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Skinny genes the 'secret to staying slim' (bbc.co.uk)
20 points by sjcsjc 52 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments



I'm very skinny and often get comments that I can and do eat anything, but I think I have some traits that make it easy for me: I hate ice cream (that fatty feeling in your mouth, ugh, I do love me some butter though!), in fact I don't like most desserts at all. I always prefer savory stuff (like a sandwich or olives for snacking) over sweet things (like cookies or candy). And I never get hungry anymore at night after a good dinner. My wife can each crisps 2 hours after dinner, I don't know how she does it. Or even how people can eat a piece of pie after a fulfilling meal, it just doesn't fit anymore. This could be genetic.


It is probably traits - I'm one of those people that can eat almost endlessly (and yes, am not skinny). The problem is that I don't really feel full, no matter what or how much I eat.

If I just continue, then I do get the uncomfortable feeling of my stomach being overly filled even to the point it actually hurts, but still, I don't feel "fulfilled" and have the desire to keep eating.

I'm trying to control it of course, but my life is basically spent almost continuously with the feeling that I could eat some more right now. It's not always hunger as such, although that comes by quite easily as well. It's a continuous drain emotionally.


Do you use any drugs by any chance? and if so do you approach consumption of said drugs with the same gusto. This seems more like a eating to be happy thing rather than eating to be full.


Not any more and the hungryness doesn't seem to be related to moods too much.


so, obviously, calories in and calories out are what controls your weight. But that doesn't conflict with the idea that your success at managing your weight in a world where calories in are increasingly cheap and calories out are increasingly expensive is largely genetic.

I think I can speak to this a little bit; I've taken four points off my BMI in the last year or year and a half or so, all through counting calories in and calories out... and I'd rate the experience as slightly easier than trying to breathe a little less.

The most annoying part was that everyone... fat people and skinny people would give me a hard time for actually tracking everything I ate. "Just eat less," they'd say, along with some advice about how they have a friend who lost weight on some fad diet that restricts not how much you can eat but what you can eat. I had a doctor who told me to take the sides I'd normally eat and cut them in half, you know, like I planned my meals or something.

For me? writing down what I ate was key; Obviously, (and this is likely the genetic part) some people have something that causes them to be not hungry anymore after they've eaten enough food. Whatever that is, it's obviously not working properly in me, or else I never would have gotten fat in the first place, so I need some external tracker to figure out if I've eaten enough.

(The other thing that seemed to be different about my experience than about most people's was that if I went a lot below my maintenance caloric intake, say, significantly more than 40% below for several days in a row, my work performance would collapse. If I tracked my caloric intake and kept it around 25% below what I burned, i was okay, though it was still difficult.)


I think the hunger thing is habit?

If I'm in a job where I get a regular lunch break at the same time every day. If for some reason I'm late my stomach starts rumbling really loudly, conversely if I eat early I have problems eating because I'm not hungry. Now this can be as little as 30 minutes difference either way.

I don't have the same issue at weekends though.


If you eat 25% fewer calories than you burn every day, and you do this for a week, unless our physiology is dramatically different, you will feel hunger that is not related to habit.

Interestingly, for me? If I cut down to the point where my performance falls (closer to 40% for a few days) my hunger kind of goes away. Of course, I can't really work in that state (I'm aware some others can) so it's not really useful to me. If I want to lose weight while still working, it seems I need to experience that hunger.

One of the annoying things for me is that because this hunger is such a big part of my experience, I want to talk about it, and this... annoys almost everyone. Aside from people on the internet who want to insult you for not following their favorite fad diet, it's worse in person, because almost everyone I've talked to about it in person seems to think I'm telling them that they need to lose weight.


I mentioned this somewhere else, but the eating can be pretty much an addiction.

> For me? writing down what I ate was key

I totally agree with this. Calories are quite easy to eat. You don't always know how much calories are in a certain product. Meaning: something small can easily have enough calories for an entire day. Once you fully know which products have a huge amount of calories you'll be able to do without.

Suggest to also try intermittent fasting. I used to unconsciously somewhat do this on a Sunday. I'd only have dinner (sleeping until late and not doing much helps a lot with this).

I also lost weight in the past btw. Keeping the same weight is difficult. Further, if you know anyone who is really skinny and 25+ years of age you'll usually be able to tell that it's a daily effort for them.


Weak scientific result put in the media as a new truth. It does not take a genius to see any picture of Europe in '70s where there are people, to see that with very rare exceptions everybody was slim. The same happened in France, Italy, Germany, ... and now despite that we are genetically the same people are fat. Maybe there are people genetically more inclined to stay lean despite the terrible lifestyle, but that would be another story and another message: you still have control on your weight most of the times.


Same thing in the US. Although I'm old enough to remember the 1970s firsthand and to remember that most people were pretty thin.

Other things I remember from that time include: people not having microwave ovens, people eating at home for the most part, trips to fast food restaurants being only an occasional thing, regular restaurants having much smaller portions, and a lack of social acceptance of being overweight.


I often hear people grumbling about the rise of people in motor scooters in a judgemental way. I always try to remind them that perhaps those people couldn’t really get around before scooters became available and perhaps the amount of people with that need hasn’t changed.

I’m not suggesting that obesity rates are unchanged, but I will say that there are a lot of different factors which influence people’s ability to be out and about and in a photo. There might even be a lot of photos from the past, when photography was a lot more work, where overweight people were deliberately excluded from the scene.


My thoughts as well..

Changes in genes very certainly are epigenetic to some degree.


"Prof Tom Sanders, emeritus professor of nutrition and dietetics, at King's College London, said: "This is an important and well conducted study confirming that precocious severe obesity is often genetically determined"

No. It says that thinness is genetically determined. Yes one is the flip side of the other, I don't think that allows the 'severe' though.

Professors should surely be choosing their words more wisely.


I was watching an interview with the scientist who conducted the study this morning and she indicated it was both.


I've been obese. Then I stopped eating too much and haven't been obese for ten years. The secret is not eating too much.


I need to invest in a CRISPR home kit...


Anyone know the SNPs involved?


BBC spam


Eating too much food the 'secret to becoming fat'

The secret to staying slim is to not eat more calories than your body uses. Excuses like this will only make obesity even more common and accepted than it is today.


This is a toxic and harmful attitude.

There are genetic, dietary and fitness components to obesity. This is not disputed. At least one of these components is outside of the control of the individual. Others can be influenced.

If someone is chronically obese, the best thing for them is to work on what they can control with professionals, which might normally include a dietitian or a personal trainer but they might also benefit from work with professionals in other fields -- psychiatry, comorbid diseases etc.

And having friends support them in this process helps too. (I don't think their friends should tell them "fat is beautiful," by the way, but I'm not a professional in any of the relevant fields, so does my opinion even matter?)

At no point do I think shaming the obese (which is basically what you're doing when you say "this is simple and it's your fault" does more harm than good.

Shame isn't listed anywhere as a treatment for any disease or disorder as far as I know.


While I wouldn't be as blunt as the OP, I wouldn't describe it as toxic. Ultimately if you are obese, it's because you've eaten too much and that needs to be accepted before you can do anything about it.


You might be over simplifying things a bit. Your statement might be true for "healthy bodies" but not everyone is healthy, or even has the same body chemistry.

I'm by no means an expert and the subject of obesity doesn't really interest me that much, but the other day I was reading something about obesity in relation to the over prescription on antibiotics, and how especially children who received antibiotics during their childhood might have obesity problems later in life due to how the antibiotics affect the gut bacteria.

Again I'm no expert, but the calories in/out story seems just way to simple.


Ultimately you're toxic, because most people (obese or not) I know have tried at least one way to lose weight which cut calories and it failed.

If you have nothing effective to offer, really the best thing is sometimes to shut up and research why they fail and how to not make them fail.


No need to be rude.

I'm not saying its easy or simple, but ultimately it comes down to calories in and calories out. The problem isn't going to go away if you attack people for saying that. It is the foundations that all solutions are based on.


They were a bit rude, but you were too.

It may be technically true to say "ultimately it comes down to calories in and calories out", bit its unhelpful, or more importantly, unactionable.

What you wave away with the casual use of the word "ultimately" is a vastly complex combination of inherited, environmental, physiological and emotional factors.

Saying "ultimately it comes down to calories in and calories out" to someone who has spent years desperately trying to control their calories in and their calories out but without much success is surely more rude than anything that's been said in any replies to you.


But it is actionable. Further, if you deny that basic premise, it does become unactionable.

Its like an addiction. People aren't being strapped down and force fed X drug. They have some agency, to deny that doesn't solve the problem, it makes the problem worse.

I'm not saying I have the answer. The number of pills, diets, therapies etc would suggest few, if any people do. Never the less what ever the answer is has to include a basic dietary balance.

This study doesn't change that fact, all the environmental, physiological and emotional factors don't change that fact.

Suggesting it or anyone that mentions it is 'toxic' isn't helpful.


So, you've conceded that it's likely that nobody has an answer on which people can take action and reliably expect a positive outcome, but then doubled down and insisted that people should take action anyway?

Can you not see the unhelpfulness right there in your comment?

Consider someone who is desperate to get healthy, and is determined to do whatever it takes to do so, and has already spent years desperately trying in vain to get results; if they were to read your comment, what could their reaction be, other than to be frustrated and dispirited?

For what it's worth, I do actually have answers; I've been researching and experimenting with this stuff for many years, and have figured out a approach that seems to work for me and others and should work well for anyone who follows the same principles. And I agree that calories-in/calories-out is part of it; but it's only one factor among many, and it takes a lot of time, persistence and knowhow.

So perhaps you can understand that I'm familiar with your point of view, and that I've heard it frequently enough and thought about it long enough to know just how simplistic and unhelpful it is.


"then doubled down and insisted that people should take action anyway?" Where have I said that?

"Consider someone who is desperate to get healthy.." I can still say flying is statistically the safest form of transport, regardless of whether HN readers have been in a plane accident? I'm not saying ha ha tough luck. I'm not saying drive instead of fly, because its safer either.

It is peoples choice to lose weight, I'm not forcing them. I am simply trying to point out that as part of that, calories in need to equal calories out.

You yourself accept that, so currently I am at a loss as to what it is I have said that's wrong, what I've said that is rude, what I've said that is toxic?

To be clear, because it seems to need clarifying. I have a life outside of a HN username, I have friends and family, I know people dealing with these issues, as does most of the western world. I'm not blind to their suffering, this isn't an abstract thing for me.


It's a toxic point of view because while it's technically correct, it's as useful as saying to a poor person "all you have to do to get out of poverty is earn $200K per year and not spend it all".

To the person giving the advice, it can seem valid and logical and perfectly straightforward - "hey I did it, it was easy!"

Yet it's the very fact that it's easy for one person and effectively impossible for another is what makes the advice both useless and insulting.

Before arguing further, have a thing about what you're defending here.

As you've said yourself...

- "I wouldn't be as blunt as the OP"

- "I'm not saying I have the answer. The number of pills, diets, therapies etc would suggest few, if any people do."

- "I know people dealing with these issues, as does most of the western world. I'm not blind to their suffering"

But you're writing all these words to argue against the use of the word "toxic" to describe a comment that was insensitive for the very fact that it ignored these considerations you candidly offered.

If you can just reflect a little and say "yeah I guess you could say it's a bit toxic to express it like that", you might realise we agree more than we disagree.


"it's as useful as saying to a poor person "all you have to do to get out of poverty is earn $200K per year and not spend it all"" It's as useful as saying to someone in debt, "you need to spend less than you earn" people have agency in their calorific intake, that they don't in what their employer is willing to pay them.

It is logical, yes, I'm not saying its straight forward, you're putting words in my mouth.

I didn't ignore any considerations, just because I didn't enumerate every single potential consideration. I picked up on one specific part of a reply. I don't think its required to explain my entire world view to make that one point. Neither is it fair to start filling in blanks about my world view from one data point.

Yes I have reflected, I've reread that comment, and can see how someone could interpret it a certain way. That is why I have clarified myself multiple times. But you still seem to be ignoring what I have said I'm saying, in favour of your own interpretation of what you've already decided I'm saying. That isn't my problem, that is yours.

Ps if you read the HN guideline it says "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says" I applied that to the first 2 comments of this long thread. It's a shame others won't extend the same courtesy to me.

It also says "When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I’m sorry you felt attacked and that the rules were broken in doing so. I don’t see where I’ve called you a name or misrepresented your position, but sorry to make you feel I did.

To be clear:

> people have agency in their calorific intake, that they don't in what their employer is willing to pay them

This seems to be the key point of contention in the whole discussion.

My position is that the reality is far more complex than this, and whether it is or not, the topic needs to be handled with great compassion and empathy.

In some of your comments you seem to share these positions at least to some degree.

Any further discussion would require us to go deep into metabolic physiology and behavioral psychology, but that’s best left for another time.

Thanks for the discussion.

(Edited to be more clear and conciliatory.)


Saying people are obese because they have eaten too much is like saying people die in traffic because they accelerated or decelerated too fast. Technical true but very unhelpful in describing the problem and potential solutions.


How do seat belts and air bags and crumple zones work?

You can't get to a solution without accepting it. You can't stop people dying by describing that fact as toxic.

No it's not a, or the solution, you can't ignore I though.


I'm curious: What's your opinion on smoking?

Genetics are also likely to be involved in the likelihood of someone (not) being able to stop smoking (perhaps also starting to smoke), right?

However, I haven't heard anyone blaming their smoking habit on genetics.


I don't think you can paint all smokers with the same brush but a lot of them seem to turn to the habit for the purpose of stress relief/escape and then they get hooked. The key point is the same: neither cohort benefits from being shamed by a judgey peanut gallery that reduces things to black and white, like the one in this thread. They benefit from engagement with supportive personal contacts and professionals who can help them resolve the underlying issues. The judgey peanut gallery can actually make things worse.


Some people have addictive personalities.


There is a difference, a major one. You have to eat and you don't have to smoke. Food is everywhere, cigarettes and smokers can be avoided.

eulalila 52 days ago [flagged]

That’s good to hear, I live in a poor area with my family who smoke heavily (along with the majority of our neighbors, friends, people who serve us at the restaurants I eat at, people who we serve at the restaurants we work at, etc).

I will just simply avoid almost everyone I know (and don’t know) from now on, thank you.


> This is a toxic and harmful attitude.

Removing all personal responsibility is a harmful attitude.


People get into trouble on this topic by leaping to absolutes, i.e., "removing all personal responsibility".

I've personally taken "all personal responsibility" for my health, and it's been hugely costly, and only possible because I've been fortunate to have the means and time to do it.

There are plenty of people who try to take full responsibility for their weight or general health, but don't get results because they don't have the time or means to do it given the unlucky hand they were dealt and the realities of their life circumstances, and also because medical science just doesn't have consistently reliable solutions that work for everyone with even the greatest motivation and discipline.


Sure, but some might be genetically predisposed to make more efficient use of calories (burn easier rather than store as fat). Which could make a massive difference.


If I'm 6'4" and 20 years old, I can probably eat 2500-3000 calories a day and stay slim. If I'm 5'10" and 50 years old, I can probably east about 1900 calories a date a stay slim.

It is a huge difference. But, it doesn't matter. Some people can eat more than others and not get fat. There is no justice in the universe ;-). Whether it is some gene, your body size, your age or something else, it doesn't matter. Eat too much and you will get fat. Don't eat too much and you won't get fat.

That last bit is super important. There is no illness that causes people to starve to death even when obese. Your body is a factor, not an excuse (Ha ha! Here I am quoting Arnold!)


> Don't eat too much and you won't get fat.

Just invent flying cars, that will solve some problems. Easy, right? The "HOW" is a problem, not "what is needed". When obese people don't eat too much, their body thinks "I don't have enough, time to enter energy saving mode and increase hunger".


I wasn't obese, but overweight (10 to 15 kg above the baseline for my height), and i did had craving i thought i could not stop. A 3 day diet made me understand that the feeling of hunger is just that, a feeling, and some willpower was needed to ignore that.

Hormonal imbalance caused by overeating was in my case worst than the hormonal imbalance caused by lessening the amount of food i ingested, so it wasn't this hard to stop. Also my life improved a lot around that time (credit, job, appartment, relations), this might have helped too.


That is not established. I have never seen a study that says that obese people are hungrier than non-obese people. There isn't even a way to establish a baseline.


If I eat enough to sustain my obese body, I'm not hungry anymore. If I try to eat less, I'm hungry. I successfully lost 10kg, and first 5kg was even easy. I thought at start "ehh, that hunger is only a feeling, I can continue like that", but I couldn't and I'm back where I started. Just eating less may work for some people, but not everyone.


There are at least 3 hormonal ways, but such blood sampling is prohibitively expensive for now.

Of course it'd be better I'd you could just read it off neurons, too hard though.


That is true to some degree. That to which you are referring is metabolism. Metabolism however, is influenced to a large extent by enviroment and level of exercise.

But correct that it might be genes was observed in the dutch population generations after early nineteen hundredth's famine crisis: [ https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/31/science/dutch-famine-gene... ]. This eventualley led to a new area of study called epigenetics (of which one of the pioneers actually earnes a Nobel's Prize I think). Epigenetic research has shown that genes are not final. In the case of the dutch famine, the famine-victims which survived had undergone epifenetic changes (their genes changed) in response to the famine, their body would become extremely energy efficient and their energy partitioning would lean towards buildup of adipose tissue (fat). However (!!) research later shown that these gene alteration which their offspring inherited and which were observed throughout the dutch poulation generations later, was reversible by environmental factors and exercise.


Actually the person who makes more efficient use of calories is more likely to become fat because they don't need as much. There's also a lot of evidence that burning through loads of energy will reduce your life span. Eating less is always better than trying to burn more.


> There's also a lot of evidence that burning through loads of energy will reduce your life span. Eating less is always better than trying to burn more.

I would think that it is highly dependent on what you're burning the energy for... Surely if you eat more to maintain a fit body/lifestyle, it is likely to have a more positive effect on lifespan compared to eating less and living a more sedentary life?

Of course, an optimal balance needs to be struck between the two, but I am very curious on what the research says about this balance.


> Actually the person who makes more efficient use of calories is more likely to become fat because they don't need as much.

Only if they eat as much as someone who uses calories less efficiently. Which is not a given.


That is pretty obvious, but doesn't mean that genes have no effect.

A certain gene might make you feel hungry more, and will make you eat more, and will make you bigger.

Another gene might cause someone to prefer certain foods, and again cause a difference in body weight.

Pretending that everyone is the same is pointless. Someone who doesn't feel hungry much might say, it's easy, just eat less. But that advise is pointless for someone who constantly craves food -- eating less might be incredibly hard for one person while it is incredible easy for another.

The article presents some evidence that our genetic makeup has an influence on our body weight. Lets not dismiss it just because it doesn't fit in to the world view of "everyone is the same".


>The secret to staying slim is to not eat more calories than your body uses

This. There are too many people who do not understand that conservation of mass applies to the human body too. Nobody gains 1 kg by eating a single peanut, yet some people claim it's all genes.


The genes affect their 'cant stop after eating that first peanut' syndrome.

Just like the will to live affects your 'cant hold breath forever' incapability.

I mean sure it's technically possible to hold your breath until you pass out, but it would take a crazy amount of will power.


The article starts by saying:

> Scientists say they have discovered the secret behind why some people are skinny while others pile on the pounds easily.

> Their work reveals newly discovered genetic regions linked to being very slim.

> The international team say this supports the idea that, for some people, being thin has more to do with inheriting a "lucky" set of genes than having a perfect diet or lifestyle

Further down the article adds:

> Most obesity is acquired in adult life and is linked to the obesogenic environment we live in - a sedentary lifestyle and abundant access to calorie-dense foods.

I am lucky; I don't have to heed your newfriend advice to stay slim. My genes (or, the article mentions at the end, possibly my gut microbes) seem to have a secret of their own.

If you are unlucky and your body is good at storing excess calories, then I guess those people will have to adopt the 'newfriend secret' of not eating to much.


You do understand that our meals, standard ones, are generally too fat and to get thin you'd have to cut everything in half, which is essentially unhealthy without support. You'd have to cook for yourself too. And avoid all the carefully crafted tempting foods and marketing too.

Funny thing about effectiveness, that such cutting is ineffective.


Too fat? Fat actually doesn't make you that fat. Low fat foods with loads of sugars do. Plus high fructose sugar.

Overweight/obese is mainly a food addiction IMO. It's hard, difficult, etc. But amount of time it's due to medicines/genes is pretty limited.

There's huge differences per country in the obesity percentage which cannot be explained by things such as genes or food shortage.


”is to not eat more calories than your body uses”

No, it is for your body to not take in more calories than your body uses. Some bodies may not take in all excess calories you eat, just as a car doesn’t use more gas if you keep the gas topped up, or do take them in, but have ways to burn them of instead of storing them in fat (say by moving more blood through the skin), just as some oil refineries flare off gas that they don’t need, rather than storing it and becoming larger and larger over time.

So, eating too much is the cause, but what constitutes too much can depend on the person. If your digestive system has a hard limit on the amount of stuff it can take in, it may even be impossible for you to become obese.


A fat guy once told me that he is addicted to food like an alcoholic or smoker, the problem is it's easy to relapse.


The thing is, for the vast majority of human history, the ability to quickly pack on fat was a crucial survival trait, and those with “skinny genes” wouldn’t last over a hard winter. It is only in soft modern society that it is viable to live without onboard energy reserves.


Kind of depends on the part of the world you come from, no? Nepali porters seems to be pretty slim and run up and down mountains for a living. Inuit seem to be a bit rounder in general which makes sense given their environment.


Well, sure, manual labourers/athletes are likely to be lean in any culture but what about the general population?




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