Warning: science post, no recipe, bail out now unless you have a curious personality. You know the type. Always asking questions, perpetually wondering, head-in-the-clouds explorer. I’ll post a follow-up recipe to my healthy breakfast series next week, but for now, I’m on a mission.
I’ve gained several pounds over the past few weeks and I did it quite easily, which surprised me. Check here to see why I gained the weight. I’m determined to lose it before it becomes my new normal, but I’ve also been curious as to why I gained it so easily. My eating habits didn’t change that much. My exercise routine was slightly different, but I kept up with my yoga practice.
Are you still with me?
Let’s start at the beginning. Literally.
I love this video from Virginia Hughes at The Last Word On Nothing because it’s short, charming, and incredibly creative. If you want a better understanding of your irregularly arranged DNA and how your unique version of this dynamic, coiled jumble of genes makes you the special (or quirky) person you are, watch this short (less than 2 minutes) video.
(Please scroll down, this isn’t the end of the blog post. Click the start button on the video to watch the magic of DNA coiling. The rest of my rambling continues after the video.)
See? Wasn’t that awesome?
In a nutshell (or nucleus in this case): DNA forms the inherited genetic material found inside our cells. Genes are the hereditary units that form our DNA. Our genes tell our cells how to function and what traits to express.
And guess what? We have some control over that. A good example is the genetic predisposition for celiac disease. Say you have the gene that codes for celiac disease (DQ2 or DQ8), but you live on some isolated island and you’re never exposed to gluten. That gene would not be expressed. It would stay turned off. On the other hand, if you eat a lot of gluten and the stars align, you’ll end up hitting the switch and turning the gene on. I have DQ2 genes and celiac disease, but I’ve been living gluten-free for so long now, I feel like my celiac gene is on dim mode. It’s not turned on, but it’s also not totally turned off either. Eating a big plate of gluten-filled pasta would be the equivalent of hitting the on switch and re-expressing the gene. I don’t want to do that.
On another note, I have this theory that I’ve tweaked a different genetic predisposition of mine in a healthy way and although that’s a good thing, there have been some unintended consequences. We have about 20,000 genes so there’s lots of potential for shenanigans.
Let me explain. That’s if you’re still here.
My mom says I was born running (much to her dismay). I grew up in the 50s and 60s and had they coined the term at that time, I probably would have been called ADD-ish. I rarely sat down long enough to eat a full meal, never took naps, was always fidgeting, ran up and down stairs, twirled, jumped off things, climbed over furniture and so on. If you ask my mom, she’ll say I was a royal pain in the neck.
Jump ahead to the year 2000. I’m hitting midlife, am still very active, but I’ve never really learned to relax. High blood pressure is common in my family and mine had been inching up over the years. Not bad, but it was making a move. I decided I had no desire to express (turn on) that high blood pressure gene that seems so prevalent on my dad’s side of the family. I decided to turn it off by practicing yoga and meditation. And guess what? A decade later, I don’t have high blood pressure, I’m calmer, I don’t fidget as much, and I no longer drive people crazy with my speed walking. Instead, I float around chanting in Sanskrit. No worries. Peace, love, and tie dyes.
One more time, but now jump ahead to 2011. I’m busy co-writing a book* with my friend and colleague Pete Bronski of No Gluten-No Problem, so I sit at my computer for long hours each day. I don’t change my eating habits (which are good for the most part), but my intense hiking, skiing, dog walking, etc. go by the wayside. I’m still committed to yoga, but to keep from being too stressed from my work, I practice a more restorative style. Yikes, I gain 5 or 6 pounds in short order. I’ve never done that before.
Here’s how it happened. I’m in midlife (okay, late midlife, late-late midlife) and I’m now practicing a more calming style of yoga. Both my age and my yoga have contributed to a reduction in my metabolism. That’s the point of yoga—relaxation, lower heart-rate, deeper breathing, lower blood pressure, less caloric need, and hence a lower metabolic rate.
Yikes! The perfect storm. I’m mellow, I don’t fidget, I’m older, I do restorative yoga, and I’m working long hours sitting at my computer. The result is weight gain, even though I’m eating well. And because of my age (which will remain untyped) and the fact that I’ve intentionally shifted my metabolism down a notch with all the yoga, it’s been harder to lose the weight. My muscle to fat ratio has changed. I don’t want these extra pounds to become my new set point, so what can I do?
First off, I can’t get all worked up about it as I have that high blood pressure gene just waiting for an excuse to turn on. I’m continuing with my meditative yoga, but I’m making sure I get a couple of power yoga classes in per week. I’ve added mountain biking into my schedule to boost my metabolism and burn some calories and I’ve added some round-about weight training. I’m not into going to the gym and lifting weights, but I’m aware that I need to build muscle, which is more metabolically active than fat. I do my yoga in the morning, my biking whenever I can, and I’m periodically doing some at-home strength training.
One last thing. I don’t think it’s a big deal to gain a few pounds. I have motivations other than being the “right” weight. I want to do some climbing this summer and I need to be in good shape for that. Extra weight makes climbing 14,000 foot peaks more difficult. Yoga inversions and arm balances are harder on my body if I weigh more. A few pounds makes a difference in the activities that are important to me. If you want to lose weight, you have to evaluate what your genetic predispositions might be, what you eat (quality and quantity), and what you do (sit, stand, run, what type of yoga, etc.) and adjust according to your age and lifestyle factors. Life is definitely an ever-evolving journey.
I promise a breakfast recipe for next week. A nutrient-dense, low calorie one.
Peace, love, and flexible genes!
* When I wrote this blog post last March our book had not been released. The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life is now available on Amazon.com and at various bookstores. Yeah!