How seven calories can ruin it all

NO WIN SITUATION: Even if you stay on top of your fitness and food choices, those conniving, dirty genes may well win out.
NO WIN SITUATION: Even if you stay on top of your fitness and food choices, those conniving, dirty genes may well win out.

The greatest gift I gave my children was my husband's genes. I'm not the only one who thinks that - those who've been researching obesity agree that the genetic component is the hardest to beat.

They acknowledge that even if you are really on top of your fitness and your food choices, those conniving, rotten, dirty genes may well win out in the end.

And I'm guessing that we've all read that research on genetic predisposition - which is why people think it is perfectly OK to make very personal remarks about those they hardly know.

I've had a lifelong battle with fat. My mother was fat. My father was fat. My sister, my brother. Of those four people, three are dead, all before the age of 58.

My brother and I are on a mission to prove everyone else wrong. Between us, we've lost 120 kilograms.

Like every other person in the universe, we do tend to put weight on while on holiday. Holidays are, in my own mind, inexorably linked with drinking and eating.

But let me digress from fun. My current fat rage came about two weeks ago.

I dropped into a new art gallery not far from my house. Behind the desk was a woman I hadn't seen in four years.

So, doesn't it usually go: "Hi, how are you, nice to see you again?'' Or even: "How's it hanging?"

Instead, the first thing out of her mouth was: "You've managed to keep it off, then."

That was it. No ''Hello, how are you?'' No nothing. I was so taken aback, I couldn't even reply. Which is saying something.

All the way home, I was furious. Furious. He Who Must Never Be Written About told me I was overreacting, that the remark was a backhanded compliment. And then he goes: "Isn't that what the research says?"

Samantha Thomas, an associate professor of public health at the University of Wollongong, specialising in obesity, describes those kinds of remarks as body policing. Apparently, we do it all the time - and her new research, to be published next year, says parents do it to their children. It is a way of controlling individual behaviour instead of recognising that managing weight is as much the fault of our environments as it is of our individual failures of will.

"We don't know how to talk to each other about weight," she says.

But, she says, it's definitely no good shaming your kids by saying they will end up on The Biggest Loser.

The facts on regaining weight are, however, terrifying. Turns out that people who lose weight put it back on again. Not just some people. Nine out of 10 gradually regain what they lost - and the reasons why are so incredibly depressing, I just wanted to binge.

Jennie Brand-Miller, a professor of human nutrition, based in biochemistry at the University of Sydney, has had her own battles with her body. Her grandmother is obese. Her father has type 2 diabetes. Her sister is overweight, her niece has just had gastric band surgery. That's a hard legacy to overcome.

Now Brand-Miller spends her time finding what makes our metabolisms tick. The news from the clinics is not all that good for those of us with fat genes.

She says that even when we do a good job of looking after diet and exercise, our traitorous bodies will find a way to be more economical with our calorie intake, storing the energy for a rainy day. It gets harder to keep the weight off.

"Under nature dictated circumstances, it is all too easy to put weight on if you are genetically predisposed in any way... losing it and keeping it off are quite difficult," she says.

"You don't need very many more calories over a period of time to put the weight back on."

I ask her how many more calories, thinking about the salted caramel dessert I had in Adelaide at the weekend. She says seven and I think I've misheard her.

"It's just seven extra calories on top of what you need," she repeats. This makes me feel like being sick. Or conversely eating a lot of salted caramel because hell, I'm going to fat hell anyhow.

Then Brand-Miller throws out the lifeline I've caught before.

Walk 60 minutes a day. Or 20 minutes of high intensity interval training (I'm too nervous to ask what that is because it sounds like I couldn't do it anyway. The training word is one which sends shivers down my spine.) Also, high protein, low carb, together is good.

And here's some anecdotal research from me, choose skinny from the gene pool. And hope the kids all take after the rake.