Chemicals and Overweight
Was it really that long ago that experts insisted that weight maintenance was all about calories in and exercise out? That’s what I grew up believing. Now we know that the issue is incredibly more complex, and that weight programming involves genes, biochemistry, and—according to a 9/21/09 Newsweek.com article by science writer Sharon Begley, “Early Exposure to Common Chemicals May Be Programming Kids to Be Fat”—that even common chemicals in our environment may affect our weight.
Begley writes that, “Evidence has been steadily accumulating that certain hormone-mimicking pollutants, ubiquitous in the food chain…act on genes in the developing fetus and newborn to turn more precursor cells into fat cells, which stay with you for life. And they may alter metabolic rate, so that the body hoards calories rather than burning them…” She quotes Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina: “The evidence now emerging says that being overweight is not just the result of personal choices about what you eat, combined with inactivity …environmental chemicals may well account for a good part of the current [obesity] epidemic, especially in those under 50.”
The article goes on to detail exactly how environmental toxins affect the fetus and newborn and explains why our weight is not equally affected by them—“…even a slight variation in the amounts and timing of exposures might matter, as could individual differences in physiology.” This means that some people’s weight may be heavily impacted by certain chemicals while others remain unaffected, which is typical of how humans interact with the environment. Experts maintain, however, that if you are affected, it will probably show up in weight gain in childhood, not in adulthood.
For far too long, overweight people have been told that their weight is their fault due to lack of will power and self control. Pushing the personal responsibility angle alone regarding obesity was one thing when we didn’t know better, but now we do, and it behooves us all—overweight or not—to acknowledge the myriad factors which impact body size. Just as folks with dyslexia or ADD often have to work harder than others at learning, those with a tendency toward overweight have to work harder to keep off pounds. It’s crucial to recognize that the problem isn’t all in your head. You’re not crazy! The process of slimming down and keeping weight off is definitely easier for some people than others. Not an excuse to not try or to give up, but a perspective that may help you not be so rough on yourself when you struggle with food problems.