"Dad, am I going to get fat?" My 12-year-old daughter asked me that question a few years ago, as we were perusing the supermarket aisles, picking up fruits and vegetable for that night's dinner. I wanted to reassure her that she’d be okay – she ran track, played field hockey, ate a balanced diet, and as long as she followed that kind of healthy lifestyle, she’d be okay.
But today, I'm not so sure. The preponderance of evidence suggests that, in fact, no matter how well she eats and how much she works out, she will live much of her life as a fat person. And so will I.
And so will you.
In 2009, a study in the journal Obesity posited a terrifying statistic: If obesity trends continue just as they have over the last few decades, then by the time my daughter is exactly my age – by the year 2048 –100% of Americans will be overweight or obese.
One hundred percent.
How can this be possible? With a smart diet, attention to exercise, a commitment to healthy living, surely many of us will avoid unwanted weight gain, no? Maybe not. After researching our book, The New American Diet, I’ve discovered that there’s more to weight gain than just calories in and calories out. There’s something else that’s making America fat. It’s called “the obesogen effect.”
I know what you’re thinking. We’re getting fat because of too little exercise, too many fatty foods, too much time surfing the web and watching the tube. All of these are factors, sure. But something else is at play. Consider this: In 2006, Harvard researchers reported that the obesity rate in one sector of the American population has risen by 73% in the last 25 years. Who were these slackers?
So either infants today don’t go to the gym as much as they used to, or they’re sneaking out of their cribs and hitchhiking to the local diner, or something else is at play.
That something else is the obesogen effect.
Obesogens are chemicals, either natural or manmade, that hijack our metabolic systems, causing us to gain unnatural amounts of weight. They come from compounds found in certain plastics; in pesticides and fungicides; in soy and sweeteners; and in the hormones that are injected into our livestock.
It may sound like science fiction, but the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, and White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity have all declared obesogens, also known as “endocrine disrupting chemicals,” to be a potential danger to America’s waistlines. And chances are, you’re eating and drinking these chemicals every day. In one recent study, the obesogen bisphenol-A (BPA) was found in the bodies of 93% of Americans!
"Obesogens are thought to act by hijacking the regulatory systems that control body weight," says Frederick vom Saal, PhD, curators’ professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri. That’s why endocrine disruptors are so good at making us fat – and that’s why diet advice doesn’t always work – because even strictly following the smartest traditional advice won’t lower your obesogen exposure.
But in a test run using The New American Diet – a program designed to show people how to avoid obesogens and still eat everything from ice cream to pork chops to hamburgers – our test panel lost an average of 15 pounds in just 6 weeks. And they didn’t have to skip their favorite foods, or even lower their calorie intake!
See, while digging up all of this research on obesogens we’ve discovered some good news: We can reverse the obesogen effect if we simply adopt 4 simple laws of leanness.
Leanness Law # 1: Cut Down Your Pesticide Exposure
The average American is exposed to 10-13 different pesticides through food, beverages and drinking water every day, and 9 of the 10 most common pesticides are endocrine disruptors. But according to a recent study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, eating an organic diet for just 5 days can reduce circulating pesticides to non-detectable or near non-detectable levels.
Of course, organic foods can be expensive. But not all organics are created equal – many foods have such low levels of pesticides that buying organic just isn’t worth it. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) calculated that you can reduce your pesticide exposure nearly 80% simply by choosing organic for the 12 fruits and vegetables shown in their tests to contain the highest levels of pesticides. They call them "The Dirty Dozen," and you can find a complete list of them – as well as foods you don’t need to buy organically – at NewAmDiet.com.
By the way, avoiding pesticides means choosing seafood wisely, as well. For example, Atlantic salmon (all of which is farm-raised) has up to 90% more pesticides than wild-caught Alaskan salmon. It’s a great example of how The New American Diet teaches you to eat the same foods, with the same calorie counts, and still lose weight.
Leanness Law # 2: Don’t Eat Plastic
You’re probably thinking, Well, I don’t generally eat plastic. Ah, but you do. Chances are that you’re among the 75% of Americans with detectable levels of phthalates in their bodies. Phthalates are synthetic chemicals found in plastics that lower testosterone, and trick our bodies into storing fat. Here’s what you can do to reduce your exposure:
- Never heat food in plastic containers or put plastic items in the dishwasher, which can damage them and increase leaching. BPA leaches from polycarbonate sports bottles 55 times faster when exposed to boiling liquids as opposed to cold ones, according to a study in the journal Toxicology Letters.
- Avoid buying fatty foods like meats that are packaged in plastic wrap. Plastic wrap used in supermarkets is mostly PVC, a type of plastic that leaches phthalates; like other obesogens, phthalates are attracted to, and are stored in, fatty tissue. (That’s right – the more fat you have in your body, the more obesogens you’re storing.) So when you buy fatty foods wrapped in PVC, you’re buying extra obesogens. Instead, go right to the butcher counter, and ask the butcher to wrap your meat in brown paper. (By the way, don’t worry about plastic wrap you buy to wrap things at home – most are made from polyethylene – a harmless type of plastic.
- Cut down on canned goods by choosing fresh or frozen vegetables or tuna in a pouch over canned tuna.
Leanness Law # 3: Run Free
Choose organic, pasture-raised meats whenever possible, for 2 reasons: First, avoiding obesogens is all about protecting your hormonal system. But conventionally raised beef comes preloaded with 6 different hormones (including the weight-gain hormone TBA); those hormones are used to make the cows gain weight, and they’re still detectable in the meat after slaughter. Second, grass-fed beef is leaner, contains 60% more omega-3s, 200% more vitamin E and 2-3 times more conjugated linoleic acid (a near-magic nutrient that helps ward off heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and can help you lose weight) than conventional beef.
Leanness Law # 4: Filter Your Water
The best way to eliminate EDCs from your tap water is an activated carbon water filter. Available for faucets and pitchers, and as under-the-sink units, these filters remove most pesticides and industrial pollutants. Check the label to make sure the filter meets the NSF/American National Standards Institute’s standard 53, indicating that it treats water for both health and aesthetic concerns. Try The Brita Aqualux ($28, brita.com), Pur Horizontal faucet filter ($49, purwaterfilter.com) and Kenmore’s under-sink system ($60, kenmore.com).
Click here to buy your copy of The New American Diet by Stephen Perrine and Heather Hurlock.