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Healthy food and portion control are two ways experts say a person can use to lose weight. Jan Michalko/Stocksy
  • Researchers say how you eat can help reduce the effects from the genetic risks of obesity.
  • They say portion control and calorie counting are two strategies that can help combat issues such as emotional eating.
  • Experts say different dietary plans work differently for each person, so consulting with a medical professional is advised.

Dieting techniques could lessen the impact of obesity related genes that contribute to hunger and over-eating.

That’s according to a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

In their findings, researchers report that people who have a higher genetic risk of obesity can reduce the impact of those genes by utilizing dietary restraint techniques such as calorie counting as well as being mindful of portion control.

“At a time when high calorie foods are aggressively marketed to us, it’s more important than ever to understand how genes influence BMI [body mass index]. We already know that these genes impact traits and behaviors such as hunger and emotional eating, but what makes this study different is that we tested the influence of two types of dietary restraint – rigid and flexible – on the effect of these behaviors,” Shahina Begum, a psychology PhD student at the University of Exeter in England and lead author of the study, said in a press statement.

“What we discovered for the first time was that increasing both types of restraint could potentially improve BMI in people genetically at risk, meaning that restraint-based interventions could be useful to target the problem,” Begum added.

More than 900 genes associated with obesity have been identified by researchers. These genes can increase a person’s BMI.

Research suggests that obesity risk genes can influence feelings of hunger as well as uncontrolled eating, including emotional eating.

To examine the impact dietary restraint techniques could have on genetic risk of obesity, the researchers examined 3,780 people between 22 and 92 years of age living in the United Kingdom.

The participants had their weight and height measured and gave a blood sample. The researchers then used this information to give each participant an overall score of their genetic risk of obesity.

The participants then completed a quiz that measured 13 different kinds of eating behaviors. This included questions about binge eating, emotional eating, and over-eating due to hunger.

The researchers reported that those who had a higher genetic risk for obesity had a higher BMI. This was partially explained by an increase in binge or emotional eating as well as hunger.

The researchers also reported that those who engaged in dietary restraint strategies such as calorie counting were able to reduce the impact of hunger by a third and binge or emotional eating by nearly a half.

They said this suggests that such strategies may be able to counteract some of the impact of the genetic risk of obesity.

The study examined both flexible and rigid dietary restraints. A rigid dietary restraint was calorie counting and a flexible dietary restraint was being mindful of portion size.

“Both of these strategies can have merit. However, I tend to prefer the ‘being mindful of portion size’ approach compared with the calorie approach… depending on the person,” Dana Hunnes PhD, a senior clinical dietitian at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, told Medical News Today.

“When you’re mindful of portion size and eating healthy foods, you don’t need to count calories as much because what you’re putting into your body is healthy and tends to be low in calories,” she explained.

The researchers said that both rigid and flexible strategies could potentially improve the BMI of people with a genetic risk of obesity.

Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, says there isn’t a single dietary restraint strategy that will work for everyone.

“Somebody who can control their portions, that may be what they need to get on the right track, whereas other people really need to be focused on the total calories they’re getting throughout the day to help them get to a healthy weight,” he told Medical News Today.

“Obesity tends to run in families, tends to run in certain ethnic groups. So there’s definitely a significant genetic component to obesity. But that doesn’t mean somebody cannot overcome that,” he added.

The prevalence of obesity in the United States is nearly 42%.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity has increased 11% since 1999.

In that same period, severe obesity rates increased from about 4% to 9%.

A 2019 report stated that obesity cost $173 billion annually.

The medical costs for adults who live with obesity are $1,861 more than the medical costs of those at a more healthy weight.

Ali argues many people don’t know where to begin when it comes to losing weight.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people just aren’t aware or educated on what is a healthy diet and how should I eat to get to a healthy weight and maintain a healthy weight? So education on that is very important,” he said.

The researchers found that dietary restraints can be helpful in bringing emotional eating under control. Hunnes says this is something many people struggle with.

“Emotional eating is absolutely a thing for many people. Talking about your feelings, emotions, and finding other coping mechanisms are a good way to fight the urge to emotionally eat. If you feel you are losing control of your eating habits, journal and try to figure out the cause of your eating/emotional reactions. Speak with a mental health professional, talk to friends, find individuals who can support you emotionally and also are healthy eaters themselves,” she said.

“It’s important to have a goal in mind as to why you are wanting to lose weight. Is it just because of the society we live in or is it for health reasons?,” Hunnes added. “I tend to prefer/hope people want to live healthier for their own selves as opposed to what society ‘tells’ them they should look like. I know this is also far easier said than done. It’s important to realize though, in many cases, if you have chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease), a healthier diet can help you reverse or improve some of those conditions while at the same time losing some of the weight. Focus on health first and the weight will often follow.”