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Q: I know that there are a ton of diet scams out there, but I’m hearing more and more about diets that are tailored to my genetics. Could my weight problems really be solved by eating in a way that suits my DNA? I’d love to believe there could be such a straightforward solution, but this sounds way too good to be true!

A: I have been known to yell at the television when I see an ad that promises a “quick fix,” “easy solution,” or a “miracle cure” for weight loss. I’m also quite skeptical when I consider how successful a purely biological or physiological treatment (like surgery or medication) might be for my patients who have a history of emotional eating and resultant difficulties with weight loss. So, to me, a “DNA diet” sounds like another one of these misguided “solutions” that is either totally bogus or only addresses one aspect of the problem. 

In helping dozens of overweight individuals navigate their weight management journey, I have seen one consistency time and time again: the prescription for long-lasting weight loss success is always going to be more complex than a simple diet, a combination of foods, or directions for an exercise program. I like to say that the majority of the work happens between the ears, not between the lips. Thus, even if someone were given the eating plan perfectly tailored to optimize weight loss (as researchers at Harvard, Duke, and in Denmark are attempting), that person is not going to be able to follow it faithfully if she is still misusing food for emotional reasons (for comfort, out of boredom, to soothe, to numb, to socialize, etc.).

I apply similar logic when my patients ask me about the various weight loss medications that are currently under review by the FDA. These drugs in the pipeline aim to alter hormonal actions – specifically those of the hormones ghrelin and leptin – that regulate hunger and satiety.  However, even if drugs were able to blunt hunger, I still don’t believe they would be effective weight loss agents for most folks. The vast majority of the people I treat did not gain weight because they were “too (physically) hungry.” They gained weight because they were eating for the emotional, psychological, and social reasons I mentioned above; this kind of food use is hardly ever related to the body’s physiological hunger cues.

So, do I think the research teams investigating the question of tailoring eating regimens to one’s genetic make-up are wasting their time? Not necessarily. Nothing frustrates me more than having a patient who is following an eating and exercise program religiously – and the scale doesn’t budge. I often see this happen for post-menopausal women, for example: metabolism has slowed so much that weight loss happens at an excruciatingly slow pace. My patients become frustrated by this perceived “failure,” and they stop engaging in the healthy behaviors that, if continued, would result in weight loss over time. So, if there were a particular food plan that would optimize weight loss for folks who are encountering these physiological barriers, then that would be helpful information for physicians, dietitians, and psychologists working with these weight-loss-resistant individuals. In sum, this kind of thing might have promise as another tool that weight loss professionals could use to help people meet their goals. But, even with these new advances, we have to couple the science with the knowledge that we humans are complex beings; no one-shot cure can stand in for a holistic approach to wellness.



Zhang X, Qibin Q, Cuilin Zhang Q, Hu F, Sacks F, and Lu Qi. FTO Genotype and 2-year Change in Body Composition and Fat Distribution in Response to Weight-loss Diets: The POUNDS LOST Trial. Diabetes 2012; 61:3005–3011, 2012 

Tao H, Qibin Q, Lu Q, et al. FTO genotype, dietary protein, and change in appetite: The Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies trial. American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition 2014; 99(5):1126-1130

Garaulet M, Smith C, Hernández-González T,  Lee Y, and Ordovás J. “PPARγ Pro12Ala Interacts with Fat Intake for Obesity and Weight Loss in a Behavioural Treatment Based on the Mediterranean Diet.” Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 2011; 55: 1771-779 



Dr. Katie Rickel is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in weight management and health behavior modification. Dr. Rickel graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with a BS in Psychology. She earned her MS and her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida. Following this, Dr. Rickel completed a clinical internship in Health Psychology – specializing in obesity – at Duke University Medical Center where she was trained in the management of chronic pain, behavioral weight loss and surgical interventions for obesity. Dr. Rickel’s research has been presented at numerous professional conferences and has been published in scientific journals among other publications. Dr. Rickel serves as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Wellspring at Structure House, a residential weight loss facility in Durham, North Carolina, where she provides clinical services and develops novel program enhancements. Most recently, she created a specialized program to treat binge eating disorder as well as a behavioral pain management program. She also developed a series of courses to educate and coach family members of overweight and obese individuals. In addition, Dr. Rickel strives to reach those individuals who cannot attend Structure House’s residential program in person. To that end, she has written a self-guided weight management workbook, Structured for Life ®: 28 Day Weight Loss Action Plan, and has assisted in the creation of an online version of the Structure House treatment program. In her spare time, Dr. Rickel is passionate about fitness and enjoys challenging herself in the areas of weight lifting, indoor cycling and yoga. read more about
  • oliver james

    All diets, genetically, can be linked to our earliest ancestors. The diet that modern humans should eat is the original diet. The HOMINID DIET is the ideal diet for humans.