We tend to think of weight gain (or loss) as a matter of what we eat, and how much we exercise. It seems like a very simple calculation: eat more, exercise less, gain weight. Eat less, exercise more, lose weight.
But it may not be so simple. Factors other than what (and how much) we eat, and how much we exercise, may be driving many of us to gain weight.
If you tend to gain weight in the belly, and in the face, then listen up: Your issue may be not with food or exercise but with chemicals, particularly a type of chemical called xenoestrogen. Xenoestrogens mimic estrogen in your body and thereby act like a hormone. Too much estrogen, and you tend to put on weight in certain areas (including your belly and your face), even if you’re relatively slender in other areas and even if you’re not noticeably changing your diet or activity levels.
So how do these xenoestrogens get into our bodies? Sadly, through far too many sources. Our drinking water. Sunscreen. Scented soaps, shampoos and cleaning products. Tin cans. Plastic food containers. Pesticide residues on conventional produce. The list is long and frightening.
And largely unknown. Despite my own obsession with healthful food and living practices, I’d never heard of these chemicals until today. What led me to this information was that I’ve gained some weight lately myself. Though some of it may be from lifting weights (which I’d stopped for years and have started again), it seems to me that I’ve also gained weight in my belly and in my face. It’s subtle, but it’s there.
And I’ve been struggling wildly to find out what’s caused this weight gain. It started around the time I stopped training hard for a half marathon and the Tough Mudder last fall. But I’ve started and stopped running so many times in my life without gaining or losing weight that it’s hard to imagine that’s the cause. I also went gluten-free around that time because the wheat-dominated diet I’d adopted when I turned vegan last year had my energy levels crashing by late afternoon. But there’s no reason gluten should have been keeping me skinny. So that didn’t sound right, either.
And the only foods I’d added to my diet were brown rice, avocado, nuts, bananas, spinach, flaxseeds, raisins, black beans and carrots. Not foods you tend to think of as making you fat. I simply didn’t understand.
And I still don’t. It could be alcohol; it’s been a very sociable time for my wife and me, and there have been many long nights and weekends with some sort of bottle at hand. It could be the weightlifting; maybe it’s only muscle I’ve gained (though I doubt it), or maybe my body reacts to the weightlifting by storing up fat (not an idea science seems to support). Maybe it’s a natural product of aging (but I tend to think it’s the cumulative impact of our poor diets, and not aging, that makes us gain weight in this country as age).
Or maybe it’s xenoestrogens. The black beans I added to my diet were canned. (The lining in aluminum cans is a major source of xenoestrogens in our diets.) Maybe it’s the plastic container I’d been keeping my rice in. (I’d make up a week’s worth or more at a time, then store it in a plastic bowl.)
This could also explain why, after I changed my diet to try to drop the extra pounds I’d gained, adding (canned) chickpeas, (canned) tomato sauce/paste/diced tomatoes (all of which are notorious for xenoestrogens because the tomatoes’ acidity eats away at the aluminum can’s lining) and (canned) kidney beans in large quantities, my weight gain seemed only to accelerate.
For my own body, it’s too early to tell what’s been going on. I’m going to spend a couple weeks eliminating canned foods, plastic containers and any other sources of xenoestrogens (except my shampoo, handsoap and dish soap) from my life and diet and see if it makes any difference. But it will take some time before I’ll receive meaningful results, and even then it will be tough to be sure what may have caused any results: by eliminating sources of xenoestrogens I’ll necessarily be changing my diet, and whatever new foods I bring in may be causing any weight gain or loss I may see, rather than the removal of xenoestrogens.
But if I do lose belly fat, and my face starts looking more gaunt, it’ll be a decent clue that xenoestrogens were causing me problems.
And in the meantime, I’ll take one additional step that is believed to combat xenoestrogens’ harmful effect on the body: eating cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and the like are apparently high in natural compounds that reverse the effect of xenoestrogens on the body. So any that do get into my system through soap, shampoo at the like will hopefully be neutralized upon arrival.
Stay tuned to see how my experiment plays out.