Can Obesogens Cause Weight Gain?

Did you know harmful chemicals in personal care products and foods could contribute to obesity?

tired woman working out

Eating healthy? Check! Exercising? Check! Getting good(ish) sleep? Still having trouble with losing weight? You’re not alone.

Many are in the same battle, unknowingly fighting an invisible enemy - obesogens. These are toxic chemicals that could be lurking in your food and personal care products, subtly contributing to your weight gain. Knowledge is power for a healthy lifestyle. Learn how to identify obesogens and how to rid your body of toxic chemicals that cause weight gain.

What Are Obesogens?

what are obesogens

Obesoegens are harmful chemicals that leave big impressions. These chemicals are used in everyday items we use or consume, like certain packaged foods, plastic containers, and even some cosmetics.

Picture obesogens as invisible tricksters, as they have a knack for causing a bit of chaos inside your body. These tricksters can persuade your body to create more fat cells than it needs. 

obesogens and hormones

Fat is needed for a healthy body. It helps your body absorb nutrients. Plus, your brain is up to 60% fat [*] However, carrying too much on the body can be detrimental to your health.  

Think of fat cells as tiny storage units where your body saves energy for later. However, too many of these storage units can lead to weight gain. Obesogens can also play around with your feelings of hunger and fullness [*]. It's as if they're the DJ for your body's appetite, turning the volume up or down on your hunger signals when they shouldn't.

Even though obesogens can be quite sneaky, we have the power to outsmart them. Once we reduce the amount of obesogens we consume, our body can detox from the chemicals stored in our fat cells. 

Knowing about obesogens is like having a secret weapon to take control of our health and feel our best. Just like detectives uncovering clues to solve a mystery, we're learning about obesogens so we can keep our bodies in tip-top shape!

Can Obesogens Cause Weight Gain?

As the name implies, long-term exposure to obesogens is connected to obesity. So, how do such little chemicals have such a big impact on our bodies? 

how obesogens work

Obesogens work in several ways. They can inappropriately alter lipid homeostasis [*]. That’s fancy talk for throwing off the balance of fat in our bodies.

Lipid homeostasis is crucial for our health because lipids play many essential roles, such as providing energy, insulating and protecting organs, and participating in cell signaling. 

Cell signaling is important because it influences the production of hormones, including leptin [*]. Leptin is the hormone that tells our brain that we’re full.

We know that pizza and tacos are delicious and all, but we consume food for energy. When our bodies have stored enough energy (thanks, pizza and tacos), leptin usually signals the brain to stop eating.

However, obesogens can interfere with this signal, leading to a condition known as leptin resistance. Therefore, the brain doesn't receive the message that we're full, causing us to continue feeling hungry even after we've had half of a pizza.

While obesogens can contribute to weight gain, they are not the sole cause of obesity. Factors like diet, physical activity, genetics, and lifestyle also play a significant role. 

In addition, medications and other diseases, including PCOS and thyroid disorders, can contribute to obesity. In these instances, health problems can become out of our control. So, we must work on the things that we can control so our bodies can work as optimally as possible. 

So, while it's a good idea to minimize exposure to obesogens, it's equally important to maintain a balanced diet and regular exercise routine…and consume yummy foods like tacos and pizza in moderation. 

What Are Examples of Obesogens?

Obesogens can sneak into our bodies through various everyday items. Here are some common obesogens that could be contributing to our wellness plateaus. 

common products with obesogens

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) - “Forever Chemicals”

Are you struggling with weight maintenance, even if you’ve been eating healthy and exercising for what seems like forever? Well, forever chemicals might be to blame.

Forever chemicals are Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS. These clingers earned that nickname because they stick around in our environment and bodies for a long time. 

These are a group of over 4,700 synthetic chemicals that have been a part of our industries since the 1940s [*]. They’re popular with manufacturers because they’re tough. PFAS can resist heat, water, and oil.

Products with PFAS include:

  • Nonstick cookware
  • Water-repellant clothing
  • Fire-retardant furniture 
  • Food packaging
  • Stain-resistant carpets
  • Water piping 
  • And more

While durability may seem desirable, their strength is also their downfall. Since PFAS don't break down easily, we remain exposed to them for extended periods of time. 

Here’s the skinny on PFAS: Research suggests these chemicals are obesogens. Some studies have even linked them to increased cholesterol levels [*]. 

Limit your exposure to PFAS to support a healthy lifestyle. Since PFAS are a sticky situation, swap nonstick cookware for stainless steel, cast iron, or other natural materials. 

Cook at home with locally sourced, organic whole foods. Food packaging, especially delivery and takeout containers, is high in sweat and water-resistant PFAS. 

Drink water that is free from PFAS. Consider purchasing a carbon filter or reverse osmosis so that you can hydrate worry-free!

Phthalates - “Everywhere Chemicals”

We go from “forever chemicals” with PFAS, to “everywhere chemicals.” Limit your exposure to “everywhere chemicals,” also known as phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in a wide array of products, owing to their ability to enhance durability and flexibility [*]. 

Care more about the flexibility and strength of your body instead of the flexibility of your plastic materials. Reduce your exposure to phthalates. Research suggests that exposure to phthalates can lead to an increase in fat cell size, disrupt appetite control, and impair metabolic health, thereby contributing to obesity [*].

They are known as plasticizers and are used to make items such as:

Smell clean, not toxic! Phthalates are used in personal care products like cosmetics, shampoos, and nail polishes, often serving as solvents for fragrances. Opt for fragrance-free products whenever possible. 

Like with avoiding PFAS, be mindful of food packaging and storage, as phthalates can leach into food from plastic containers. Buy whole foods and consider using glass or stainless steel for your storage needs. 

Regularly ventilate your living spaces to reduce indoor air contamination. That includes dusting often, as phthalates can bind to household dust. Dust with a wet cloth regularly to avoid inhaling these chemicals. 

Also, freshen things up while you clean. Keep your window open while dusting if weather permits! 


Plastic products are convenient for day-to-day things but inconvenient for our health…and waistline. Bisphenols, such as Bisphenol-A (BPA), are some of the most commonly produced plastics. 

BPA is commonly found in:

  • Plastic water bottles
  • DVDs/CDs
  • Menstrual products
  • Workout clothing
  • Printer ink
  • Plastic food packaging
  • Thermal printer receipts

BPA-free is the way to be. Avoid food packaging by buying loose produce whenever possible. 

Wear gloves whenever handling multimedia. Say “no thank you” to thermal receipts;  opt to have the receipt emailed to you instead, if possible. 

Pesticides - A Pest to Our Belly

Pesticides are the real pests. These toxic chemicals are substances used to control, prevent, or eliminate pests. These pests include insects, weeds, fungi, rodents, and other organisms that may interfere with agriculture or threaten public or personal health. 

Some commonly used chemicals in pesticides include organophosphates like glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, carbamates such as carbaryl, and organochlorines like the now-banned DDT. Additionally, some pesticides may also contain fragrances or heavy metals, which can be toxic in their own right.

Just like phthalates and PFAS, certain pesticides are considered obesogens because they can disrupt normal metabolic processes and promote weight gain.

Eat clean by limiting exposure to pesticides. Consider purchasing organic produce whenever possible, as organic farming practices limit the use of synthetic pesticides. 

When organic options aren't available or feasible, make sure to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption. Scrub your produce with a little water and vinegar, as it can help remove some pesticide residues on the surface. 

Create a safer home environment by using non-chemical methods of pest control whenever possible, such as sealing entry points for pests, maintaining cleanliness to avoid attracting pests, hand weeding your garden, and using natural repellents. 


Go organic, not organotin. Organotins are widely used in various ways, including as biocides and pesticides to control pests on crops and the growth of organisms on the hulls of boats and ships.

Since organotins can kill fungi, algae, and other microorganisms, some countries use these chemicals to disinfect water. This practice is dangerous because organotins are harmful to aquatic life. 

While organotins aren’t used to treat water in America, they can still find their way into water supplies. That’s because organotins are used to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. PVC piping is commonly used to distribute public water to households. Chemicals in PVC, such as organotins, can leach into your water. 

Like the other usual suspects on this list, research suggests that organotins might play a role in weight gain. They can mess with our body's fat cells, causing them to store more fat than necessary. It's like having an unwanted guest at a party who keeps bringing more and more food, even when there's already plenty!

In fact, one study looked at pre-birth exposures of newborn males in Finland. High concentrations of organotins in the placenta were linked to elevated weight levels for three-month-olds [*]. 

So, what to do about organotins? A lot of the same advice we have for other obesogens. Filter your water, eat organic whenever possible, and stop using pesticides. 


So far, our list of obesogens has been pretty straightforward. With most of these chemicals, the bad outweighs the good. Pun on the “outweigh” may be intended. 

Like an on-and-off relationship, things can start to get complicated when talking about phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that may exert estrogenic effects on the body. They have a similar structure to the hormone estrogen and can interact with estrogen receptors in the human body.

Estrogen influences where the body stores fat. It also impacts the metabolism, appetite, insulin resistance, and more [*]. So, if the body thinks there’s more estrogen on hand, it might start to mess things up. 

Some studies suggest that phytoestrogens may promote weight gain and metabolic dysfunction, while others propose potential anti-obesity effects [*][*] This discrepancy could be due to differences in individual metabolism and gut microbiota, dosage, dietary patterns, they type of phytoestrogen compound, or other lifestyle factors.

What makes phytoestrogens so controversial is that many are naturally present in nutritious whole foods. 

Common types of phytoestrogens include:

  • Coumestans (Found in soybeans, alfalfa sprouts, lima beans, split peas, red kidney beans)
  • Isoflavones (Found in chickpeas, pistachios, peanuts, fava beans, tofu)
  • Lignans (Found in flaxseed, sesame seeds, kale, apricots, cashews)

Eat smart by making educated decisions. Not everyone will gain weight from phytoestrogens. Reducing your intake unnecessarily may cause you to miss out on nutritious and delicious foods. 

If you suspect that phytoestrogens might be affecting your weight, an elimination diet can be a useful tool. This involves removing foods containing phytoestrogens from your diet for a certain period, often two to three weeks, then gradually reintroducing them one at a time while monitoring for changes in weight or other symptoms. 

An elimination diet should not be attempted without medical supervision, as it can lead to nutritional deficiencies if not properly managed. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet. 

What Is An Obosogenic Diet?

Who said a diet needed to be restrictive? Rethink how you look at diet. Your “diet” is what you eat every day.

An obesogenic “diet” is one that leads to weight gain and promotes obesity. This type of diet is typically low in nutrients and high in calories, especially from unhealthy fats and sugars.

Obesogenic diets are not only associated with weight gain but also with a range of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and other obesity-related conditions.

Here are some key characteristics of an obesogenic diet:

  • High in Processed Foods: These foods are often high in preservatives, including parabens. They’re also commonly packaged in plastic made with BPA, PFAS, or phthalates.
  • High in Fast Food: Fast food meals are typically high in calories and unhealthy fats, and they often contain large amounts of sodium and added sugars. Many fast-food restaurants use low-quality frying oil that comes in plastic containers.
  • High in Sugary Drinks: Beverages like soda, sweet tea, and fruit-flavored drinks are often high in added sugars and provide little to no nutritional value.
  • Low in Fruits and Vegetables: These foods are rich in fiber and various beneficial compounds, so their absence can make it hard to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Low in Whole Grains and Lean Proteins: Whole grains and lean proteins can help keep you feeling full and satisfied, which can prevent overeating. They’re also higher in fiber, which can help you eliminate excess fat (and toxic chemicals) from your body.

How Do I Get Rid of Obesogens?

Blast fat by putting obesogens on blast. Kick them to the curb like a good kickboxing workout. 

Reducing your exposure to obesogens involves a combination of lifestyle changes and dietary habits, including:

  • Avoid Plastic Packaging
  • Choose Organic
  • Shop Fragrance-Free
  • Eat a Balanced, Whole Foods Diet
  • Exercise Regularly

Remember, while it's impossible to completely eliminate exposure to obesogens, these steps can significantly reduce your risk and help protect your health.

How Do You Test for Obesogens?

There isn’t an at-home test to test for all obesogens. Most obesogen studies are done in laboratories, without the cooperation of everyday people like you and me. 

Million Marker helps put the power back in the hands (and bodies) of the people. We offer the first-ever mail-in test for some common obesogens, such as bisphenols and phthalates. 

Million Marker's Detect & Detox Test Kit not only tests for the presence of these chemicals but also helps individuals understand the sources of their highest exposures. By identifying the products that contribute most significantly to toxic chemical exposures, individuals can make informed decisions about reducing the use of these items.

Moreover, the Million Marker's Detect & Detox Test Kit goes a step further by providing personalized recommendations for cleaner alternatives. This proactive approach empowers individuals to take control of their health and minimize potential risks associated with phthalates, bisphenols, and other common hormone disruptors. Feel and look your best with Million Marker!

Testing for obesogens in the human body is not a straightforward process due to the complexity of these compounds and their interactions with various biological systems. Currently, there are no standard clinical tests available for individuals to test for obesogens in their bodies.

However, scientists use several methods to detect and study obesogens, primarily in a research setting. These methods include laboratory assays and animal model testing where potential obesogens are identified in a lab setting, then tested in animal models to see their effects on living organisms.

The research often involves observing changes in body weight, fat storage, and energy balance over time. Researchers also study the molecular mechanisms of these chemicals, examining how they interact with hormones and other molecules in our bodies.

Toxicogenomics is a newer approach used by researchers to understand how obesogens affect the expression of genes involved in fat storage and metabolism.

While these research methods provide valuable information about obesogens and their potential effects on the human body, they are generally not applicable or available for individual testing. As understanding of obesogens continues to evolve, new methods for detecting these compounds may become available in the future.