Are Toxins Making Us Fat?

Are industrial chemicals and environmental pollutants to blame for the obesity epidemic or are we just eating too much?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #181

Why Are We Fat? A Simpler Explanation

Is there anything else that might explain the rise in obesity rates? Well, in 1970, the average American consumed about 2,200 calories a day, which happens to be the recommendation for an average-sized American with a healthy body weight.    Today, the average American consumes about 2,700 calories per day. According to mainstream nutrition theory, eating an extra 500 calories a day would cause you to gain weight—more or less a pound a week. Eventually, however, you’d stabilize at a weight of 30-40 pounds higher. That prediction lines up pretty closely with the change in average body weight over the last 40 years.

The idea that how much you weigh is simply a factor of how many calories you take in versus how many you burn is currently unpopular—it’s seen by many as overly simplistic. Then again, the principle of Occam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation for any phenomenon is the most likely one.  

Maybe Both Sides Are Right

Media coverage tends to cast the issue as a fight between experts who believe that calories don’t matter and those who insist that they are all that matter. A recent article by Kristin Wartman in the Atlantic set the stage like this:

“Researchers believe that [industrial chemicals]…may be altering the way our bodies store fat and regulate our metabolism. But…many scientists, nutritionists, and doctors are still firm believers in the energy balance model. A debate has ensued…”

To me, it seems perfectly plausible that exposure to industrial chemicals could play some role in our metabolisms…but it’s rather unlikely that our increased caloric intake plays no role. And, to be honest, despite how they are quoted in the press, I don’t think the scientists on either side of this “debate” are seriously arguing that obesity has one and only one cause.  The real debate is how big an impact the various factors might have—and what we can reasonably do about them.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.