|November 21, 2023

Obesogens: How Toxic Chemicals Make You Fat and What to Do About It

By Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
Reviewed for Scientific Accuracy

Obesogens: How Toxic Chemicals Make You Fat and What to Do About It

  • Weight loss isn’t a game of eat calories, burn calories.
  • Lots of factors contribute to your body composition. A big one comes from environmental exposures, specifically obesogens.
  • Obesogens are chemicals like BPA and pesticides that change the way your body stores and uses fat.
  • Obesogens contribute to stress hormones, endocrine disruption, lymph congestion and puffiness, and more.
  • Keep reading to find out how to get obesogens out of your life and lose weight for good.

Have you noticed that the Bulletproof Diet doesn’t ask you to count calories? That’s because you don’t have to track your macros to lose weight. Ever.

Weight loss isn’t a game of eat calories, burn calories. Your body is much more complex than that. There are slim people who can win a pizza eating contest, and obese people who won’t break 1000 calories a day, and the scale still won’t budge.

Lots of factors contribute to your body composition. Things like age, gender, sex hormones, and hunger hormones all go into your body fat equation. Another big one comes from environmental exposures, namely obesogens.

Obesogens are chemicals that change the way your body stores and uses fat.[1] Researchers have identified hundreds of chemicals that make you hold onto weight, including:[2]

  • Automobile emissions like carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons
  • Factory emissions like heavy metal particles and nitrous oxide
  • Certain pharmaceutical drugs like antidepressants and birth control
  • Cigarette smoke, which contains at least 250 harmful chemicals
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) piping
  • Bisphenol A (BPA), found primarily in the lining of metal food cans
  • Pesticides
  • Phthalates, commonly found in soaps, shampoos, vinyl coverings and flooring

Obesity is on the rise, and researchers have been questioning why. Is our society more gluttonous? Are we lazier and less likely to exercise? Or, are there more toxins in our environment than ever before?

Here are some ways that chemicals may factor in to the weight equation.

How Obesogens Change the Way Your Body Uses and Stores Fat

Hormone disruption

Researchers are consistently finding chemicals that mimic your body’s hormones, or alter the behavior of the ones you have. These can be things that you would expect to alter your hormones, like hormonal birth control pills, or things you wouldn’t expect, like sunscreen ingredients,[3] and antibacterial soaps.[4][5]

Chemicals that mimic estrogen are of particular concern, since high estrogen makes you gain weight.[6] Hormonal pathways other than sex hormones have an influence on your weight, like hunger hormones ghrelin and cholecystokinin (CCK) and stress hormones like cortisol. More on cortisol, up next.

Stress response makes you fat

Stress releases cortisol, which makes you hungrier[7] and slows fat metabolism.[8]

Emotional stress, like the stress you feel before a big presentation, or when adjusting to life with a new baby, isn’t the only culprit. Your body also releases cortisol to fight off harmful substances like pesticide-laden produce, toxic fumes, and foods that don’t agree with you.

When you take in toxins, inflammation triggers in your body. More stress, more cortisol, more body fat.

RELATED: Natural Remedies for Inflammation

Lymph congestion can make you look fat when you’re not

Think of your liver and kidneys as the filtration and purification plants. Your lymphatic system is the tanker truck that takes all the sludge away to dump into sweat and urine.

Chemicals like excess hormones or heavy metals slip past the liver when it’s working too hard, and they end up in the lymphatic fluid generally unchanged. This can mean that molecules are either too big, or not in the proper water-soluble form for elimination.

Molecules in the wrong form congest your lymph nodes — the glands that are essentially stops for the tanker truck where you make cells to fight off infection. This can cascade into a buildup of fluid. When you feel puffy after a night of drinking or when your rings don’t fit because you ate foods you don’t tolerate well, this is part of what’s happening.

If your lymph is chronically congested, you might have extra lymph fluid that you’re mistaking for body fat. The extra fluid can make you look big and make your clothes feel tight, when it’s not body fat at all — it’s toxic overload.

Increasing lymph circulation has shown promise as a treatment for cellulite — dimpling of the skin that people generally associate with body fat. Research shows that cellulite might be more of a fluid issue than a fat issue.[9][10][11]

How to detox your body and lose weight

Your body’s detoxification process is a 24/7/365 deal. You don’t just detox when you say, “I’m going to do a detox” and you follow prescribed steps. It’s always happening. But, your natural detox systems can get backed up, causing you to pack on the pounds.

If you’ve been doing everything right but the scale won’t budge, you’ll want to pay attention to your toxic load. Here’s how to get everything out of your way so that you can hit your weight loss goals.

  • Cut sugar and carbs. Technically, your body knows what to do with sugar, and it’s not a lab-created chemical. Still, every form of sugar, even fructose from fruit, is another thing that the liver has to deal with. Stop the steady stream of sugar so that your liver has the bandwidth to deal with the backlog of environmental toxins.
  • Go organic. Organically grown meat and veggies minimize your exposure to obesogens like pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics, artificial hormones and quite possibly another big one — glyphosate — which California courts recently ruled as a cause of a plaintiff’s cancer. Again, you want less burden on your liver, plus the chemicals that Big Ag uses are known endocrine disruptors.[12][13][14] If going fully organic is too expensive, focus on animal products and the Environmental Working Group’s first. Then, switch to organic with the foods your family eats most.
  • Check your cookware. Researchers found that a compound in common non-stick coatings called perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) is strongly linked to weight gain, along with things that contribute to excess weight, like hormone imbalances.[15][16] It’s not practical to throw everything out and replace all at once, but your body will clear the toxins more quickly if you opt for stainless steel, enameled cast iron, and ceramic-coated nonstick cookware when you can. If your whole set is nonstick (Teflon, or anodized aluminum), pick up one piece that you’ll use most often, and gradually replace your set piece by piece over time.
  • Get a good water filter. Scientists have measured pharmaceutical drugs, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and residues of personal care products in US drinking water supplies.[17][18] Water is supposed to help you flush toxins, not build them up. A high-quality filter is a one-time expense, providing you with a lifetime of clean water that will pay for itself many times over. Here’s how to choose the best water filter. 
  • Do a detox. Your body is a self-cleaning oven, but your natural detox systems sometimes get backed up. Here’s how to help things along.

You’ll never be 100% toxin-free, and you don’t need to be. You also don’t need to overhaul your life overnight and become a total chemicalphobe. The key is to do everything in your power to manage the things that are within your control. Make a few small changes, and see if your clothes start fitting better.

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