Struggling to overcome excess body fat that won't melt away regardless of mileage, heart rate, calories burned or calories consumed, is down right frustrating. Five years ago my doctor told me that I "just had an unusually slow metabolism" and proceeded to limit me to around 1,000 calories a day. This meant that I was hungry - in ever way a body can possibly be hungry - all the time. Even though I experienced some weight loss, this benefit was overshadowed by daily anxiety, mood swings, frustrating restrictions and guilt. And it sucked.
It wasn't until years later, after much research, trial and error that I found my answer: a life of nourishment, delicious food, mental and physical satisfaction, new-found happiness, self-love, my ideal weight, and absolutely zero guilt. It almost sounds too good to be true reading it back; and sometimes I get really emotional when talking about my transformation because I want everyone to be freed from the overwhelm and frustration - Freed from the influence of marketing ploys packed with lies meant to lure us from one money making scheme (100 calorie packs) to another (lean cuisines) only to leave us hundreds of dollars poorer, no healthier, no lighter, and no happier. The question that I continue to get asked is "..but..HOW?" How is it possible that I'm eating more calories and more food, but losing weight. I get it. I totally get it. After a lifetime of being told to restrict, restrict, restrict, I didn't buy it either. In fact, I was terrified to increase my calories at first, but I found out first hand that, nowadays, eating fewer calories will not always give you the results you're hoping for. But eating high quality calories - will.
I know how many beautiful girls and women are counting every damn calorie, every gram of carbohydrate, sugar, fiber, fat and protein, being diligent and dedicated to their goal yet are still STRUGGLING. They're frustrated. They're getting discouraged. They're blaming themselves, like I blamed myself. Well, enough is enough. It's time that you know the truth: our food system, especially anything processed, but also many fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fish and meats, and the containers and packaging within which they are sold or consumed are polluting our bodies and making it insanely difficult, if not impossible, to shed that extra weight.
When a topic moves me as much as this one, it is difficult not to go off on tangents for pages and pages denouncing the horrific reality that is our food supply. But, taking Jon's advice, I'm going to keep it short and sweet - giving you what you need to know right now about how NOT choosing organic may be the EXACTLY why you're gaining and/or not losing weight.
Pesticides (and Herbicides & Fungicides)
According to this report by the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2007 1.1 billion tons of pesticides were used in the United States alone! The most commonly used pesticides are: glyphosate, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, metolachlor and metam sodium . They are sprayed like crazy all over our fruits and veggies to keep bugs from eating them, weeds from overtaking their space and molds from growing. I can understand why farmers started using these killer chemicals: they make their lives and jobs a little easier and make the year's crop a little more predictable. But at who's expense? At some point things got out of hand and people stopped asking (or maybe stopped caring) what one of these chemicals might do to our earth, water, air and bodies. Now, instead of fearing just one toxic pesticide or herbicide, you can bite into one apple swimming in 42 different chemicals. As if one foreign toxic substance lurking through your body isn't bad enough, imagine the effects of 42 of these bad guys freely roaming your precious insides. Unfortunately your imagination is all you have to lean on right now because very little research has been done on the combined effects of these chemicals in the human body. And yet, they continue to be sprayed, more and more every year, while our health declines and chemical companies' wallets expand.
Here are three ways pesticides contribute to weight problems:
- Many pesticides are endocrine disruptors, some going so far as to mimic individual hormones like the xenoestrogrens that mimic our very important estrogen. It's presence in the body causes incredible confusion resulting in impaired thyroid function, hormonal imbalances and more. The thyroid plays an important role in your body's weight management and exposure to such pesticides, especially on a regular basis, can compromise its ability to manage is properly, resulting in stubborn weight gain.
- The damage caused by ubiquitous glyphosate (better known as RoundUp) is clear and it is frightening. A professor who studied the affects of glyphosate said in an interview with the Center for Research on Globalization that "Glyphosate can immobilize plant nutrients such as manganese, copper, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc so they are no longer nutritionally functional." Sprayed crops, as a result of being exposed to these heavy chemicals, are nutritionally weak, as is the soil they are grown in. The next year's seed is grown in this same weaker soil, sprayed again, and produces nutritionally weaker crops. This downward spiral could very well be playing a role in not only our health but our weight. If our bodies are fed nutritionally weak and compromised foods, then our metabolic processes are weak and compromised as well.
- Some pesticides, like tributyltin, are known "obesogens" that actually get into our bodies and promote the growth of fat cells. According to this report by Environmental Health News, studies are showing that these changes are happening not only in our fat cells but also at a genetic level, possibly playing a major role in the continued increase of obesity from generation to generation.
Meats and Animal Products
I've touched on this before in my post about milk; yep, the same post that filled you in on the nauseating fact that since 1994, rBGH (bovine growth hormone), along with antibiotics and pus have been contaminating your basic gallon of milk and block of cheese. Milk has long been a household staple, but somewhere along the line things went awry. Primarily for the sake of profit, chemical companies developed synthetic hormones and began selling it to farmers as a fast track to fat cows, fat milk supply and fat wallets. These same cows are also being fed toxic GMO-feed. Since they aren't eating grass anymore, they're moved indoors to over-crowded CAFOs, where disease spreads like wildfire amongst the animals, due in part to their unnatural diet and in part to their tightly packed unhygienic quarters. To combat disease and also assist in added extra poundage to their bodies, cows are also pumped with antibiotics. In fact, 80% of antibiotics in this country are fed to livestock, not to humans. So, now, instead of the typical happy grass-grazing cow we all like to picture, we have GMO-corn-fed cows, pumped with growth hormone and antibiotics. The effects are not lost on the cow, they are unfortunately passed on to us. That same mix of GMO-feed, hormones and antibiotics ends up in our stores and on our plates and ultimately in our bodies. A glass of milk here, slice of cheese there... a cup of yogurt, a burger, some sour cream. The consistent exposure to these foreign substances wreaks havoc on our systems. And, it isn't just beef. It's chicken (and their eggs), and turkey and pork, too. Farmers, of course, want the fastest way to get their animals plump and ready for store shelves; and as long as we remain in the dark on this and loyal customers, it does not matter what the cost may be to our health. Not surprisingly, as a result, we as a country are getting fatter at the same unnatural rate as the conventionally raised animals we're eating.
Here are three ways conventionally raised animals products contribute to weight problems:
- By consuming these foods, you are releasing synthetic hormones into your body. Hormones are messengers, sending signals to parts of your body to do things like wake up, run like the dickens and store fat. Insulin and cortisol, among others, are some of the primary hormonal players when it comes to weight management in your body.When these synthetic hormones are given to cows, studies have found that the production of insulin-like growth factor skyrockets. According to reporting by Huffington Post, "research has found that milk from rBGH-treated cows contains up to 10 times more IGF than other milk." Synthetic hormones mimic naturally occurring hormones, and run around sending confusing or incorrect messages that ultimately cause rapid sexual development, mood and brain dysfunction and excess stored body fat.
- Antibiotics are also contributing to the stubborn weight. They are taking a toll on our natural gut flora (good bacteria, which, as Dr. Mercola mentions here, can lead to weight gain and obesity. The effects of antibiotic exposure on our weight is further proven by this human study, that found when antibiotics kill off bacteria they also kill off the good guys in our guts that are responsible for controlling hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin and leptin, when left unattended, increases greatly, resulting in increased hunger, cravings and belly fat.
- Dioxins are another cause of concern. According to the Daily Green, "Formed as a byproduct of burning, dioxins are common and known to be harmful at minute levels... Dioxin rains down after being emitted by smokestacks, tailpipes and fires, and it contaminates farms, leaving us to be exposed when we eat meat, dairy and fish products. One study showed that those who had been exposed to the highest levels of dioxins were five times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a collection of metabolic conditions that includes obesity, glucose intolerance and hypertension..."
Preservative and Additives
I could go on for days about preservatives and additives, but for today's purposes, I'll keep it short. When you look at the label on your box of breakfast bars - that long, long list of ingredients, 3/4 of which you can barely pronounce - you are looking at a list of preservatives and additives (mixed in with a few more basic processed ingredients). These are added for a number of reasons, the main ones being to enhance flavor; preserve color, taste and freshness; and extend shelf life. Some of them are even there because they are known to make you want more, more, more. Many of these chemicals, most of which are made in a lab, like butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT, also used in jet fuel) but some of which are extracted from "natural" sources like castoreum (comes from beaver's butt), are not exclusive to the food industry. On a daily basis you are probably eating elements of anti-freeze, play dough, carpet cleaner, paint, yoga mat, and more. I strongly advise you not to eat anything that you cannot pronounce and to live by this line, "If you don't know what it is, your body won't either".
Here are three ways preservatives and additives contribute to weight problems:
- Genetically modified sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats like partially hydrogenated soybean oil are not easily broken down by your body and are tagged as "foreign". Their remains are stored in your fat tissues, altering your composition from one made of naturally occurring molecules to one made of foreign, toxic substances. When the body goes to burn off and utilize stored fat, fatty tissue made up of these additives is much less likely to be burned off.
- Excytotoxins such as the low-calorie artificial sweetener, aspartame, and flavor enhancing additive Monosodium Glutemate (MSG) disrupt the line of communication between your belly and your brain, turning off the "I'm Full" notification. This results in not feeling satisfied or full, over-eating and weight gain. MSG is used in labs to force mice to gain weight, how much more evidence to you need to avoid this stuff like the plague? Additionally, consistent consumption of these chemicals (which are hidden everywhere) results in build up of them in your cells ( remember, you are what you eat - literally). Cells exposed to aspartame have been shown to run haywire, function abnormally and result in tumor formation. In fact, they have found cancerous tumors made up in part of aspartame and other chemical additive.
- Additives like propylene glycol, which is an ingredient in anti-freeze, BHT, which has been tagged as a known possible carcinogen since 1979, and others like twhich are all other names for the obesity bohemeth MSG, have all been proven contributors to weight gain, bodily dysfunction and/or disease. They all cause damage to our tissues making our metabolic processes run less efficiently, resulting in the utilization of less nutrients, the storage of extra body fat, and the perpetuated storage of chemicals in those fatty tissues. It's a fatty, toxic cycle.
Genetically Modified Organisms
- GMO consumption has been shown to cause damage to the kidney and liver and has been linked to sterility and infant mortality, with the effects worsening with each generation.
- GMO consumption has been linked to allergies, antibiotic resistance, and rapid cell growth.
- There is growing evidence that GMO consumption changes our physiological makeup. The cells of the genetically modified foods we consume have been altered to a state that is foreign to nature and foreign to our bodies. As we've discussed before, the foods that we eat are broken down into their smaller parts and used to fuel and build our tissues, organs, systems and ultimately... us as a whole. By consuming these altered organisms we are in turn building our bodies with them, which lends itself to confusion, dysfunction, and ultimately disease. Here is a great interview with with Dr. Don Huber that speaks to this in greater detail.
No, technically plastics are not food, but with the amount we ingest through eating and drinking our food and beverages, it might as well be. I consider living an organic lifestyle not just stocking a fridge full of USDA-approved organic produce, but also limiting your exposure to the most common toxic chemicals leached into our food and subsequently into our bodies, especially plastic. Your water is bottled in it, your chips are bagged in it, your chicken breasts are wrapped in it and your lunches are packed in it. It's freakin' everywhere. I get why we created this stuff, it's pretty reliable while not easily breakable; but we have let it completely take over our world without even a second thought. Seriously, you don't think twice about grabbing a bottle of water at WaWa or a yogurt cup at the market, do you? Nah. Maybe you should.
Here are three ways in which plastics contribute to weight problems:
- Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a component in most plastic bottles and the lining of canned food items. It easily leaches out of the plastic or can lining into food, drinks and air, especially when heated. BPA has been shown to increase insulin production in the body, leading to insulin resistance, a common cause of unexplained weight gain, especially in the midsection and a precursor to diabetes.
- BPA also has hormone-like qualities that, according to this study, when exposed to the human body, cause a marked increase in fat cell production and lay the groundwork for obesity.
- Phthalates, chemicals used to make plastics more flexible, are found in everything from makeup to plastic wrap, and are very easily making their way into our bodies every day. Studies have confirmed their presence in our body, finding notable amounts in 98% of urine samples. They have also found that phthalates "positively and significantly correlated with abdominal obesity".
If you feel like you are making the "right" choices, counting every calorie and working hard to lose weight, with not much to show for it, it is my recommendation that you try adopting an organic lifestyle. This includes limiting your exposure to:
- chemical additives and preservatives
- contaminated water
- local, organic produce
- grass-fed pasture-raised hormone-free animal products
- additive-free, preservative-free foods
- Non-GMO foods
- and BPA-free packaging
Now here's what you're gonna do...
It is time to take back control of your health, weight and happiness. My intention is not to restrict you or make you fearful of your food... though you probably should be if you aren't eating organic. My intention is to make you aware. The apple may have traces of 42 different pesticides, and you may not think that is such a big deal, but that is ONE apple, ONE day of the year. What about the GMO-laced additive-packed crackers you had as a snack, or the hormonal burger at lunch or the plastic bottle you keep refilling. My intention is to make you aware of the combined effect of these toxins on your body. With awareness come responsibility and with responsibility can come great success - whether that be overcoming an illness or losing that stubborn weight. Now, you just armed yourself with some pretty powerful and valuable info. Facts that many people have yet to realize or maybe just don't want to realize. You're sick of feeling crappy and trying damn hard with nothing to show for it, though. It isn't easy to apply these lessons, not at first, and not when you're terribly, terribly outnumbered. But I want you to hit play on the song below, close your eyes and imagine yourself in the body you want, living the life you want, feeling the happiness you want - imagine yourself in the grocery store, reading labels and LAUGHING at the list of ingredients because OH NO - you're not falling for their crap anymore! Imagine yourself walking around with your newly acquired knowledge, dining out at restaurants, making better choices...feeling better overall. I love the line in this song that says "I went from zero...to my own hero". Be your own hero! I am mine - I'm damn proud of what I know, how far I've come and how much stronger I continue to become. And you should be too. Every time you read a blog post of mine or the many other brilliant nutrition, health and wellness blogs out there, you're empowering yourself - you're not letting big corporations tell you what's "healthy", "diet-friendly" or "happiness-inducing" - you make your own decisions, because you care about your body, health and happiness - now let out a f*cking ROAR and own this life of yours - Starting NOW.