skinny-genesLike a computer’s operating system directs the workings of hardware and software, genes hold directions for all body processes. These instructions affect the way we digest food and use nutrients. “We don’t often appreciate just how critical our genetic operating system is until something goes wrong,” says Ruth DeBusk, PhD, RD, a specialist in gene-based nutrition counseling who practices in Tallahassee, Florida.

DeBusk, author of It’s Not Just Your Genes! And Genetics: The Nutrition Connection, explains that we all have the same basic operating system—the human genome—but to function, each body uses different software—an individual set of gene variants. The better you match your food choices to your particular physical software, the better you digest, absorb, and use food. Genetics, she says, also influence various kinds of susceptibility, such as gluten intolerance, a predisposition to inflammation, and a sensitivity to environmental toxins.

In her Boston dietetics practice, Colleen Fogarty Draper, MS, RD, LDN, offers the Inherent Health Weight Management Genetic Test from Interleukin Genetics that looks at how DNA affects diet and weight. Genetic testing is only one of many tools in a comprehensive nutrition assessment, and it does not necessarily provide an accurate glimpse of your future. It’s important to remember, says Draper, that “these tests are only predicting risk. They do not determine your health trajectory.”

Isn’t a simple family history sufficient? “As humans, we inherit one set of chromosomes from our mothers and one set from our fathers. That means you have two copies of each of the genes in your body, but these copies may or may not be alike,” says Draper. “So even if you know your family history, you don’t always know if you have inherited a tendency toward the health issues on the father’s side of the family or the mother’s.”

Using information about your genes to lose weight is a new paradigm for medical professionals. “I recently had an MD come to my office who could not wait to take the test for herself,” Draper says. “Being provided a genetic road map from the beginning gives clients some assurance they will be
successful.”

Draper works with three genotype categories specified in the weight management genetic test. Corresponding diets are usually either low fat, low carbohydrate, or balanced. “For example, if your genotype indicates you are a carbohydrate reducer, you need a low-carbohydrate approach with
reduced calories to lose weight.”

Myriad diets promote a low-carbohydrate approach, but testing and individual counseling helps identify which is best for you. That’s why, says Draper, it’s important to consult a knowledgeable dietitian who can translate your results, incorporate them into the whole nutritional picture, and recommend changes to  optimize your genetic potential.

Genetic testing also can help you choose the best type of exercise. “I couple the diet information with genotype-specific exercise guidelines,” Draper explains. “There are two basic categories: people who are very responsive to aerobic exercise and those who need different methods of exercise to achieve their desired results.”