When it comes to popular weight-loss advice, most experts agree that it all comes down to “calories in and calories out.” So when we want to trim down, we usually go through the typical steps: reducing our fro-yo and wine intake, increasing our protein and water consumption, investing in some cute new runners and hitting the gym more often. But despite earning an A+ in healthy living, why is our weight at a standstill? When you’re doing all the “right things” and aren’t seeing the full physical payoff, it can be hella frustrating.
OK, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, it turns out there are some environmental influences that are silently sabotaging our weight loss efforts. The good news is there are things we can do to minimize the negative effects. Read on to learn the surprising reasons you’re not losing weight, and how to handle it Olivia Pope style.
We know why we should reduce pollution to help save the planet—thanks, Leo—but until now not much attention has been paid to how reducing pollution can also save our metabolisms. (How did we miss this?) Dr. Laura Brass, a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor, says: “Toxins in our environment are stored in our fat cells. The more exposure we have to toxic chemicals, the more fat we may build up and retain. They can also slow down our metabolisms and inhibit our body’s own natural fat-burning mechanisms.” Not only that, but recent studies show that exposure to environmental toxins put us at a greater risk of diabetes, insulin resistance and thyroid dysfunction—all metabolic diseases that are linked to weight problems. One thing we can do is to filter the air we breathe at home. A new study out of China reveals that rats exposed to filtered air gained significantly less weight than those exposed to the polluted Beijing air. Other strategies include decreasing exposure to smoke—both second- and firsthand—as well as reducing exposure to roadway pollutants, like exhaust from cars. This means losing the pack of “party smokes” from the freezer and taking public transit more often.
Chemicals in cosmetics and skincare
Many seemingly harmless products we use on a regular basis can also contain unwanted toxins; from our laundry detergent to our water bottles to, yes, our favourite lipstick. Doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC pinpoint one chemical in particular that is to blame for our stubborn waistlines. They claim phthalates—a “gelling agent” used in the majority of our household cleaners, cosmetics and plastic bottles—could throw off our hormones and disrupt our weight-control systems. In fact, one of their studies revealed that women with the highest BMIs had the highest amount of phthalates in their urine. And that’s just one example of many super-disruptive chemicals that we unknowingly consume all the time. Yikes. Dr. Brass offers suggestions to help minimize these toxins: “I recommend patients not only detoxify their bodies, but also their homes. First, toss all household cleaners and replace with natural alternatives—even vinegar and water can do the trick [most of the time].” Next, overhaul your makeup kits. “Check your cosmetics and switch it up for mineral-based and natural alternatives.” Finally, avoid plastics. “Store your food and fluids in glass, ceramic or stainless steel. Many plastics in products like water bottles contain BPA, a well-documented hormone disruptor and potential carcinogen.”
Pesticides in fruits and veggies
If you’re trying to eat more healthfully, you’re likely reaching for fruits and veggies. But many of these diet-approved foods are sprayed with pesticides, which we should try to limit. (Cue the groans.) “There are definite scientific links between pesticides and weight gain,” admits Dr. Brass. According to Stephen Perrine, author of New American Diet, we’re exposed to at least 10 different pesticides every day, nine of which he claims can seriously disrupt our metabolic functions. One of the biggest reasons for this sabotage is that these chemicals mimic estrogen, which encourages fat storage and discourages building lean muscle mass. So, is rinsing our produce enough to avoid these risks? Dr. Brass says: “The short answer is no. But soaking fruits and vegetables in water and vinegar and then scrubbing them can greatly reduce pesticide exposure.” Beyond that, she says, it’s best to seek out organic produce and be aware of the “Dirty Dozen,” i.e. veggies and fruit that commonly contain the most pesticides. On the list: apples, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cherries, grapes, kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears and strawberries. On the bright side, we finally have a legitimate excuse not to eat kale—boom!