Genes or lifestyle: the bigger inheritance?
“Hamare ghar me aise hi hota hai (this is how it happens in our house)” said Swati as she told me why she adds lemon to her morning glass of water. She was referring to how her family members: parents, siblings etc. drink water. Swati is about 50 and has not lived with her parents in the last three decades, yet it’s a habit she picked up in her childhood and continues to practise.
While the whole world accepts fairly easily today that we have a genetic predisposition to certain diseases, in other words we have inherited them from our parents, have we ever thought that maybe more than their DNA we have inherited their ‘lifestyle’.
I bet most of the time if you wake up and drink three or four glasses of water or hot lemon and honey water, or tea or coffee, or eat soaked almonds, tulsi (basil) or garlic, it’s because you inherited the habit from someone at home. In some cases it would be some heath physician’s advice you are following.
Let’s look at comfort foods: the foods that cheer us up or make us feel better. How do you think you got the idea of butter and toast or hot chocolate fudge or ice cream? I am sure there is no DNA that says ‘I like hot buttered toast’ that some of us got and some did not. Most of these come from our home environments.
The same goes for why some of us bathe with hot water even in summer and some of us with cold water deep into winters?
My observation says that habits don’t take root so much in early childhood, but more in our teenage years. As our sense of self and personality develops, what we eat, how, when and how much, all starts getting fixed.
Some people think these change once young adults leave home and live in different environments like college hostels. There, they don’t have a choice and are forced to eat whatever the new environment provides. Others who choose to live independently in rented accommodation, may display a kind of rebellious freedom, seemingly eating and following routines that they could never follow at home, especially in over-strict family environments.
This holds true for a certain period of time (I also see this in 40 year olds who continue to live with their parents and venture into single living for a few days). But once we start having a more settled home environment and deciding what gets cooked at home, we go back to habits of food, eating, and life that I call ‘inherited lifestyle’.
A dear friend always tells me that food is culture and tradition and a reminder of your roots and I reckon for folks like her the inheritance of a food lifestyle is even stronger. She accepts today that she has fed her son over the last 18 years a lot like how her mother fed her.
Dincharya: our daily routine
I don’t believe that genes are the reason we have a disease or an ailment. Sure, they can be a predisposition, just like being Indian increases our likelihood of being a tuberculosis carrier. It is our lifestyle that is finally going to trigger the diseases and lifestyle is very much in our control.
Sadly, in most Indian homes, my parent’s included, genes trump lifestyle.
In our close family there are three people who are overweight and have hypertension. The fourth, the daughter in law is at her correct weight and does not have a lifestyle disease. People often joke that she has good genes. However, what is completely ignored is that she only eats three meals with gaps of five hours, does not snack or drink more than one cup of tea and regularly goes for a walk. The other three members often overeat, snack continuously, and have multiple cups of tea, rarely exercising.
Both in Ayurveda and naturopathy, we lay a lot of emphasis on daily routine or Dincharya. Simply put, it is what we do all day long that is the chief determinant of not just our health but everything that’s shaping our life.
Starting with what time we wake up, our first glasses of water, when and how we bathe, what time is dinner, what we do 30 minutes before sleep to what time we sleep, all comes under Dincharya.
Without realising it we have inherited a lot of this and it is shaping our health and our lives.
P.S: More about Dincharya and body clocks here.