Gluten Free For Good


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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 and at various bookstores. Yeah!

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21 Responses to “metabolism, weight loss, yoga & flexible genes”

  1. Sherri says:

    Great post Melissa! I can SO relate…Tried the jogging thing myself to get my metabolism up some and it only aggravated my knees!! haha…that’s midlife I guess…”ever-evolving” for sure : )

    • Melissa says:


      THANK YOU! I appreciate your comment, especially in light of the fact that this post has already elicited more “unsubscribe me from your blog” emails than any other post I’ve done.

      It’s important to look at the whole picture in evaluating what is going on with someone’s health. I wanted to use myself as an example of how many variables there are in the equation. Metabolism is complex stuff.

      Maybe I should stick to brownie recipes. =)


  2. christine says:

    melissa — I love this post! i too am struggling with book writing book selling computer time, ie weight gain. it is so hard because i have been eating better quality foods (for the most part) since you came into my life but I really feel like the age of 41 my metabolism has just stalled out. am trying a new combo of hooping (fun exercise) jogging (calorie burn and metab kickstart) and either stretching or light weight work, with a goal of 30 mins each, 90 mins total daily

    we’ll see if I wake my metabolism and feel sharper and leaner. I too have things to do and extra weight not making things easy!

    love you, please keep the advice coming. and cannot wait for the book release!!

    • Melissa says:


      You are a doll. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I needed that today! To use a Paddlefish analogy, we’re in the same boat! Should we paddle or simply float? Let’s go for it! Full steam ahead.

      Love you!

  3. Melissa, as always you articulate so well. “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.”

    For myself as well, an optimal power to weight ratio is key to excelling in my sport. I use a standing desk. It’s the little things we do that we need to be aware of and willing to make changes in as we evolve and age.

    There is nothing wrong with pointing out that extra scale weight can be detrimental, but I’m afraid it’s a point that may be difficult for people to come to terms with.

    I’m with you, power soul sister.

    • Melissa says:


      You always have such good contributions to the health conversations. You’re so right about power to weight ratios. There’s a tipping point for sure and I’ve reached it. =)

      Doing inversions is where I really feel it in my joints and it literally takes an extra 5 pounds. Yes, it’s not just scale weight, but fat to muscle ratios. That example you posted on Facebook was perfect.

      Thanks power girl!

  4. Alisa says:

    Well, I do know that 5 or 6 pounds probably looks like nothing on your svelte frame! But that said, I know what you mean, who wants to start that pattern and create a new normal when you were healthy and vibrant at the old normal.

    I think this is the crux of the American “weight” epidemic. Small lifestyle changes that almost go unnoticed, that gradually (or even quickly) culminate into physical changes that may not be desirable. Having to undo that damage can take even more effort! But nipping it in the bud early like you are doing is so smart.

    No need for a recipe for me, I like your health posts 🙂

    • Melissa says:


      Thanks for the encouragement! And you’re so right about things creeping up unnoticed and then all the sudden there’s a problem. It’s that way in so many aspects of health. It’s much easier to deal with small issues than to wait until it’s a full-blown crisis.

      Take care and thanks for “weighing” in on this!

  5. Maggie says:

    This is fascinating! Thanks for connecting the dots like this Melissa, and it such a readable way (or in this case, ahem, the DNA). Of course I stay till the end 🙂 I’m with Alisa, I don’t need a recipe. I just love love love learning from you.

    • Melissa says:


      Well, you know we’re on the same page. I love your take on things too. Glad you stayed until the end of the post. I love that video. It does connect the “dots” — or genes, we should say.

      Thanks so much!


  6. Barb says:

    I’m shocked that people would unsubscribe because of these healthy posts! As celiacs, we need to be aware of our nutrition more than the average person. Because of you, we are consuming organic milk and have started to buy organic and NGMO products as far as the budget allows. The milk tastes SO much better. The most recent switch was to organic celery and it even tastes better.

    Keep on doing what you do best.

    • Melissa says:


      Thanks so much for the support! I really appreciate it. You’re on the right track and I know what you mean, it’s not easy to shift everything at once. Small steps are good. Just keep on making them!

      Have a great week and thanks again.


  7. Tosh says:

    Man, boo to those unsubscribers!! Their loss, for sure! I love your posts. After reading, I typically have something to add to my to do list, in the best possible, find-out-more-about-this or think-more-about-this way. I have never officially subscribed. For years I would just keep coming back awaiting the surprise of a new post, or occasionally two! Now I typically catch them on the FB feed.


    PS- recipes always welcome too 🙂

    • Melissa says:

      Thanks so much Tosh! What a nice comment. You made my day. I’ll do a recipe soon. I promise! But no muffins or cookies for awhile. I’m trying to eat over-the-top healthy food (and lower calorie).


  8. Liz says:

    That is probably the first science-y post I have ever read to completion (and my sister is a science writer). That really is fascinating stuff. It’s reminded me that lifestyle accounts for so much of our health!

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Liz,

      It’s so nice to “see” you again. Thanks for stopping by. It always reminds me to go visit you.

      Thanks! I appreciate your kind comments.


  9. Beautiful post and so happy to find your blog!

  10. Cathy says:

    I’m so relieved to read that you have similar middle-aged issues with metabolic changes that I do (and we are close in age). The habits in diet and exercise that used to keep the pounds in check definitely need tweaking; I just haven’t found the magic combo yet. Thanks for the encouragement and advice!

    • Melissa says:


      Things change as you age and what you could get away with at 25 no longer works! Maybe we need to do a marathon hike up and down the Grand Canyon with the US Nordic Ski Team? That should burn a few calories and raise our metabolism. =)

      Hang in there. And when I come up for air, let’s meet for lunch. A big salad.

      Thanks for leaving a comment. How fun!

  11. Cee says:

    Well, this is the kind of post that will make me a subscriber so you lose some, you win some. Fascinating stuff and thank you for posting it.
    Came to your page via searching about “wheat belly” which I just heard about today.
    Have been gluten free for about 4 years or so. It was the pasta meal I had after a colonoscopy (and the 5-day fiber-free prep beforehand) that lit the bulb over my head about gluten. Since I’m near vegan and the prep allowed only milk, cheese, meat, chicken, eggs, fish, white rice and white potatoes (don’t eat them either), I’d had only white rice and some fish for 3 days, then the 2-day gut sweep.
    The pain, the bloating, the heartburn and the runs I had post-pasta were a revelation. So THAT’S why I’ve been feeling this way all these years! I thought. At least 15 years ago I made the connection between late-night pretzels and early-morning sluggishness but not that it was a gluten thing.
    So I feel lots better, although gluten-free and vegan is a challenge. That’s what makes finding your site a real gift.

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Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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