It can be incredibly frustrating when you follow a healthy diet plan, yet the weight doesn’t shift. Maybe it starts off well and you lose a couple of kilos, but then your weight-loss plateaus. Whatever you do, you seem stuck at that point.
How do you keep up the momentum when you are not getting results? It’s demoralizing; what’s the point if it doesn’t make any difference anyway? One of the reasons that weight is hard to shift is the chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives, chemicals that are harming our health and making us fatter.
These chemicals, known as ‘obesogens’, are all around us in plastics and packaging, in our food and in our personal-care and household products. Many chemicals have an affinity for fat, and we store them in our fat cells. When you lose weight, released from your fat cells, these chemicals circulate round your body.
In the case of obesogens, they make you gain weight. So, as you lose weight, you release chemicals into your body that make you gain weight. No wonder losing weight feels impossible! This release of obesogens from your fat cells can contribute to your weight-loss plateauing and your ‘yo-yo’ weight cycling.
When you start to become aware of your exposure to these chemicals, it can feel overwhelming. The good news is, it is fairly simple to significantly reduce your exposure.
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Daisy suffered from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and knew her female hormones were not in balance. She struggled with mood swings and irritability at points in her cycle, and it also affected her eating. The rest of the month, she ate pretty healthily.
But it all fell apart the moment her PMS hit. She had tried changing her diet, which was helping. But not enough. When we talked about how many obesogens disrupt our hormones, it was a lightbulb moment for her. Daisy liked to cook and used a lot of tinned tomatoes.
Tins contain bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting obesogenic chemical. As tomatoes are acidic, their acidity increases the amount of BPA that leaches into them from the tin while sitting on the shelf.
Daisy would cook for two meals, then store the leftovers in a plastic container. Plastic also contains hormone-disrupting, obesogenic chemicals. She sometimes put the leftover food in the plastic container while it was still warm, increasing the amount of chemicals that were leaching into her food. A big fan of personal care, Daisy had a huge range of skin, hair and bath products.
These can also be a significant source of exposure to hormone-disrupting, obesogenic chemicals. Daisy was a bit taken aback to discover just how much exposure she had to these chemicals. But now that she was aware, she could do something about it. And making these changes had to be easier than trying to lose weight when her body wasn’t ‘onside’!
How obesogens affect your weight
The word ‘obesogen’ was coined in 2006, by Dr. Bruce Blumberg, Professor of Developmental and Cell Biology and of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, for chemicals that cause weight gain and lead to obesity. These chemicals disrupt the creation and storage of fat.
You only need low levels to increase the likelihood of putting on weight. Obesogens disrupt your body’s weight regulation in several different ways. They may affect the number or size of fat cells or promote insulin resistance.
They can interfere with hormones, including those involved in appetite and feeling full. They may even change your food preferences. Obesogens can affect your thyroid, slowing your metabolism, and cause changes to your gut bacterial balance that are associated with weight gain.
Some obesogens (BPA and phthalates) may increase waist circumference. This association is particularly strong in men.6 Research is finding a growing list of possible obesogens. They include the list below:
- Certain pesticides
- Phthalates in personal-care products and plastics
- Parabens—in personal-care products
- Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics and food tins
- Monosodium glutamate in some processed and restaurant foods.
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Quick questionnaire Are obesogens contributing to your weight?
If you answer Yes to three or more questions (or if you frequently do any one of these), then obesogenic chemicals in your body may be making it harder for you to lose weight.
- Do you eat tinned food?
- Do you consume cans of drink?
- Do you consume drinks packaged in plastic bottles?
- Do you use oils stored in plastic bottles?
- Do you eat food that has been wrapped in plastic or from plastic containers?
- Do you store food in plastic?
- Do you microwave or put hot food in polycarbonate plastic containers?
- Do you buy ready-made foods without checking whether they are monosodium glutamate (MSG)-free?
- Do you use personal-care products (shampoo, body lotions, etc.) that contain phthalates, parabens, fragrance or parfum? (Unless you check the ingredients, this is highly likely.)
- Do you eat fast food that comes with wrappers?
- Do you eat nonorganic food?
Key things you have learned in this article
- Obesogens are chemicals that can make us gain weight.
- We are exposed to obesogens in our daily lives, including through our food, personal-care products and plastics.
- You only need low levels of obesogens to increase the likelihood of putting on weight.