Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nature vs. Nurture

Those are my relatives. They're a fun looking bunch, aren't they? Those black dresses and sullen, bearded faces give me the warm fuzzies. I don't know if it's really true, but I've been told by several people in my family that one of my great aunts (not pictured) was one of the last people in the United States to have a lobotomy. Gosh, I'd never have guessed. They look so stoked to be alive... particularly the second woman from the right. She's clearly the family jokester.

Sadly, this post isn't about lobotomies or black taffeta. Instead, it aims to pose the question:

When it comes to being overweight, are we born into it, or grown into it?

As I look at the picture above, I notice that none of my relatives seem overweight. Perhaps they were too sad to eat; it certainly looks that way. The more I think about it, I realize that no one on my dad's side of the family is fat. Sure, a few of them may have an extra pound or two, but I have no obese paternal relatives.

The only people I know on my mom's side are my mother and my grandmother. Both have struggled with weight issues in their lifetimes. I never met my maternal grandfather, but pictures reveal a handsome man with kind eyes, and a portly physique. Both my mom and grandmother have hypothyroidism; so do I. This has been shown to slow metabolism and cause weight gain. All three of us now have it under control through medication.

That takes care of the "nature" side of things.

As far as "nurture" goes, I think that played a big role too. I'm not here to blame my upbringing for my weight problems, but I will say that food was used as a bargaining tool as I was growing up. Decadent treats were offered in exchange for a job well done. Dinners out were used as rewards. I remember when I used to spend the night at my Grammy's house every Saturday. There were literally no limits to the amount of food she'd let me eat. I have lots of "food memories" there. It was at her house that I learned about the smooth, velvety goodness of Swiss Miss Chocolate Pudding. I ate my first blueberry muffin there, and had my first (and only) experience with olive loaf. She was what my friend Mary calls a "feeder." To her, food was love, and boy did she ever love me! Even now, approaching 98 years old, living in a nursing home, she finds ways to be a feeder. She has a drawer full of Nutter Butters, bananas, and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish that she hoards from the cafeteria, then tries to get me to eat when I'm there.

Even so, grandmothers the world over pepper their grand kids with sweets and treats. Lots of parents occasionally bribe their children with McDonald's for getting their rooms clean. Not all those kids wind up overweight or obese, but for some reason, I did.

For me, I think both genetic and environmental factors were involved. One way or another, I was destined to get fat, then get thin, then get kinda fat again. So here I am, about 10-15 lbs. overweight (again), and trying to get back to my "fighting weight" of 160. Maybe half of my genetic make-up isn't on my side, but hopefully the environment will be for the foreseeable future.


abby suzanne said...

I recently read this at Precision Nutrition, it's kinda harsh, but makes a good point:

Bad genetics? Look, this is a definite NO. A complete cop-out. You know what bad genetics are? Being born without legs. A propensity to gain fat around your midsection is NOT bad genetics. Sure, each of us has certain genetic limitations; for instance, you may not be equipped to play quarterback for the Patriots, play center for the Celtics or win the Boston Marathon – in other words, you may not have the genetic makeup to reach the upper limits of human performance. But you can always lose fat or gain muscle. In ten years of working with people of all stripes, from office managers to elite athletes, I’ve yet to see a single case where we couldn’t make significant body composition change – and that’s what you really want, isn’t it? So if you’ve been using the old “bad genetics” routine, stop shaking your fist at the heavens, and look a little closer at the real problem.

I recommend the book "Nature Via Nurture" by Matt Ridley. I had to read it in college for an anothropology class, but it is good reading for the general public since it is a common topic for so many aspects of life.

SuperDave said...

Very informative post.
ROFL at the picture. I wish I had one of my family "from way back."

deanna said...

great post, and I like Abby's response too - but that's another excuse that is now out the windoW!! but it's a good thing! : )

kate said...

Great post!!

Anonymous said...

LOVE the picture! And of course great writing!!

Nature made sure my big Indian butt (or otherwise kindly called "child bearing hips") will never qualify for Boston or run a sub 4 marathon! But hopefully Nature also gave me the right combination of brain cells, which I have to admit, I don't use very prudently all the time! Proof - last night's Oatmeal Raisin cookie binge - yeah, I slipped, again :(


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