t stop us from losing the weight if we want to.

The leader of the study explains that people with the fat genes ‘respond just as well to weight loss interventions as everyone else …. Diets and activity will work just as well …’

All they need to do now is find out how to prevent the people with the fat genes from putting on lots of weight in the first place.  And it’s my bet that eventually they will – by helping them to eat less.  And I’ll be proved right all along!

Meanwhile, I am still progressing with my own non-diet weight loss – those of you who read the last blog may remember it’s a process of making micro decisions about food behaviour and intake several times a day, and it had really worked for me with an 8lb weight loss in 3 weeks.

The micro-resolutions that helped Judith lose weight

Since then I’ve shed another 2lbs and am maintaining now – at around a good weight for me.  The weight loss, I have to say, has been helped by losing my appetite for a couple of weeks since our dear cat Charlie died.  RIP Charlie.  Some people eat for comfort when they are miserable – others can’t eat.  I am one of the latter, so it seems.

Truth to tell, I would rather have him back and be struggling with the fat tum.  On the other hand, as we now know that being overweight causes our brains to age up to ten years faster**, maybe it is time to be sensible.  And this time, I have real hope and confidence that I will be able to maintain my new weight for life.

Why exercise is good for your brain

* FTO genotype and weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 9,563 individual participant data from eight randomized controlled trials, Newcastle University.

** Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience.

Ate last night

Summer seems to be on the wane – certainly where we live on the Western outreaches of Herefordshire -  and our evening meals are developing more of an autumnal feel.  A shame to say goodbye to the lovely foods of summer, but one thing I have missed over the past few months was a cheesy, creamy fish pie.  My tum hasn’t missed its calories, though, and so I created a less rich variation on a fish pie instead, and we both enjoyed it lots.  Do try to get really good fresh cod fillets.

Judith's diet-friendly fish pie

Cod with Peas, Potatoes and Bacon

Serves 2

  • 300g Charlotte potatoes
  • 150g frozen peas
  • 2 rashers unsmoked back bacon, diced
  • 2 large spring onions, chopped
  • 1½ tbsp approx extra virgin rapeseed oil or sunflower oil
  • 3 tbsp stale breadcrumbs
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 100ml fish stock
  • 2½ tbsp crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cod fillets, about 175g each
  • 20g Parmesan

1.  Cut the potatoes into thick flat slices and boil until just tender, drain and fry in half the oil in a nonstick pan until lightly golden.  Remove with slotted spatula and keep warm.  Meanwhile, boil the peas until cooked, and drain. 

2.  Add the breadcrumbs to the remaining oil in the potato pan and stir-fry over medium heat until lightly golden, adding a little oil as necessary.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Add any remaining oil to the pan with the bacon and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until cooked and golden.  Add the spring onions to the pan and stir for 30 seconds.

3.  Add the cooked peas, lemon juice, stock and crème fraiche to the pan with the bacon and onions and stir to combine.  Add a little seasoning to taste (you may need no salt at all) then allow to simmer over a very low heat while you fry the cod fillets in a clean nonstick pan brushed with oil over medium high heat, until they are lightly browned and opaque all through but still juicy.  

 4.  To serve, arrange the potato slices on warm plates then spoon over the pea/bacon/sauce mixture.  Top with the fish, then the breadcrumbs and finally grate over the Parmesan, using the coarser grater.   I served it with spinach cooked with grated nutmeg.

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