How Much Do Genes Determine Your Body Type?

The question is, will all those miles logged override her genetic destiny to morph into her mom? According to Forsythe, you can't override a genetic predisposition, but building muscle can reshape your body to a degree and delay the point at which your figure starts to widen. However, muscle mass begins to diminish as you reach menopause, so eventually your body will probably wind up nudging its way back to its genetic set point. The glass-half-full perspective: That hard work will buy you more years of owning a hot bod, and if you stay active into your fifties, you'll put on less weight than someone who has been using her gym membership card as a bookmark.

You might not like the genes she gives you, but take some motherly advice to help you through life's tough situations.

Fear Factor

Still, to some women, their mother's shape is a black cloud that perpetually hangs over their head. Diane took up swimming and triathlons out of a sheer passion for sports, but she acknowledges that being the daughter of an overweight mom affects how she feels about her body and how hard she trains. "I hate to say this, but whenever I start slacking on my training, I picture my mom, and I pedal faster or run harder."

Clinical psychologist Sherrie Delinsky, Ph.D., hears this sentiment echoed in her private practice in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "When talking with patients who have body-image issues or disordered eating, it often comes out that women have very specific feelings and anxieties about their mothers' bodies. Women who have never been overweight can become paranoid about gaining, because they're concerned about looking like their heavy moms," she says. This is especially true of women like Elizabeth, who come from skinny stock and have seen firsthand what eating too many processed foods can do to naturally thin women over a period of time.

You'd think the daughters of moms with Christie Brinkley-like bodies would have it made. Truth is, girls who aren't as thin as their moms often feel inadequate. "There's a lot of competition between mothers and daughters in general, but it often manifests itself in terms of weight and size, because so much cultural importance is placed on appearance," Delinsky says.

Winning the Genetic War

Despite the slew of new research indicating that certain body shapes are largely preordained, it's by no means a fat sentence. At the end of the day, you're in the driver's seat of your own life and the navigator of your own body. "No matter what your genes or your environment might be, you can't gain weight unless you're taking in more calories than you're expending," Kahn says. In other words, while you may not be able to change being apple-shaped, it's certainly well within your power to be the healthiest, fittest apple possible.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed.

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