Does My DNA Hold the Secret to Wellness?

Photo: Tom Werner/Getty Images

What is the ideal diet? Having devoted my life to this question, you would think I would know the answer, but I don’t. I have only copied, like an automaton, the diets of famous people, and I never ended up looking like them once! Perhaps I should think of my own needs and self? In the parlance of today, the ideal diet is the one that works for the individual, because you are free to be you, and everyone does their own thing that feels right for them, blah blah blah, etc., etc., etc.. It is so boring; I literally can’t.

Still, the question lingers. What if you could actually figure out THROUGH SCIENCE the best diet specifically for you — you! — the star of this little drama we call life? Well, now you can, because there is a company called DNAFit that examines your DNA and finds out what your ideal diet is.

According to DNAFit, everyone has certain genes that make them respond better to certain foods and certain exercises. The company tests your DNA and then gives you a customized diet based on what gene mutations you have. DNAFit will answer questions like: Should you eat fat all the time? Or do you store it for the winter like a bear in hibernation? Should you run a marathon tomorrow? Or will you collapse during it? Are you particularly sensitive to carbs? Or can you eat saltwater taffy like someone who works on a dock?

Testing your DNA to see what particular diet-and-exercise combo works the best for you seems like the height of individualized luxury. Despite how much I love luxury, at first I was skeptical. As a rule, I have no interest in science. My mother recently took a DNA test and it gave her no new information, except for the not-very-surprising fact that our family is more Neanderthal than normal.

But then I thought about it — I have always been very interested in myself and what my deal was. Why shouldn’t I constantly ruminate on the morbid specificity of my own state? I don’t have anything else to do.

Today I will send my DNA to England, the country that actually discovered DNA. Isn’t that cool? England is where DNAFit is located.

To be honest, now that I have acclimatized myself to the whole idea, I’m sort of excited to see the multitudes my DNA contains. What if my DNA is actually really cool in this super-unique and understatedly elegant way? Although I am a woman of average-to-poor physical ability, maybe my DNA will indicate that I should have been running marathons this whole entire time? Maybe I will be told that all of the saltwater taffy I’ve been eating isn’t what is making me fat? The possibilities are endless.

To that end, I wake up very early and take a Q-tip to the inside of my mouth and rub it forcefully on the inside of my cheek. Then I put this Q-tip in a test tube and bring it to a FedEx.

When I get to the FedEx there is a long line, during which I start reading this book called How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I find prominently displayed in the checkout line. I can’t believe I haven’t read this book before. The first chapter is all about how Al Capone thought he was an incredible person, and that every person thinks they are really great no matter what they do, and that is the secret of humankind. This is apparently why you should flatter everyone constantly if you want to win friends. I am going to try this!

When I finally get to the front of the line, the cashier asks me what I am sending. “It’s a DNA test!” I say. “And I am sending it to England! The United Kingdom!”

Everyone in the line looks at me as if humiliated on my behalf. Apparently DNA tests are embarrassing in New York City. “Nice shoes!” I yell at someone in line, hoping to change their mind.

Roughly two weeks later, after a period of waiting in which I made no friends despite complimenting everyone, I get the results of my DNA test. My hands are shaking as I open the email, and I forget my password twice, because I haven’t had my coffee yet. Finally, I get the thing open and am greeted with several reports regarding my fitness and diet. There is a colorful science report that seems too complicated to actually read, and a very clear animated infographic that is far easier to understand, at least for me.

The fitness section is a bit disappointing. Despite my hope for startling genetic gifts that went undiscovered in the several organized sports I played as a child, I have a resoundingly average fitness ability. My aerobic ability is standard. It is also unclear whether it would help me more to lift weights or run marathons, because according to my DNA I’m pretty normal at both. The only thing I score well on is my genetic risk of injury. So that’s something.

Nutrition is a mixed bag. In disappointing news, I don’t have celiac disease, and I am not lactose intolerant. Continuing on my theme of being totally normal, I am totally normal at digesting carbs, and I can eat grilled meat. (How have all of my fake allergies been disproved by SCIENCE?? This DNA test is making me feel really not special.) I should eat more cruciferous vegetables and antioxidants because apparently my body is not that great at detoxifying or neutralizing free radicals. The one good thing out of all of this news is that I have very low sensitivity to saturated fat and alcohol. I go out and order an ice-cream milkshake with Baileys in it to celebrate!

At the end of all this info, DNAFit takes your specific numbers and compares them with those of three famous British Olympians. (I didn’t know the U.K. had this??) I compare my numbers with “Craig Pickering” who does “Track &Field/Bobsleigh” for the U.K. And guess what! Craig Pickering, Olympian hero of Track&Field/Bobsleigh, has the same VO2 max trainability I do! It is almost as if I, Rebecca Harrington, writer at New York Magazine’s the Cut blog for women, could be an British Olympian in Track &Field/Bobsleigh! If you are trying to win friends and influence me, DNAFit, you did it! Thank you!

Does My DNA Hold the Secret to Wellness?