Obesogen: you don’t have to be an M.D. to know that that doesn’t sound good. Yet I had no idea that obesogens are everywhere until just a few weeks ago, when I wrote a piece on the harmful effects of PFAS–the heat-resistant synthetics that’s in nonstick cookware, fire-retardant carpets, and coated takeout containers. High blood concentration levels of PFAS lowers your metabolism and makes you gain weight–which is pretty much the definition of an obesogen.
This was a serious eye-opener for me because I had literally been cooking exclusively in a medium-sized nonstick pot, nearly every day, for 2.5 years. And the said pot had microscopic scratches that were almost invisible but could be felt on my fingertips while dishwashing. Now my folly was hitting me back with the force of a thousand suns!
I must first admit that it’s impossible to avoid all obesogens. These chemicals are everywhere in our environment, and even if you swear off all modern comforts and go into the wilderness, you will absorb these chemicals from the sea, the air, and the soil. PFAS has even been measured in polar bears, for example. :'(
But by avoiding the most obvious obesogenic culprits, my body felt almost immediately healthier and more vibrant. Three weeks into the journey, I do feel lighter. Specifically, I’m noticing that my midsection is flatter and that my face is skinnier. I am definitely going to turn this into a lifestyle and I cannot wait to see what changes I see in the long term.
Here are the changes I made to go obesogen-free.
- Cook using stainless steel: I am currently using a copper pot and a stainless steel frying pan with a lid. These babies had been in my cabinet all along, and using these instead of nonstick has had an immediate effect. Crazy, I know.
- Avoid foods wrapped in plastic: Initially, I stopped eating wrapped snack bars because of environmental/animal conservation reasons. But plastic wrap also contains phthalates, a chemical that makes plastic more flexible. Phthalates are not only linked to obesity, but also type II diabetes, breast cancer, autism, and reproductive issues. Phthalates are in almost every type of packaged food–just imagine all the squeezable, stretchable, flexible plastic your food comes in.Instead of getting rid of *everything* in my fridge (like that organic ketchup from Whole Foods…which almost certainly has a ton of phthalates, ugh), I just focused on eliminating single-use plastic wrapped foods from my diet. I satisfied my sweet tooth with fresh fruit from farmer’s market, stevia-sweetened dark chocolate wrapped in paper, and even a GF vegan brownie from The Butcher’s Daughter because this was the only vegan place with a paper bag option.
- Avoid coated fast-food wrappers: Although this isn’t even close to what constitutes “fast food” in most senses, my favorite vegan place in my neighborhood had a delicious Cajun seitan sandwich and a tofu scramble wrap that I’d get from time to time. After learning that PFAS is *all over* those shiny silver/white paper wrappers, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy another one. Le sigh. I was already not getting takeout (plastic containers), so this was just one more on top. I’m hoping that these guys switch over to a white butcher’s paper for wrapping, one day. Is that so much to ask!!
- No more tofu, tempeh, and seitan: I happen to be a fan of all three of these items, and believe that organic soy has a place in a balanced vegan diet…But there is no way to get these things without a plastic wrap. Instead, I’m getting creative with my protein using whole, unprocessed legumes. Combined with the fact that I only eat pasta packaged in recycled cardboard/compostable clear film, I end up with meals that look like this. Ran out of brown rice pasta, and def was not going to mess the diet up by eating pasta out of a regular box/plastic film combo, so just created some zoodles instead!Here’s the organic brown rice pasta (compostable film/recycled cardboard box) and organic tahini in a glass jar, rather than plastic. This chickpea broccoli pasta is one of my staples (see here for recipe).
- No more gum: I had been chewing Trident gum from time to time at the office as a way to release stress, more than anything else. Even though I knew gum is made of petroleum and results in 560,000 tons of landfill waste worldwide each year, I was like, “I’m already an organic/local vegan buying almost everything from non-plastic containers. Let’s just have a stick of gum to pound through this deadline!” But gum also has artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or saccharine, which encourages gut bacteria that are more efficient at pulling energy from food and turning that energy into fat. Yes, it’s horrifying. So gum and me are done, forever. (I don’t drink soda, but diet soda is, of course, a source of artificial sweeteners, as well as instant oatmeal, toothpaste, etc etc).
- Less dining out, more cooking: According to studies, people who consume more restaurant, fast food, and cafeteria meals had phthalates levels that were 35-40% higher than people who eat food mostly purchased at the grocery store and cooked at home. This is because take-out boxes, food-handling gloves, and food processing equipment all contain these chemicals. So even though it can be a headache trying to figure out the least obesogenic vegan protein to cook (that would be bulk food section beans, carried home in a paper bag or a Mason jar and cooked at home), it’s still worth it to take the matter into your own hands.
This sounds like a lot of No’s, but I promise you it isn’t as bad as it looks at first. Also, you’ll notice a difference immediately in how lithe and un-sluggish you feel. Weight loss might be a delightful side effect you experience in the first week or two. But protecting yourself from cancer, diabetes, and reproductive issues, plus helping the Earth while at it? Priceless!
Do you avoid obesogens?
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Photo: Pexels, Peaceful Dumpling