Diet,  Lipedema,  Treatments

Are Chemicals Making Us Fat?

I always knew that toxins could make me sick. But I didn’t know they could make me fat.1

I feel that this is the most important blog post I’ve ever written on lipedema.

Back in 2012, I had lost close to 60 pounds eating a strictly whole-food, plant-based diet. Like, full-on vegan. No animal protein whatsoever, no sugar or processed foods, strictly organic.

I’d been eating that way for nearly two years by then, and I was the sickest I’ve ever been.

My balance was off, I had systemic pain that was chronically at a solid 7 on a scale of 10. I had fatty tumors that hurt and I had difficulty walking without assistance. I could no longer drive and my memory had turned to ash.

That’s when I went to Northern California to see a very well-known and respected plant-based medical doctor. He diagnosed me with a rare fat disease (not the right one, but close enough for that moment).

My first appointment photo. I wish I’d taken it standing up, but I was so weak, I couldn’t be bothered standing.

40 Day Water-Only Fast and Toxic Overload

At his recommendation, I did a 40-day water-only fast under his supervision at True North Clinic. I stayed in one of their rooms and drank nothing but water. It was incredibly difficult for me. Not from hunger–that went away after a couple of days as the body went into deep ketosis and started using its own fat for fuel.

The fat “melted off” steadily day by day, and I felt awful. I mean aw-ful.

My room at True North.

The first 20 days were the worst because I was alone (my husband came out to be with me after that).

I felt restless, dry heaved (especially near the end of the first 20 days), threw up what little was there, endured the worst heartburn I’ve ever experienced, and lived in quiet agitation. I spontaneously bruised deeply, and my body hurt everywhere.

Literally came out of nowhere. I was mostly resting, and only got up to use the bathroom.

In those 20 days, my memory improved drastically, but I also developed an essential hand tremor (when your hand shakes uncontrollably) that made a simple task like putting on mascara almost impossible. I understand now that this was a direct result of the rapid fat loss. More on that later.

I’m not trying to scare anyone from doing a water fast. They are miraculous and can do wonders, and there are many studies on the long-term benefits of fasting8. But I feel that anything over 3-5 days should be done responsibly and under a specialist’s or doctor’s guidance or supervision.

I also feel that one should go into it knowing that any kind of rapid weight loss can have a very real potential of poisoning the system in the process. That’s what I’m covering in the post.

I have lipedema, a loose connective tissue disorder that causes accumulation of fat that becomes painful and fibrotic. You can read more about that here.

At the end of the full 40 days of fasting, my weight had gone from 170 to 135.

Me, after water fasting and needing to buy clothes that fit me. You can still clearly see the lipedema shelf on my thigh.

After the fast, I gained an average of one pound a day eating less than 500 calories as I began the re-feeding process. And after a couple of weeks, my weight settled at a solid 150, though I was still in systemic pain. I followed a strict diet and moved my body daily. I looked amazing and felt pretty awful. Now I understand why.

The following year, I would get a proper diagnosis from Dr. Karen Herbst, which led me to connect with others with my condition. In 2014 I flew to Germany with my husband and had surgeries to remove this diseased fat and cure my lipedema once and for all.

The relief on my body was immediate, but not complete. I was not cured, and in time it would return. Now I think I understand why.

How I Got Fat to Begin With. My thoughts.

Like most women with lipedema, my weight seemingly piled onto my legs overnight. This happened at puberty for me (as with most other women with lipedema based on surveys). But why? I didn’t spontaneously change my diet or become less active.

I have been on a hunt for solutions because I have not been physically well despite eating healthy, dieting, and/or exercising for YEARS.

Even now, I have been battling adrenal fatigue and have memory slips that are getting more and more frequent. That hand tremor is getting worse and now affects both hands. And the fibrotic fat nodules just keep coming.

I even flew to California in February 2020 just before the world stopped turning, and had a consultation with a doctor who is a lipedema specialist. He palpated the various nodules on my legs, stomach and arms, and he confirmed I still had lipedema and was even surprised to hear that I’d had surgeries prior.

Ever since then, I’ve been reading and researching to find out why and what on this weird fat accumulation and feeling anything but “normal”.

This led me to a consultation a few months ago with a certified nutritionist. He suggested the possibility of mercury poisoning (that’s not what I’m leading up to). But, this got me thinking and opened up another area of research for me: fat-soluble toxicants.

What are Fat-Soluble Toxicants?

Fat-soluble toxicants are chemical and toxic substances that are persistent in the body–meaning they stay in the body for months or years. They have a longer life span and are hard to eliminate because they bind to proteins in the cells and are stored in the fat.1 They can bio-accumulate over years and affect the health of an individual acutely or chronically with a trickling effect of poisoning the system when fat is melted or released. This is the kind of stuff the liver, bile, and the lymphatic system deal with.

There are also water-soluble toxicants that are filtered through the kidney and eliminated through the urine. These are not stored in fat or tissue. I’m not talking about those right now though.

Chemical Sensitivity

I am so sensitive to chemicals that I can’t be in a place that has been disinfected even at safe levels without my lymph system going bananas and feeling terrible for weeks. Fragrances, chemicals, materials, and textiles all make my heart pound violently in my chest. Red wine causes my cheeks to flush almost immediately. I get headaches from clothes shopping or a simple trip to Target. Perfume is my nemesis. You get the idea.

And I find that I’m not the only one in the lipedema community that experiences all or some of this.

Here’s my theory on why we get fat, why it’s so hard to lose even the slightest weight, and why weight loss can seem impossible or slow and difficult to maintain no matter how compliant we are.

There are many kinds of chemicals, toxins, and waste products that are fat-soluble. Like, thousands. Cleaning products, shampoo, hair spray, makeup, bed sheets, laundry soap, dryer sheets (the most toxic of many), plastics like in plastic water bottles or food storage containers, non-stick cookware, skincare products, tampons, feminine pads, deodorant, nail polish, fungicides, pesticides, insecticides, preservatives, food additives, vegetable oils (canola, soy, sunflower, rapeseed, etc), the list goes on and on.2, 2A

Many chemicals that used to be in common use as recent as the 70’s have been since declared hazardous chemicals and have been removed from the marketplace. Chemicals like BPA which is found in plastic bottles, plastic containers (the kind we used to use to heat our food up in), the linings of tin cans and baby bottles and toys. As awareness of the dangers of these chemicals increased, they have been eliminated in most products (but not all). BPA has been found to be passed down to babies through their mother’s body and breast milk and is considered an obesogen chemical.7

The problem is that these chemicals are stored in the adipose tissue where they stay dormant, trickling their toxins into the system over months and years.7 In fact, here’s me with a plastic bottle likely made of BPA as an infant. Yum.

This is me with my plastic bottle. I was bottle-fed from day one.

This is ONE example and only ONE chemical. There are so many.

Scientists have discovered that there are chemicals that make people fat.4, 5, 6, 7 And it’s even been found that this chemical exposure can happen to a mother long before she has her baby and that her exposure may impact the future weight of her unborn child decades later.7

This makes sense to me, and I’ll tell you why.

I have believed for years that this weird accumulation of fat on my body is my body’s way of protecting me from some unknown toxic load. Call it intuition. I don’t care. But I’ve said this to my husband many, many times over the years.

For me, it explains why I get spontaneous bruising after moving my body more, or feeling super itchy in my thighs for “no reason” followed by more bruising. Or feeling achy and sore and having fat that feels hard and fibrotic. Or feeling awful when I lose any kind of weight. 7AND why my lymphatic system is truly overwhelmed almost constantly (hence, the lymphedema).

And could this also explain why it’s so hard to lose weight on the same exact diet that my “normal” friends are doing so easily? I think so.

It’s almost as if my body is saying, “No. I won’t let the fat go. It will harm us and I can’t let that happen.”

And could this explain why it’s so easy to gain weight with even the slightest deviation from a regimented diet? Dining out almost always equals weight gain for me–even if I only have a salad.

This is not intended as a rant. This is my “aha”.

I read each of these studies that I have cited in this blog post, and it just kind of clicked for me.

What if our diseased fat is our body’s way of protecting us? What if that fat is simply toxic waste wrapped in a fat bubble to keep us from harm?

When I had my surgeries, the bulk of my diseased fat was removed, along with all the toxic waste it had wrapped itself around. No wonder I felt better after my surgeries. Like a new woman actually.

But Why Did the Lipedema Return?

Chances are some of the worst fat nodules are riddled with toxic waste and these were not removed in my surgeries. Perhaps that’s why it returned?

Or is it because my system still can’t handle the constant assault of environmental toxins and waste? Maybe it’s a little of both.

The question for me now is, “How can I safely eliminate these fat soluble toxins so I can stop this constant trickle of toxic overload in my system and lose weight for good?”

I have stumbled across some research that I am exploring to address just that. It’s in fragments and incomplete, but I’m piecing it together and will share it with you in Part 2 of this blog post.

I had to share what I have so far though, so I wrote this blog post to start the conversation.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts, ideas and opinions in the comments below.

Obesity and Toxic Chemical Links and Citations:
1. Fat-soluble toxins and obesity
2. What are PFAs
2A. Obesity from POPs
3. Adipose Tissue as a Site of Toxin Accumulation
4. Obesogens: An Environmental Link to Obesity
5. 5 Obesogens that are making you fat (so many good citations)
7. Amazing super current research on this subject of obesogens.

8. Unravelling the health effects of fasting: a long road from obesity treatment to healthy life span increase and improved cognition


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