I went through a chubby stage as a pre-teen girl, which most pre-teen girls do. My favorite uncle was in town visiting and my mom told him that I'd said I was afraid I was going to be fat because I take after the bigger side of the family, his side. He said one of the best things anyone could have said to me at that point. “No, you don't have to do that. You know why? You're too smart for that; you know better. My mom was raising us by herself and she was so proud of how well she could feed us that she fed us everything she could. She'd serve meatloaf, pasta, and potatoes in the same meal, and we just ate and ate. You don't have to do that. You can control what you eat and your size.”
I took his advice. I realized at some point that I don't like that over-stuffed feeling of having gorged myself at a meal, even if it's a holiday. I'd rather NOT have a stomach ache, thank you, and I can come back later for more. And you know what? My uncle was right. So, while I've never been obsessively trying to keep my weight down, I just sort of learned when to stop eating. Later, I would learn more about ingredients and food choices. I've also observed a couple of times in my life a thin person in an otherwise-not-thin family, who at first glance appears to have just inherited “the good genes.” Further observation reveals some different food choices.
Years later, I was shopping with a friend and her sweet nieces for back to school clothes, when the 13-year-old said to me, “I'm probably going to be big one day, because my mom is kinda big.” I didn't want to overstep my bounds, or insult her mother, but I couldn't say nothing. “Well, you really don't have to be. I mean, I don't know what your mom was taught to eat or how she was raised, but you can make your own choices about how much you eat and whether you exercise. You really do have a lot of power over your size and health.”
I lost my favorite uncle a couple of years after our conversation over my mom's kitchen table. He had a heart attack and died at age fifty-two. He had a wife and children who loved him and we would all have loved to have had him around longer. His youngest brother did not make it to fifty, and I never knew my grandmother because she passed away so young. While my pre-teen self was dealing with the fear of “being fat,” my grown-up self wishes I could have had those people in my life longer.
Are there genetic predispositions? Sure. But there's also emerging evidence that we can affect the way our genes work by what we eat. I can look at my family history and say that I am likely to die of a heart attack in my early fifties. Given my choices and resulting health, I don't think that's very likely. I am convinced that there are many of us using inheritance or metabolism as a cop-out. There's actually very little difference between most people's metabolism. So, maybe it doesn't just run in the family, maybe families pass down eating habits, not just genes. Whether we adopt those habits is up to us.