Chemicals in Food that Make You Fat

For decades we’ve been told that the “formula” for weight loss is incredibly simple: eat less and exercise more.

Unfortunately, that’s very far from the whole truth.

We’re now learning that there are powerful influences on weight that go beyond calories and exercise.

We’re at the infancy of our knowledge about obesity, and we’re not all that brilliant about weight loss in general. But one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is this: it’s not just about eating less. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey, I think I’d like to be obese!” I’ve talked to serious scientists who’ve been studying this stuff for 20 years, people who the media would consider A-list experts, and privately they’ll tell you that obesity is baffling and mysterious and that they’re just scratching the surface of the subject.

One of the most disturbing discoveries in the past decades has been that chemicals in our food and our environment are actually obesity promoters. Known as “endocrine disrupters”, these chemicals “mimic” what hormones in our body do. These chemicals hijack hormonal pathways, sending messages to cells to store fat and generally disrupting the regulatory system that helps control appetite and weight. They can do this by…

  1. increasing your number of fat cells
  2. lowering the number of calories you burn
  3. playing havoc with the mechanisms (like the hormone leptin)  that regulate our appetite

High fructose corn syrup, for example, is an obesogen. It makes you insulin resistant and interferes with leptin efficiency. The result is a double whammy:

  1. you crave more food and…
  2. the food you eat turns into fat more easily.

Even tap water contains obesogens. One in particular—atrazine—slows thyroid hormone metabolism. Another—a fungicide called tributylin—stimulates the production of fat cells.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic estrogen and has been shown to increase insulin resistance, which is at the heart of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. And phthalates, which are chemicals found in all sorts of products from shower curtains to perfumes, may lower your metabolism, leading to increased weight and lowered muscle mass.

What a mess.

Avoiding these chemicals is no small trick, especially since we haven’t even indentified all the potential endocrine disrupters in the environment and food supply, and no one knows the “safe” dose of any of them.

This is why, in my judgement, it’s always prudent to err on the side of caution. Eat food that looks like food your grandmother would have recognized as food. Avoid food with bar codes. Buy organic—especially for the “dirty dozen”, foods that have been found to have the greatest pesticide residue. (You can find the “Dirty Dozen” online at the website of the Environmental Working Group.)

Since many of the foods that contain these endocrine disrupters are processed foods that are also addictive, breaking the addiction to sugar should be a primary goal of anyone wanting to lose weight and get healthy.

And make no mistake—the foods that make us fat, sick, tired and depressed are as addictive as any drug on the planet. (That’s why we spend as much time as we do on breaking the chains of food addiction in my diet program Unleash Your Thin »

In addition:

  • Buy fish and meat that is hormone and antibiotic free. That means wild salmon and grass-fed beef only.
  • Use aluminum bottles or BPA-free ones.
  • Don’t let plastic water bottles get hot—it increases the leaching of BPA into the water.
  • Never, ever put plastic in the microwave
  • Move away from canned foods and towards pouches, frozen or fresh when possible.
  • Dump your air fresheners. (Try opening a window or putting out a nice diffuser, potpourri or fresh lavender
  • Get rid of non-stick pans, especially Teflon ones. If you must use them, never ever use a metal implement on them, as that can scratch the surface and release damaging chemicals.
  • Use natural skin care products without “fragrance” – I use Jeneuvia by Wallsburg Farms »




  1. Margaux

    I’ve been using BPA-free bottles the moment I read some horrific story behind those plastics. I am an avid fan of anything organic since 2009. What I love most about your article is the stories behind those non-stick pan, using plastics on microwave and the use of non-fragrant skin products. Now I know better in choosing what I eat and what I use. Thanks for this great post.

  2. Joe Zasada

    since plastic and wood cooking utensils tend to bash and smash your food (especially delicate fish) you really shouldn’t use nonstick cookware. get some real cookware, use some healthy oils and fats to keep things from sticking, and high quality metal utensils…