Guest Post

I can’t fight genetics? (Guest post)

I have done a lot to learn to love the lumpy, mushy and ample body I have. About 15 years ago a doctor had warned me that, given my family history, I needed to do everything I could to manage my blood pressure. I took that information to heart and had adopted a primarily plant-based diet, restricted red meat to one a week, cooked with olive oil and started eating whole grains.

The shift in my eating habits over the years has been remarkable. Cooking from scratch and using dried instead of canned foods ensures I have a low sodium diet. I stay away from dairy, it no longer tastes good to me.

I took a functional fitness approach to my workouts. I got away from the military styled training I was used to and strived to walk and lift heavy things. I started doing yoga to support my flexibility and learn to trigger a relation response. I also find stretching fun and do it all the time when I feel stressed.

I found meditation helpful. Most recently I’ve adopted a Buddhist practice of chanting that instantly relaxes me. I garden, walk to work, cuddle with my dogs and kids all in an effort to slow down my A type personality and live a long healthy life.

My biggest challenge was three years ago when my family doctor informed me that I would be getting a prescription for blood pressure medication for my 40th birthday. I was so angry. I felt betrayed by my body. He quipped that I couldn’t fight genetics. It was the same year I had done my first mini sprint triathlon with my sister.


I’m wearing number 480 and having a lot of fun!

My resting heart rate was below 60 beats per minute in the morning and at the doctor’s office was 75. He believed me that I worked out but was skeptical of the quality of my diet. Here’s the thing though, I do love food. So while I eat all the right things I eat way more than I need to. At my appointment on April 2 this year I had surpassed my previous weight and now sit at 268 lbs. Holy crap.

Sitting getting my blood pressure done I was in tears. I had stopped weighing myself as it was the one thing I could not directly influence, I had focused on steps taken, resting heart rate and new activities.


My average blood pressure was 158 over 118. I was devastated. I felt I was smarter than my genetics and even with over eating I should still be healthy. My doctor asked what my weakness was for my health and I agreed it was the volume of what I ate. He suggested gastric bypass surgery. My jaw dropped and I climbed backwards out of my chair. Gastric bypass?

In Ontario this surgery is covered by the ministry of health through the Ontario Bariatric Network. It is a highly invasive procedure and one at odds with my own low intervention principles.

I booked an appointment with my psychologist to work through all the feelings I’m having about this. I know it is only by putting all on the cards on the table will I live the long and active life I want for myself. I happen to think I’m pretty delightful so I’d like to be alive as long as possible.

My psychologist put it very bluntly, I was in denial of the severity of my over eating. I’m leery of using the term addiction around food (it is not like I can abstain from eating). As an atheist who believes in my own empowerment I struggle with 12 step programs that rely on surrender to a higher power. I’m reading “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Maté and referring to Tracy’s information about Intuitive Eating.

My partner and I talked about how I used food to sooth myself. He did not, as my friend said, co-sign on my denial bullcrap. I am fortunate that my entire family is onboard with making even more changes to our lifestyle. I don’t have all the answers yet, as I draft this post it’s only been seven days of being a hot mess.

I am grateful for a feminist community who help me frame my wellness in ways that are meaningful to me. My friends who have shared their diverse experiences of medication, overeaters anonymous and gastric bypass. I’m thankful to everyone who takes the time to see how I’m doing, to be part of the rich network of support. I’m thankful I went to see my doctor and my psychologist.

Maybe I can’t fight my genetics and will need to deploy every intervention available but I sure am going to give it a try.

Given the readership this may go without saying: please be gentle in your comments below. I’m feeling quite raw about this but I also think by sharing honestly where I’m at I help inform how we frame fitness/wellness.

19 thoughts on “I can’t fight genetics? (Guest post)

  1. HI Natalieh,

    although it runs counter to intuitive eating, food tracking might be worth a try for you. Some people feel that keeping a food journal or log (aka calorie counting) promotes food obsession, is unhealthy and promotes orthorexia. I don’t buy this. It is not obsessive to check your gas consumption on your car or to monitor your spending vs your income so why is it obsessive to monitor your food intake?
    I used to do this regularly, but no longer need to because i have developed a better sense of what, and how much, i need to eat to support my lifestyle and maintain my weight. Now I can eat intuitively! But this is not something that comes naturally to the majority of people. We need to have a clear understanding of our habits (like using food to soothe and comfort ourselves) before we can take steps to change.

    Gastric bypass surgery certainly works but it is a long and difficult recovery. I know a couple of people who have gone through it. AND, people can, and do, regain the weight.

    in any case, good luck in your struggle! I wish you well!

    1. Completely agree. It is not obsession. It is about education. Tracking food for a few months showed me how I had been way underestimating the calorie density of certain foods in my diet. After a few month of readjusting, learning to substitute one thing for another, I no longer needed to track. It works.

  2. Thank you for this post from the heart. You do sound like you’re still struggling with this so it’s very generous of you to share so openly on the blog. You’re probably about to get a whole host of unsolicited advice! I’ll just say this: is you want to go for a coffee and chat about intuitive eating, I’d love to share my experience and possibly encourage you to try it again before trying the surgery. I could also share my experience in twelve step (not for overeating) and how I reconciled it with what is essentially an atheist world view. Thanks again!

  3. First, let me thank you for sharing your experience with us. I can relate with many of the things you said based on my own experience. May I suggest that you purchase a monitor to test your blood pressure at home? It’s possible that you may be dealing with “white coat syndrome” and have your blood pressure read high at the doctor’s office but read a normal rate at home. I hope you’re able to find a solution that meets your needs. 🙂

  4. Is there an email address where I can contact you about this? There’s some stuff I’d like to say which might be helpful, but I’d rather not make it public

    1. Southsidesocialist if you email the blog contact we will pass the message on to Natalie and she can get in touch if she chooses to and you can take it from there. How does that sound?

  5. Thanks so very much for sharing. Tough choices. I’d be happy to chat about this stuff anytime. Our issues are a lot alike. As a physically active, non drinking,, non junk food eating vegetarian I often wonder why I am the size I am. Genetics is definitely part of the story. My mother, sister (when she was alive) live very different lives but we weigh about the same. Anyway, all i really want to say is thanks, it isn’t easy, and I’m happy to chat.

  6. Do you have health issues besides the high blood pressure? Some people’s BP just runs high no matter what they weigh. The medication is a life-saver for many, and it’s so much less intrusive than bariatric surgery.

    Some people just have a greater appetite. If you’re otherwise healthy, the BP can be managed, there is no shame in that. Thinner is not necessarily healthier by any means, esp. for someone like you who’s active and eating high-quality food. Very few people actually manage high BP with lifestyle choices, and you have no guarantee (at all) that if you weighed less your BP would fall within a healthy range.

    You look to me like a strong, vibrant, healthy person. Don’t let one inherited issue — blood pressure — send you into a tailspin that could create permanent problems. Some people need BP medication just like some need insulin or some need thyroid hormone. It’s something to be grateful for — that we have these medications for those who need them to be healthy.

    The memoir _Stranger Here_ by Jen Larsen will give you a look at one person’s experience with the surgery, and will probably shed light on some details that doctors seem often to omit.

    1. Thanks Sonia! I’ve started bp meds and hope they do the trick. I wonder if loosing weight will help at all if it truly is a vein thing.
      I’m hopeful my psychologist and I can grapple with the head stuff and perhaps reverse the weight trend. The surgery is pretty far down on my intervention list at this time.

  7. Natalie, it took courage to write a post so raw and real. Full respect to you for all the hard work your putting in, and for being willing to put your story out there.

  8. Thank you for the thoughtful input. I’ve tried food tracking while working with a dietician a few years ago. Unfortunately, due to some personality traits I’m working to change, it caused me to obsess about food to the pointy of anxiety attacks and depression. Despite my can do attitude I’m quite the delicate flower.
    I will be bugging folks for coffee dates soon. 🙂

  9. Thank you for your post, I struggle with the influence of my genes too. I am short, and well, not thin! I find it hard to know how to describe myself as I think that my perception of what my body ‘should be’ is so distorted by images of women I simply don’t know any more! I am one of those people who don’t tend to eat very much-yet no-one believes me! My partner, I am in a same sex relationship, is astounded that she eats probably twice as much as me, and loses weight- while my weight remains the same, or sometimes manages to increase even. She is like, “how the heck does your body do that”!! Well, I look at my mother and say, “because there is my body-in a famine we are destined to survive” 🙂 Recently I had my DNA analysed. I was really interested to see that I have genetic markers that indicate I have a tendency to under eat, that my DNA indicates things like my body will not respond to the meditaranean food diet in either weight loss of waist reduction. I realised that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to healthy weight is rubbish. Our bodies are strongly under the grip of our genes.
    You know the thing that really annoys me! When I read that tummy fat is the most dangerous and unhealthy. I look at my tummy, which is where my body likes to store fat, generously! And I think “well, what the heck can I do about changing that! Ask it to store it in a more healthy place like my hips”.
    The world has tried to tell me that I eat too much, I don’t. Tries to tell me that I decided on this body shape that is not in fashion, I didn’t. And that I don’t exercise- I do. Actually I had an operation recently and apparently my heart rate is in the “athletic” range.
    You hold onto who you are and the body that you live in. Every day I battle to be friends with mine, because the world tells me that it, and I, are wrong.

  10. HI Natalieh– thank you for sharing experiences that so many of us (me, included) share, but are seldom talked about so openly. I struggle constantly with my weight, body image and feelings of attractiveness, despite the fact that I am active and healthy and in the middle of a very good life. I do research on obesity, eating, and behavior change, so I know about the environmental, genetic, molecular and behavioral features of body weight regulation that make long-term maintenance of weight loss rare. And still the fact that my weight has increased lately (as I am reaching menopause, quel suprise!) causes me great pain.

    I may have non-public things to say later (Sam, I can email your contact address for this), but for now, know this: you aren’t alone. There are nice and smart and supportive people who will be with you as you experiment with ways to deal with health issues. And if you are not feeling supported or feeling pressured by health care providers, get rid of them, and ask around to find more supportive providers. Avoiding the hurt and harm of weight stigma and shaming in medical contexts by allying yourself with positive and informed and supportive healthcare people is the best piece of advice I can give you. I’m trying this myself.

    1. Thanks Catherine. I’m with you both on this. Tough stuff. Happy to virtually introduce you through email, Facebook, whatever.

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