Chemical Obesity: How Lessening Your Toxic Load Could Be The Answer To Losing Weight When You've Tried Everything

You’ve tried it all: Weight Watchers, Atkins, Beach Body, Keto, “just watch your calories and work out,” “your body’s in starvation mode,” “add more healthy fat,” “ high-cal dressing ruins a salad,” and so on, and so on.

By April Ramos4 min read
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Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

You tell yourself, “Maybe, I just need to be more body positive,” but you can’t ignore your lack of energy, abnormal cycle, joint pain, and other symptoms that you feel your excess weight may be contributing to. What’s a girl to do?

Well, you’re not alone. According to Statista, “As of 2020, almost 32 percent of the population aged 18 years and older was obese.” That’s one in every three people over the age of 18, and we know there’s a wealth of studies to show that, no matter how positively we see ourselves, obesity affects our health in many ways. 

It’s important to note that it’s often not without trying. Losing weight is probably the most common New Year’s Resolution. There are even articles giving tips on how to "manage the gym rush in January." Fitbit practically became a fashion staple in the last decade. And the diet industry stats are astounding – it’s an estimated $72.6 billion dollar industry as of 2021. It seems like almost everyone is trying to lose a few pounds – or more. So, what gives? Are we just not trying (or spending) enough? Maybe there are more pieces to the puzzle that we haven’t seen yet.

Obesity, Meet Obesogens

What are obesogens, you might ask? This fake-sounding word is actually an umbrella term for tons of chemicals that interfere with your body’s processes that affect weight. According to an article from WebMD, “For several decades, researchers have noted that lab animals gain weight when they are exposed to specific substances.” If you’ve struggled with endless diets your whole life to no avail, you may be screaming at your computer, “I knew there was something else going on!” Well, hold on to your pants, girlie. We’re just getting started.

Obesogens affect your weight in multiple ways, but there is something they all have in common: They’re endocrine disruptors. As much as that sounds like a new species in Jurassic Park, it’s not half as cool. Your endocrine system, in simple terms, is your hormone system; it’s responsible for producing the hormones involved in metabolism, mood, and fertility, among other things. When obesogens interfere, your body can produce too much or too little of these needed hormones, causing weight gain.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, though. Healthline explains some ways that this toxic hormonal interference contributes to obesity, including:

  • "increasing the number of fat cells

  • increasing the storage of fat in existing fat cells

  • altering the rate of fat cell production versus destruction

  • shifting energy balance to favor calorie storage

  • changing the basal metabolic rate, which is how many calories your body needs to fulfill its basic functions

  • altering gut microbiota to promote food storage

  • modifying hormonal control of appetite and fullness."

The Plot Thickens

As if that weren’t bad enough, some of this toxic burden may have been passed down to you. Let’s just say your baby blues aren’t all you got from your mama. 

According to a study done in 2021, researchers suggest that exposure to obesogens “starts as early as in the mother’s womb, where these chemicals have been demonstrated to cross the placenta and reach the fetus,” and have even “been detected in … amniotic fluid and breast milk.” Another study states that hundreds of chemicals, some even carcinogenic, have been found in the cord blood of newborns.

The Major Players

The first step to overcoming this chemical dilemma is finding out where these chemicals are coming from and how to avoid them. Luckily, a lot of that work has already been done for us. Let’s look at the six most common types of obesogens. You’ve probably even heard of some of them. 

Bisphenol-A (BPA): Surely you’ve seen people toting their BPA-free bottles, and now you know why. This chemical lines many food and drink containers. Your body mistakes it for a type of estrogen that has a similar structure and binds to it. Talk about a toxic relationship. Use internet shopping to your advantage, and search Amazon with the keyword “BPA free.” You’ll get plenty of ideas for items to upgrade. Even one swap a month could be helpful if you're on a tight budget. 

Phthalates: Many brands are reducing the use of these obesity-causers in personal care products, stating on their labels that they’re free of phthalates. However, these chemicals are also commonly used in plastics to make them more flexible (think single-use plastic water bottles that you can Hulk smash). Foods and drinks that are ingested after being in contact with these kinds of plastics can get into your system. Rule of thumb: Avoid flexible plastic and read your labels. 

Atrazine: You probably guessed there would be at least some discussion of pesticides, and you’re right. Like BPA, atrazine has strong effects on reproductive hormones such as estrogen. Yet another reason to go organic whenever possible. 

Organotins: This chemical is used to make another common pesticide, but it’s not just humans being affected this time. Marine life in areas where the pesticide was used was affected as well. According to Healthline, scientists observed that this toxin even caused “female snails [to] develop male sex organs.” This horrifying toxic load is then passed on to us, in part, when consumed, wreaking havoc on our hormones. If avoiding seafood is out of the question for you, look for “sustainably sourced” or “ocean caught” when shopping.  

Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA): Five times fast? Try saying that at all. PFOA is “a surfactant, which is used in non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing and stain repellent on carpets, mattresses and microwaveable food items.” Its major harm is to your metabolism and thyroid, according to one study. Resist the convenience of that Teflon cookware, as these toxins are known to stay in the body long after you’ve consumed them. 

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Maybe one of the most prevalent obesogens in our day-to-day lives, the king of flavor additives: MSG. According to several studies, this tasty toxin impairs the gut hormones that make you feel full, is tied to insulin resistance, and even kills brain cells (neuronal necrosis in the brain). This single obesogen has been such a hot topic in the last several decades that it started going under other names. Here are a few that are commonly listed on ingredient labels even today. 

Lessening Your Toxic Load

Maybe you're ready to bury yourself in a hole in the ground (so long as it’s organic soil), but don’t throw in the towel yet. There are things you can do to fight for your health and find relief.

  1. Start reading labels. If you know a few toxins to watch out for, that's better than mindlessly ingesting them. Baby steps. You don’t have to avoid everything all at once. A great resource to use is the EWG’s Healthy Living App. You can scan tons of everyday products and receive a hazard rating from 1-10. This is especially helpful when choosing personal care products with funky lab ingredients.

  2. Strengthen your immune system: If obesogens are like dangerous criminals, then your immune system is like your body’s own police force. This is great news until you realize they’re sleeping on the job and eating too many donuts. Get your internal patrolling service in tip-top shape so it easily recognizes and apprehends any harmful intruders. 

  3. Detox your detoxer: One of the major criticisms of doing detoxes is that your body already has natural toxin-removal mechanisms in place. While this is true (shout out to your liver), our bodies can sometimes work at less than peak performance. If you’re severely struggling with obesity, talk to your doctor about having blood work done or ask for an abdominal ultrasound to evaluate the state of your liver. For some cheaper ways to start supporting this MVP organ, here's a list of natural supplements you can use. 

  4. Increase Your Antioxidants: “Antioxidant” has become an overused buzzword, but don’t take these fighters for granted – there’s a reason for the hype. Antioxidants fight off free radicals, which are harmful molecules in your body, including toxins. In fact, Healthline states that “without antioxidants, free radicals would cause serious harm very quickly, eventually resulting in death.” While your body makes some of its own antioxidants, your body needs antioxidants from foods as well. Here’s a list of some yummy high-antioxidant foods to incorporate into your diet — and, bonus, add this to the list: coffee!

Closing Thoughts

If you’ve tried everything when it comes to reaching a healthy weight, there may be other factors at play. Obesogens are toxins that can affect your weight in several ways, including interfering with your metabolism, fat storage, hunger and fullness cues, and others. Some of these weight-causing toxins are in everyday items like your food and personal care products. You can lessen your toxic load by becoming a more mindful consumer and using resources like the EWG app. You can assist your body in detoxing these free radicals by strengthening your immune system, supporting your liver, and incorporating more antioxidants into your diet. 

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