Today an article in The Atlantic discusses "obesogens:" environmental contaminants that some researchers believe are making people fat. Obesogens? Great, another meaningless buzzword Americans can discuss at dinner parties instead of facing facts: eating too much and not exercising enough is what's making them fat. Period.
We are always looking for a way to ignore the volume of food we stuff in our faces, to believe the actual amount doesn't matter if we can strike the right balance of ingredients. In the '90s it was all about fat. We could eat a boat load of sugar if we avoided fat. Problem: sugar contains lots of calories. Then it was the protein diets of the Atkins ilk. If we ate mostly protein our bodies would perform a magical internal equation that negated calories. Now it's the "paleo" diet and the Dukan and whatever the hell else.
Despite all these approaches, more than one-third of Americans are obese, and more than two-thirds are overweight. That's because so many of us consume more energy than we expend, which equals weight gain. Now researchers are saying they have another culprit: obesogens. The term is a catchall for anything lurking in baby formula, pesticides, plastics—the list goes on—that sneakily makes us fat. Eliminate those, and you'll be well on your way to that beach body.
Except good luck finding, let alone removing the obesogens from your life. Consuming fewer calories than your body uses for energy is much more straightforward and proven to work. I don't doubt that the researchers quoted in The Atlantic article are finding something bad associated with organic contaminants, and that we don't want them in our diet. But all of this hand wringing about obesogens and fat versus sugar and glycemic indexes and cave man diets ignores the one thing that we know for sure about how Americans can become less obese: eat less, exercise more. Says Dr. George Bray, professor of medicine at Louisiana State University, in the article:
"It doesn't make any difference... Calories count. If you can show me that it doesn't work, I'd love to see it. Or anybody else who says it doesn't—there ain't no data the other way around."
Certainly some ingredients are healthier than others. Fruits and veggies provide essential vitamins and nutrients that humans need. Too much red meat can raise your cholesterol. And now we even have scientific evidence that Cheerios reduce cholesterol! But if we're talking about obesity, fretting over the evils of "obesogens" or high-fructose corn syrup or genetics when we don't manage to lose weight is just a way to not talk about what no one wants to face: eating less and exercising more is the most reliable way to lose weight.