Obesity is often seen as something that happens to our bodies when we eat too much and don’t exercise enough. And we now know that obesity or being overweight is not just about the number on the scale, the size of your clothes or the BMI number that classifies it (a BMI over 30 is classified as Obese and a BMI of between 25 and 30 is considered Overweight). A few years ago, the American Medical Association declared Obesity as a ‘disease’ in and by itself. That means, you can’t be obese and be declared ‘healthy’. Obesity is very serious and unfortunately, becoming more and more common.
The Centers for Disease Control say that almost 40% of people in the US are obese (2015-16). That’s almost half of the population! Obesity related health conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. The cost of Obesity is literally strangling our health care system. These costs are estimated at anywhere from 147 billion to $210 billion per year. Obesity increases job absenteeism at an estimated cost of $4.3 billion.
We know that what we put in our mouths and whether we decide to exercise everyday is pretty much up to us. It’s a choice we make every day and many of us feel dejected and beat ourselves up for our perceived lack of self-discipline and the overwhelm that weight loss struggles can bring us. But what if there were other factors that are contributing to this disastrous epidemic? What if you commit to choosing healthy foods and exercising and you are still not getting the results you want? Maybe its time we looked at some other factors that can contribute to obesity so that we can approach weight loss from a holistic and less shameful perspective?
What are some of the other causal factors linked to the current trend of obesity? Factors such as: environmental toxins, lack of essential fats (fear of fat), overworked livers, water-logged tissues, stress, lack of sleep and excess cortisol, and lack of support.
- Chemical Calories: Could it be that the food we eat contains more than calories from proteins, fats and carbs? Yes. Scientific studies have found certain chemicals found in foods, preservatives, plastics, cosmetics, personal care products like soaps, and shampoo, and in herbicides and fungicides can have an impact on obesity. These are known as “Obesegens” or “Chemical Calories” and they refer to environmental toxins that impact metabolism encourage cravings and obesity. These different chemicals cause changes in our endocrine system- wreaking havoc on our hormones and our fat cell activity. They can cause changes in sexual development (hence the early puberty trend in the US) and they trigger changes in fat cell activity that contribute to obesity. Between 1930 and 2000 there was an explosion of synthetic chemicals in the environment and in our food system. Obesegens are everywhere and include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, food and cosmetic preservatives, DDT, BHT and BHA (found in our cereal), drugs such as DES, (synthetic estrogen banned for use with pregnant woman but now used in animal feed and found to create larger fat cells and more abdominal fat), the Pill, HRT and PCB’s found in fish.
- BPA: You’ve probably heard of BPA. It hit the news a few years ago and alarmed parents started tossing out plastic baby bottles and replacing them with glass because of the realization of the harm that BPA could do. Many plastic bottles and especially baby products now list their products as “BPA Free” due to the exposition of these possible health risks. BPA is a controversial plastic product; the FDA used to say it was safe but in 2010 the FDA changed its position slightly. The FDA now says it is safe at some low levels. It can be found in so many different products- from plastics, to dental sealants and in the lining of cans and even in those receipts you are handed in the store when you buy something. BPA is linked to insulin resistance; it has been shown to alter glucose metabolism and lead to diabetes.
- Phthalates: Phthalates are another common chemical that we get exposed to. Phthalates help to soften plastics and are found everywhere in your personal care products, nail products, shampoos, soaps, perfumes, fragrances, scented products, soft plastics, paint, plastic liners. Phthalates have been found to be associated with obesity, large waist circumference, and insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- Parabens: Parabens are chemical preservatives added to personal care products like soaps, toothpaste, deodorants, and shampoos and hair products. Just like the other ‘Obesegens” parabens disrupt hormones and contribute to problems in metabolism and weight gain.
What can you do about Chemical Calories? Limiting your exposure is the best way to control the number of chemical calories you ingest. Eat whole fresh food that is not packaged, canned, boxed or treated. Buy organic meats, fruits and vegetables to limit your exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. There are many products on the market today that are clearly advertised as BPA, Phthalate and Paraben Free. Read labels and limit your exposure.
Fats are your Friend: Most dieters don’t know that fat is a dieter’s best friend; not the amount of fat ingested, but the type of fat ingested. 80% of Americans eat a diet deficient in the Essential Fatty Acids (‘essential” indicates your body cannot manufacture it; you must EAT it!) Essential Fatty Acids are found in fish like wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and plant based oils like olive oil as well as seeds and nuts. Not ingesting enough EFA impedes ones’ efforts to lose weight. EFA’s carry fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, activate the flow of bile, help to conserve protein, slow absorption of carbohydrates which balances blood sugar levels, provide the building blocks for production of estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones, and are precursors for the production of serotonin, the neuro-chemical responsible for mood and craving control.
Show your Liver some Love: Your liver performs over 400 functions. Its primary link to obesity is its ability to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates and to detoxify the body of chemicals. In order to digest fats, the liver produces bile which emulsifies the fats. Without enough bile, fat cannot be emulsified and is stored as fat. Prescription drugs, and especially Tylenol (the most common cause of liver transplants in the US), as well as alcohol all affect how well your liver can perform its vital functions. Love your liver with some lemon water, grass-fed whey protein, unsweetened cranberry juice, egg yolks, dandelion root tea and Vitamin C rich foods like oranges and red peppers
Sometimes, what looks like body fat isn’t fat. Excess water retention has been termed ‘False Fat” (Elson Haas, MD). Water-logged tissues can be misconstrued as fat. This excess water retention can be caused by:
- Food sensitivities/allergies: Food sensitivities can damage the intestinal wall and cause macronutrients to leak through the intestinal wall. This causes inflammation and immune response. The body attempts to dilute the inflammation with large amounts of water secretion. Wheat gluten and dairy sensitivities are 2 common culprits.
- Lack of sufficient protein: Protein is critical to tissue growth and healing. It attracts water molecules as it circulates between and within cells. If deficient in protein, fluid leaks from the vascular spaces into the spaces between the cells and gets trapped resulting in cellulite, water retention, and bloating.
- Medications: Over 50 medications carry possible side effects of weight gain. Antidepressants cause weight gain in 89% of those who take them.
- Hormonal Imbalances: Estrogen Dominance is rampant due to the estrogens in plastics and pesticides in the environment. Estrogen dominance causes irregularities in thyroid function which is responsible for your metabolism.
Stress, Sleep and weight gain: Stress can make you gain body fat. Under stress the body releases cortisol. Cortisol activates enzymes to store fat anywhere they can. The central fat cells are deep in the abdominal visceral area; these cells have 4 x the amount of cortisol receptor sites than the fat cells beneath the skin. Stress is most often perceived as emotional or mental stress, but stress can be also be physical- as in not sleeping enough. Sleep affects hormone levels. As the quality and quantity of sleep decline, the release of cortisol increases. Those sleeping 7.5- 8.5 hours per night secrete 50% less cortisol than those who get 6.5 or fewer hours per night. Other physical stressors include eating too many processed foods. Managing stress with simple breathing techniques and good quality whole foods can help stave off erratic cortisol levels.
Get support: 70% of people fail to maintain their diets without a support system. Connecting to an interactive health app or working with a personal coach or a group support system of any kind makes it easier to stay on track.
Small Steps: Do you recognize any of the above factors as something you can make some changes to? As with any change, it’s best to educate yourself and slowly transition different changes.
- If you are obese or overweight and have begun a healthy eating routine and exercising, take it one step further and start switching out those personal care products.
- Try to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each week for a month to work towards an extra hour per day.
- Work with your Rolling Strong Wellness Coach (either in person or make use of Rolling Strong Telephonic Coaching) to get support and education on how to take the small steps necessary to improve your lifestyle and prevent or manage a chronic disease condition.
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach