Genetics and Disease

The following are some words I wrote in completing a recent assignment. I wanted to share them with those who may be interested.


Genes do not determine disease on their own.

Let me start here by giving an example. I grew up in south Louisiana. My maternal grandparents were quasi parents to me, as my birth parents were very young and were working very hard to get a foothold in life as to provide for their young child. By spending time with my grandparents, who I love more than you can imagine, I got to meet a lot of our extended family because my grandparents would travel almost weekly around the south visiting various family members. What I saw on those visits was overweight, and mostly morbidly obese (including my grandparents) people. Although I didn’t make these literal assumptions then, I know now that I was learning who we were as a family; what we looked like; what we ate; how we thought. And this shaped the view I had of myself, who I was, and who I was supposed to be: a fat person; it’s just who we are.

Now, I have lived with those inherent assumptions for most of my 35 years. And armed with those assumptions, I read literature, heard new stories, and watched documentaries about how genetics places a destiny upon us over which we have no control. Logically, if this were true, one tends to let go of the thought of reaching beyond his or her genetic make-up; “hell, I was born to be fat, just look around.,” as he or she sits at the Thanksgiving table, “oh well, pass the gravy.”

But, with education on the topic, one learns that, yes, one may in fact be genetically predisposed to obesity (which is the precursor to almost all chronic disease). However, it takes a certain lifestyle to realize this genetic destination. In other words, the destination is not realized on genetics alone. No, having been born to a certain family with certain habits creates a likelihood of arriving at that genetic destination, but getting there has less to do with genetics than it does with habit, lifestyle. And yes, changing those things can be difficult. Yes, changing those things in your life can, in some ways, isolate you from the ones you love, for in common bad habits grows a certain kinship. Or, you can be a lighthouse for that in-danger vessel of a family. You can stoically, perpetually, emit a signal to indicate a possible course correction. Lighthouses are not bossy. They just, through merely being there, doing the same thing over and over without fail, help a given vessel determine a path more conducive to avoiding the rocky shores of chronic disease.  

Be a lighthouse for the ones you love, the ones whose genes you share.


Full disclosure: This lighthouse may be a tad bossy to his vessel.

3 thoughts on “Genetics and Disease

  1. Love all the posts, but had to post a comment on this one. So, so true – families get the same type of diseases because they eat the same way and pass it down to their kids. I am the only vegan in my family- my dad still thinks I might just die any day soon from lack of nutrients. (because what do you eat if it’s not meat?!) Haha!
    You keep on doing what you are doing Josh! Inspirational! Training for a half-Ironman here so need all the inspiration I can get. Can you do a post on what you eat BEFORE you race?

    1. I really eat the same all the time; beans, grains, greens. I don’t eat big the night before the race. However, the morning before race morning I eat a lot up until lunch. Then, I really start letting what I have in my belly assimilate. I eat very light from noon til 5pm or so. At 5, no more solid food for me until about 3 hours before the race. Race morning, about 3 hours prior to race, I eat a couple race gels (Huma) squeezed into a coffee cup of raw oats. Durning the race I eat about 1 gel/hr.

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