For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ve got three topics for you. First are the obesogens, those endocrine-disrupting chemicals that permeate our environment, our foods, our consumer products, and even our bodies. They sound scary and terrible, but how much should we be worrying about them? Next up is the tot who hates his veggies, as classic a trope as any other. Should we be force feeding these kids broccoli, collard greens, and butternut squash at all costs? Or should we take a more laissez faire approach and let them develop their tastes on their own? Finally, I discuss the importance of proper pregnancy recovery, especially in regards to lifting heavy (and not so heavy but extremely wiggly) things.
I’ve been reading for a couple months now and I’ve recently come across a couple of articles on obesogens. While I don’t have the articles, I can explain what they are. Obesogens are chemicals that are supposed to disrupt normal homeostasis and metabolism and lead to obesity. Do you have any information on these chemicals?
According to some people, almost everything is an obesogen. You’ve got phthalates in paints, inks, shampoo, cosmetics, pills, detergents, sex toys, and emulsifying agents. You’ve got BPA in seemingly everything. You’ve got pesticides in conventional produce and animal products. And while it’s true that the modern world is fraught with obesogenic chemicals that mimic hormones, bind to their receptors, disrupt metabolism, and affect gene expression, I don’t think we need to lose sleep over it.
The primary obesogens remain the classics: grains, refined sugar, and seed oils (and too much of all of them); inactivity; poor sleep; and chronic stress. Before you go installing a housewide reverse osmosis filtration system to remove any obesogens in the tap water, allowing only chemical-free produce and meat to pass your lips to avoid all pesticides, banning all plastics from your home to avoid all potential xenoestrogens, handling receipts with chainmail gauntlets to avoid the BPA, catching your own fish with just your hands to ensure it’s truly wild and to avoid BPA leaching from nets, and making your entire kitchen cast iron, get the traditional obesogens under control. The best thing about it? We actually can control our exposure to them.
The fact is that we live in this world, and we have to deal with it. If we want to get our money back and return a product, we’ll need to hold on to that receipt. If we want grass-fed meat at a good price, it may mean buying it in bulk and having it shrink-wrapped in plastic. We need to breathe and drink, even if the air contains pollutants and the water contains obesogenic chemicals. Most of all, though, we have to live. We can’t go through our lives scared of everything, afraid to do anything, paralyzed by overanalysis, saturated with stress hormones from worrying about everything we can’t control or completely avoid. Do the things you love to do, take the basic precautions (look for BPA-free products, use glass instead of plastic, buy organic and local when possible – especially when dealing with the Dirty Dozen), limit the use of cosmetics or find or make natural products, spend time in nature away from pollution, avoid products that contain phthalates when possible, buy quality meat and seafood, burn incense instead of use air fresheners, those sorts of things), and don’t freak out about things that are out of your control. You can’t dodge wifi signals or cell phone radiation (but you can turn your cell phone and router off, if you worry about that sort of stuff). The very fact that you’re aware of them and take simple steps to avoid them puts you ahead of the game – without all the added stress of outright militant avoidance.
I was wondering if you are aware of any ‘evolutionary’ reason why many toddlers do not like vegetables. I remember once hearing a doctor speak on the Oprah Show, who said that childrens’ taste buds are designed to taste vegetables and some fruits as particularly bitter, to prevent children from experimenting and trying all sorts of plants in the wild, as some of those plants may be poisonous. Do you think that there is any merit in this argument, and that childrens’ dislike of vegetables is some sort of inbuilt survival mechanism? I am wondering how essential it is to try to ensure my very fussy toddlers eat vegetables, or if they were somehow ‘designed’ not to require them during the first few years of life. Dinner time is very stressful with my toddlers absolutely refusing to eat anything green (or red or orange for that matter), even if it is hidden. They would rather not eat at all. Of course, they eat plenty of grass fed meat, organic chiken and fish. Most evenings they just eat a dinner salmon or chicken, with nothing else, as they will not eat the sweet potatos, vegetables or fruits I am offering them, and I will not offer them bread or pasta.
Among humans, the youngsters (babies and toddlers) are the most intuitive eaters around. They’re unaffected by fast food advertising. They’re not subject to pressure from peers toting bags of Gogurt, chips, and Lunchables.
For that reason, I’m not too worried about a little kid who hates veggies.
Look, vegetables are bitter. They contain various toxins, and as adults, we’ve learned to appropriate and appreciate those toxins and turn them into full-fledged hormetic stressor nutrients. All those phytochemicals that abound in colorful vegetation that Primal and vegan eaters alike champion? They’re actually toxins that induce a hormetic response from our bodies and upregulate our antioxidant systems, thereby improving our health. But we’re adults. We’ve been eating these foods for a long, long time. Even if we don’t exactly love the taste – but most of us do learn to love the taste – even if they’re still kinda bitter, we know that it’s for the best. We can rationalize eating something that might not taste great because we know that it will improve our health. Eventually, we might even learn to honestly enjoy the taste.
But a toddler? A toddler just has access to the basic senses, which he’s still figuring out. It’s only been a year or two that he even got a handle on all that sensory data streaming through his eyes or ears, or interacting with his tongue. He’s not going to enjoy a sip of $200 wine, and he’ll probably turn up his nose at the sauteed dino kale you’re urging him to eat, regardless of its freshness. He’s not going to rationalize the consumption of a bitter vegetable for his own good, because it’s icky. Icky trumps all in toddlerland.
That’s could be a good thing, too. It may be that small kids are less equipped to deal with hormetic stressors (whether they’re plant polyphenols or light bursts of radiation) than we are, and their tastes are constructed thusly. The hormetic threshold could be a whole lot lower in tots.
Besides, forcing him to eat the vegetables will only make him develop a complex about them that will likely persist well until adulthood. I’m not saying you shouldn’t offer them to him. Don’t give up; try new ways of preparation. Use plenty of healthy fat, which has been shown to increase a child’s appreciation of vegetables. Just don’t wage war at the dinner table.
Keep feeding him quality animals (go for some liver and eggs too, maybe?). If he won’t do anything colored, how does he feel about white foods? Regular old white potatoes and bananas are good substitutes for sweet potatoes. White rice (particularly if you cook it in real bone broth and douse it in egg yolk) can be an inoffensive choice, too, that’s far superior to the more problematic grains. Growing kids need calories, period. They shouldn’t be on a zero-carb diet unless medically indicated.
LOVE your posts about babies and families but I couldn’t help but worry a little about the baby wearing one. Lots of Mamas are ignorant of the need to let their bodies recover from childbirth before resuming heavy lifting (yes even a newborn baby is heavy). There is a lot of softening of muscle, ligament and, well, everything, during pregnancy and it takes a while to get back to normal (well, the new normal). So many hormones and so much extra care is needed!
I ignored this information after giving birth like a superwoman (efficiently giving birth then straight into business as usual) and ended up having to have some serious reconstructive surgery.
Perhaps some kind of follow-up on post-pregnancy care of the mother?
That’s a great point. You can’t – or shouldn’t – just pop up from giving birth and resume full activity levels. There are a few reasons for this. First, throughout pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is secreted. In order to make delivery easier, relaxin promotes the loosening of ligaments and increased joint laxity, particularly in the hips. Hip mobility is important for athletic function, but hypermobile hips can leave you unstable and prone to injury. There’s evidence, for example, that higher serum levels of relaxin are associated with an increased risk of ACL tears. The laxity of the patellar tendon is also associated with serum relaxin levels. Relaxin takes awhile to normalize following pregnancy.
Second, very few women maintain full activity levels during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. What this means is that new mothers haven’t been very active for several months and are essentially detrained. Resuming their normal exercise routines in a detrained state will increase the chance of injury. At the very least, you won’t be able to do what you previously could do. Take it easy and act like you’re new to this exercise stuff – because you kind of are!
Third, pregnancy depletes nutrient stores. You’ve essentially spent nine months constructing an entirely new, 7 or 8 pound human being from a small cluster of embryonic cells. You’ve built a musculo-skeletal system, a full set of organs, a human brain, a cardiovascular system, a nervous system, and everything else a human requires… from scratch! As far as your pregnant body is concerned, building that baby is top priority. Dietary deficits mean the required nutrients will be pulled from the mother. It’s just as important to keep eating healthy food and otherwise taking care of yourself (sleep, stress, etc) after the baby is born to keep your body nourished, to recover nutrient stores from the pregnancy, and to maintain a healthy flow and composition of breastmilk. Some women even continue to take prenatals following pregnancy. Your body will regenerate its depleted stores (of, for example, bone mineral density) given enough time and a good diet, but the immediately post-pregnancy period is a vulnerable one.
Fourth, your abdominal muscles – the ones that maintain a neutral, strong, cohesive core that’s resistant to all manner of forces – are stretched out and loose. There was a baby in there. Relaxin was (and still is) coursing through your veins. You literally won’t be able to stabilize your body against loads as well as before, even if those loads are in the form of a ten pound baby strapped to your chest.
Every woman is different, and every woman will have a different recovery time following birth. The important thing is to be aware of your body’s lingering changes. Relax. Take it slow. Get lots of sleep. Hang out with your kid and partner. Opt for walks over sprints and body weight over weights, at least for now. Be careful hoisting that ten pound wriggling weight around; keep it close to your center of gravity (and breasts, which the baby will appreciate) whenever possible.
That’s it for today, guys. Thanks for reading and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section!