So yep a majority of people are either overweight or obese. And it’s a commonplace that they need to diet and exercise to fix the problem. The subtext is that for such people it’s their own fault. If they only had the willpower they wouldn’t have the problem.
I beg to differ. Sure, for many if not most people a lack of exercise or poor diet is a contributor to being overweight. But I don’t think it’s the main cause and for many – maybe even most - it’s not the cause at all.
The overall situation as to the cause of obesity is now becoming clearer. The main cause is widespread metabolic disruptors in the environment, including our food, the way it is grown, prepared and packaged and other chemicals in the food supply chain, including in some areas which one would never even think about.
These metabolic disruptors collectively have an impact on the balance of gut bacteria so that the “good” flora gets killed and the “bad” flora multiplies. I’ll set that out further below. But the import is that being overweight is generally not someone’s fault, it’s the fault of the food we all eat, the way it is all packaged, and how the food is grown and prepared.
Why do I say that? Because it’s now completely obvious that even if you go on a diet and exercise, any weight loss will soon be regained. Partly it’s behavioral, but partly it’s because all the other things which lead you to be in constant contact with these metabolic disruptors, are still omnipresent. There’s nothing you can do to keep them away from you – but see below for my recommendations anyhow.
By now we all are aware that antibiotics in meat and meat products are a major culprit. These are added not to prevent disease in animals but to make them fatter to improve returns. This meat ends up making us fatter too. It does this by killing off the good bacteria in our microbiome.
It’s a huge problem. Gradually meat producers are slowly addressing the issue but it’s going to take a long time before there are no antibiotics in the meat supply. Even if they were totally eliminated tomorrow there are numerous other sources of metabolic disruptors which also adversely impact metabolism, gut bacteria and thus weight.
But there are countless other chemicals in food. These include things like preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners, flavors and so on. We already know that preservatives are linked to obesity and a change in gut bacteria in mice. It’s almost certain that there are similar impacts in humans.
Since there are thousands of such chemicals in food, it’s hard to eliminate this source of weight gain quickly. But they are there and it’s a major problem that someone wanting to lose weight will find it hard to get away from.
It gets worse. It’s now pretty obvious that for most people, what they think is celiac disease pain that derives from eating gluten in their foods in fact is discomfort that comes from foods which while being grown have been treated with herbicides, especially glycophosphates. And it turns out that these herbicides impact the microbiome adversely and cause obesity.
Even that’s not all. Ever heard of bee colony collapse disorder? You knew it! It seems to be caused by a class of chemicals call neonicotinoids and these also impact the microbiome and cause obesity via these types of chemicals inter alia one of which is called Imidacloprid.
In other words, the fresh vegetables you are eating in an effort to support your health through sticking to fresh ingredients could also – probably is – also contributing to being overweight and obesity. You can’t make this stuff up!
If you can believe it, there’s even more. Heard of BPA – bisphenol A? It’s a chemical widely used in plastic packaging, often used to package food. We now know that over time this chemical can leach out into food. There’s increasing evidence that this results in the creation of metabolic disruptors that also impact the microbiome and can cause obesity. The full story isn’t in yet since the packaging industry hasn’t been in a hurry to investigate the issue. But if this is indeed happening it means that all food that you eat that is packaged in plastic (and cans, which are often coated internally with BPA) is also contributing to you becoming overweight or obese.
But we do know for sure that “Large-scale alterations of the gut microbiota and its microbiome (gene content) are associated with obesity”. The islands of evidence are now starting to coalesce into a continent that reveals that numerous chemicals in our food supply lead to the creation of metabolic disruptors that change our microbiome and thus lead to being overweight.
This explains why, even if you go a diet, you will still regain the weight. That’s because once you lose the weight you are still eating foods that are contaminated by all of these chemicals, even if you are eating less of them. Your microbiome has been altered, probably permanently.
Sure your body’s digestion becomes more efficient and that’s part of the reason you go back to your usual weight. But the fundamental reason is that you’re back imbibing all the same chemicals you were before since these permeate everything you eat in numerous, complex ways whose chemical pathways have still not been worked out in most cases.
And here’s a final zinger. When you kiss someone you transfer oral bacteria between each other and your mouth bacteria become more similar. It’s starting to look like gut bacteria can also be transferred this way too. Not just kissing – sharing eating utensils, toothpaste and so on.
That’s almost certainly why obesity tends to be more common amongst friends and couples. In other words, once your microbiome has been corrupted in this way, you can spread it to others and they can spread it to you too.
So being overweight literally can be, and almost certainly is, catching. So once our bad foods do their job at corrupting your microbiome, you can spread it to others and they can spread it to you. This is almost certainly why over 70% of people are overweight or obese – they caught it. It’s literally a pandemic. Even if you do everything right, diet and exercise, you can still catch a bad microbiome from your significant other, people you live with, or just plain old friends.
What about people, like me, who don’t get overweight? Why don’t we put on weight?
Well I do watch my food and I am a keen runner. But I am realistic enough to recognize that this is luck, not due to any particular salubrious characteristics on my part. I am lucky to have genes which, for some reason as yet undiscovered, are fairly resistant to these metabolic disruptors which change my gut bacteria.
But I have close friends and relatives who also diet and exercise and they can’t avoid putting on weight, no matter what they do. Many of them work much harder than me at it. It’s a genetic lottery I happen to have won but I am in a small minority – around 30% of the population and still declining.
The narrative that the people who become overweight are lazy or lack willpower (or addicted to food which actually sometimes they are because that’s the aim of many additives) is a comforting one not just for the food and packaging industries but also for doctors and medical professionals. If only people would eat properly and exercise, there wouldn’t be a problem.
That absolves them of having to look any further, like the systemic cause of so much obesity. It’s an apparently attractive thesis since it is in fact partly correct, so we have all accepted it. But the truth of the matter is that our overall social and nutritional environment has become systemically corrupted so widely that it’s no longer possible to protect the microbiome.
Of course, the powers-that-be are worried that, if they assign blame for obesity to the food and social environment then overweight people won’t feel that they are responsible and then will give up trying to solve the problem with dieting and exercise, which they believe they should do.
There’s an Old Testament dimension to the whole story. But if it really is the social and food environment that’s the main cause, we have to accept that and advise people accordingly, not blame them because it’s the easiest thing to do.
In other words, even diet and exercise won’t help you. Exercise merely redistributes the weight and changes its composition from fat, which is lighter, to muscle, which is heavier. And even if you eat good foods like antibiotic-free meat and sugarless soda, they are only a small part of the food supply. All these other foods and stuff will still corrupt your microbiome.
This is a horrible thesis because on the surface it looks like there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s chemicals in all foods and you can’t get away from them because it’s so widespread. But nonetheless there are things you can do, albeit some of them are radical and maybe even shocking. Here they are:
- If you are overweight or obese, find a doctor who does fecal transplants; these have been shown to work in the case of obesity (see “Eating poop pills could make you thin. Seriously”). You have to transplant fecal matter from a person with normal body weight to yourself. It’s not as icky as it sounds because these days the fecal matter is distilled into a clear liquid. But it’s a radical treatment still and you will have to really look around to find doctors who do it. So far this looks like to be far the best option. It’s certainly better than bariatric surgery which comes with surgical risks and tends to become much less effective over longer time periods.
- Don’t diet, fast. That means NO food at all. Often. This isn’t intended to help by reducing your calories. The effect comes through purging your digestive tract of the current microbiome and trying to establish the conditions where it can fight back and create your natural genome. There’s some evidence that true fasting (NOT dieting, remember!) resets your metabolism. It’s best to do this in conjunction with a fecal transplant. However if you do it you have to hew to the regimen that follows – see below.
- You must convert to a diet as free as possible from all the chemicals that have done in your microbiome. That means meat that is antibiotic- and chemicals-free, vegetables that have been grown without herbicides and foods that are not canned or wrapped in plastic or that used BPA. Sure that’s difficult, even radical, just as I told you. But if you go back to eating foods grown and packaged with the same chemicals that led to you being overweight in the first place, then you’re back to square zero. No-one said it was going to be easy.
The modern food and packaging industries have grown to their current size by being incredibly efficient. They have been ultra-successful at preparing foods that are otherwise nutritious and bacteria-free and squeaky-clean from a public health perspective.
But in the process these industries have adopted chemicals and practices that have led to the development of metabolic disruptors that are destroying the human microbiome – the true vital digestive organ in the body - of a majority of people globally. It’s crept up on us unawares, even by most scientists and food industry professionals.
These are not malicious or misguided people trying to do you harm. They have just gone with the flow that has led to vast unintended consequences of which the destruction of the healthy microbiome in a majority of the population has been the biggest and so far least understood. Remember: 5 years ago no-one had ever heard of a microbiome, including the food industry people. So you can’t just put all the blame on them.
So the message is - if you are overweight, most of it isn’t your fault.
But there’s critical things you must do, way beyond traditional dieting and exercise, if you want to be cured.
So do them.