If you’ve struggled to lose weight no matter what type of diet you’ve tried, the food you’re consuming may not be to blame.

In my book, "Food Sanity," I share several potentially weight-loss-sabotaging chemicals that are hiding inside and around your food, and even in the cookware you prepare your food on. These “obesogens,” as I call them, may cause hormonal imbalances, increase your appetite and expand the number of fat cells in your body. Here are four that you need to avoid:


Pesticides are chemicals used to protect crops from insects and weeds. When we consume fruits and veggies containing pesticide residue, this can destroy our healthy gut flora, create food intolerances and insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain.

Avoid them: 

You can minimize your exposure to pesticides by buying local organic produce whenever possible. At the grocery store, look for “USDA Certified Organic” on the label. This ensures the produce does not contain any pesticides. You can also look at the PLU (price look-up) sticker. If the five digit code begins with a 9, it’s organic. (Just remember the saying, “Nine is fine!”)  If you buy conventionally sold produce, you can get rid of most of the pesticide residue by washing it in a baking soda solution as follows:

  • Fill a large bowl with water
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda
  • Add the veggies or fruit
  • Soak for ten minutes
  • Scrub with a brush
  • Rinse  

Hormones and Antibiotics

There’s an old saying, “You are what you eat.” While this is true, you are also what your meat eats. Farmers inject Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH)  into young livestock to help them gain weight and increase milk production.

Antibiotics are also given to cows, chickens, and pigs to fight infection and to help them grow larger. When humans consume these animals,  it can destroy our good gut bacteria, which can lead to weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome and even depression.

Time further noted that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States, by weight, are fed to farm animals.

Avoid them: 

Look for “USDA Certified Organic” on the label, which means it’s free of antibiotics. Some companies claim their product is “hormone and antibiotic free” and you’ll sometimes see “USDA Process Verified” on the label. Don’t put too much credence into these claims. It’s not the same thing as “USDA Certified Organic.”

BPA (Bisphenol-A)

BPA is a synthetic estrogen primarily used to harden plastics. BPA is found in plastic food and beverage containers, canned foods and bottle tops. This chemical also shows up in thermal paper items like the credit card, ATM and cash register receipts. If you touch these items, you could be contaminating yourself with BPA. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a "positive association" between BPA and obesity.

Avoid them: 

  • Don’t buy plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7.  That means they contain BPA. Instead, look for recycling codes 1, 2, or 5.
  • Don’t touch thermal receipts. Ask the cashier to put your receipt in the bag. If you do touch it, wash your hands.  
  • Don’t use plastic containers in the microwaves. Instead, opt for glass or ceramic food containers.  
  • Use eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bottles like refillable glass, porcelain and stainless-steel containers.

PFOA (perfluoro-octanoic acid)

PFOA is found in non-stick cookware and grease-resistant coatings, like those at fast food restaurants. PFOAs are also found in stain-resistant furniture and carpeting. PLOS Medicine Journal recently published a study showing people with more PFOAs in their blood are associated with a greater weight regain after a period of weight loss, especially in women.

Avoid them:  

  • Switch from non-stick cookware to ceramic coated, tempered glass, cast iron, or stainless steel.  
  • Stay clear of stain-resistant materials including clothing, carpets, and furniture.
  • Don’t consume food in packaging treated with grease-resistant coatings. 

It doesn’t take a lot of exposure for obesogens to warrant a concern. The hormonal system is easily disrupted by a minuscule amount of these chemicals. According to the Journal of Endocrinology, very low-dose exposure can negative effects. You can avoid these chemicals by being more proactive, instead of trusting that the items you purchase have passed stringent safety measures. While the food we eat is a crucial part of overall health, it’s equally as important for us to pay attention to how our food is manufactured, stored and cooked.

Dr. David Friedman is a doctor of naturopathy, clinical nutritionist, chiropractic neurologist, board certified alternative medical practitioner, and board certified in integrative medicine. He’s the best-selling author of "Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction." Dr. Friedman hosts the syndicated program, "To Your Good Health Radio," which offers solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.