Have you ever picked out a shampoo based on how it smells? How about deodorant? How about your household cleaners? Personally, I love the smell of basil or lemon or orange when I clean the kitchen counters.
But is it possible these wonderful aromas are making it harder for you to lose weight?
If you find yourself doing everything else right: eating mostly healthy meals, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, and consistently exercising every week, yet still struggle with maintaining a healthy weight then chemicals may be the culprit.
These chemicals hide in our food and in our everyday household and personal products.
Most of us think of a science lab or a large industrial plant spewing out toxic smoke when we think of chemicals, not the shampoo we are lathering atop our head or that juicy hamburger we are about to bite into. Yet our modern lifestyle outside and inside of our homes is filled with chemicals.
They give the things we use color and smell. In the case of food, chemicals help seal, store, and preserve for a lifetime (hello Twinkie).
And that can be good (well, not the well-preserved Twinkie). It can also be bad because some chemicals promote obesity by influencing fat cell development and storage. In fact, some are referred to as “obesogens.” They act as endocrine-disruptors and can slow thyroid function.
The link between chemicals and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight is not new. However, you must know what to look for and then adjust how you shop based on your lifestyle and health goals because food manufacturers are not rushing to add “May Make You Fat” to their packages and labels.
Commercial Fruits and Vegetables: Many growers use synthetic herbicides and pesticides to keep bugs and disease away from their crops. If you’ve ever had your own backyard garden, you understand this is an ongoing struggle! There is something to be said about nutrient rich foods coming from nutrient rich soils needing fewer chemicals; however, because we produce food on a mass scale, science and chemicals step in to give consumers beautiful looking seasonal produce all year long. Those chemicals sprayed on an otherwise healthy food choice may cause some problems.
What are your options?
- Thoroughly wash your produce. Soak it in a sink full of water for at least 15 minutes. Add 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water and you may be able to extend the life of your fruits and vegetables. Remove the produce and then rinse with running water.
- Buy organic. By definition, organic farmers avoid synthetic chemicals in the growing process and they may use naturally derived herbicides and pesticides to combat the critters, fungi and disease that can attack produce. For foods you eat the most, consider organic even when they cost a little more than non-organic. Pay attention to the most recent list of the “Dirty Dozen.” These fruits and vegetables have been identified as having the highest amount of pesticide residue. For 2017 that list includes:
- Grapes (more wineries are producing organic wines!)
- Sweet Bell Pepper
Farm-raised Fish: There is a lot of goodness pulled from the sea. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week in part because it’s a low-fat source of protein. Fish also provide vital omega-3 fatty acids including DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and other vitamins and minerals. This is all good. Where the problem comes in is with aquaculture challenges for production and farm-raised fish. While suppliers do their best to keep up with consumer demand, the challenge is with keeping fish healthy and abundant in a farmed-in setting. As a higher number of fish are grown in an enclosed and smaller setting, the chance for disease increases. This is combatted by adding chemicals to the water and their feed to prevent disease. The chemical gets into their flesh and, ultimately, into yours.
As they say, you are what your food eats.
What are your options?
- Buy wild-caught fish. Yes, you will pay a little more; however, beyond the reduced amount of added chemicals, you also benefit from a more nutrient-dense source of protein. When wild and farm-raised salmon samples were tested, the wild fish scored higher in nutritional value across the board over farm-raised. This means you get more bang for your buck.
- Understand portions. Since you are buying a higher quality source of protein most likely at a higher cost, remember your portions. A serving a fish doesn’t fill an entire dinner plate. It’s closer to the size of a deck of cards. When your plate contains a generous serving of colorful veggies and a serving of fish, your appetite will be satisfied.
Conventional Red Meat Livestock: Everything that has been said about wild-caught vs. farm-raised fish also applies to your livestock (red meat) sources. Now, this doesn’t mean you strap on a bow and arrow and head to the open fields (those are hard to find) and kill a buffalo for dinner. Although, that could be sort of cool….
It simply means to pay attention to how your red meat is raised. Crowded conditions and a practice of adding chemicals to their feed in order to encourage faster growth than what is natural, can ultimately result in more chemicals in the juicy steak you’re cutting into.
What are your options?
- Buy organic and eat mindfully. Buy the best quality meat you can afford, pay attention to portions, and enjoy each bite. You may discover, like we have, that organic red meat sources have a richer flavor than what I often refer to as “generic” meat. Try it for yourself and see if you agree.
Canned and Packaged Foods: While you think you may be reaching for a healthy can of greens, some other prepared and presorted food wrapped in plastic or enclosed in a plastic container, or some bottled water, you may actually be reaching for some unwanted chemicals. Some of these packaging sources contain bisphenol A, or BPA which can mess with your metabolism and fat storage.
What are your options?
- Look for non-BPA cans, bottles, and packaging. When it’s something you use often, such as a water bottle, consider purchasing a re-usable bottle made of non-toxic material. For food storage, consider using glass or non-BPA sources rather than what comes off the grocery shelf.
We all want to live in a clean, healthy environment. In order to achieve that without filling the air with chemicals, you can go with what’s natural as often as possible. Vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, castile soap, lemons, baking soda, and essential oils go a long way towards keeping your home clean.
Now, I say as often as possible because, let’s face it, sometimes there is a stubborn stain or cleaning challenge that just won’t go away without the “big guns.” When that happens, don’t beat yourself up over not being green, just be sure to wear gloves and a mask while you are cleaning to protect your skin and lungs and keep the area well ventilated.
And then, with all things, it’s about maintenance. When you do little things every day and every week in your home to keep it clean you can avoid the big jobs that require big chemicals.
Now, what about that shampoo?
Shampoo, soap, lotion, makeup, perfume…we love for them to smell and feel luxurious. However, we also love for them to use beneficial ingredients and reduce the amount of toxins that enter our body through our skin (which is our largest organ and first line of defense between us and the world).
Take time to read and understand the labels. Yes, those ingredients sound like a foreign language because science-talk, for many of us, is!
Here are some things to avoid or reduce as often as possible:
Sulfates – these give your shampoo that foamy lather. AKA:
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Sodium laureth sulfate
- Ammonium laureth sulfate
- Ammonium lauryl sulfate
- SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)
- SLES (sodium laureth sulfate)
Parabens – this is a preservative which is also suspected of being an endocrine disruptor. AKA:
What are your options?
You can try natural brands of shampoo or go without shampoo at all! Some have shampooed their hair with a mixture of 2 tsp baking soda mixed with water in a 1 pint jar. Then followed with a conditioning treatment of 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar mixed in the same sized jar. The process: wet hair, pour baking soda mix over hair, scrub and rinse. Pour the apple cider mix over hair and rinse immediately. They say you won’t smell like salad dressing.
For a hair mask, take about 1 Tbsp of coconut oil, rub through your hair, and wrap in a towel for at least 15 minutes and as long as overnight. Rinse out and style as usual. I enjoy doing this every so often when my hair feels tired.
Other food-stuff your hair and body may love is eggs, beer, cornstarch, baking soda, yogurt, avocado, milk, pumpkin, and honey. You can mix up anything from body scrubs to bath soaks, facial cleansers to masks.
The best part…many times you can eat the leftovers!