5 Ways Reducing Waste Can Reduce Your Waistline

plastic makes you fat

If you have tried to lose weight to no avail, you may want to cut down on your waste rather than counting your calories.

1. To quote my friends at Plastic Free Tuesday, plastic makes you fat. Many plastics contains BPA, a synthetic estrogen. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, the UCSF pediatric endocrinologist made famous by his viral YouTube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” chemicals like BPA “make the estrogen receptor go wild and lose all it inhibitions, promoting breast development and inducing fat cell differentiation, which means weight gain as well.” BPA “is leached out every time an acid touches a polycarbonate plastic bottle. In other words, every consumable liquid in America.” (Robert Lustig, Fat Chance, Penguin, 2013, p. 161.)

Phthalates, another group of chemicals, make plastics more flexible. If you have a vinyl shower curtain, it likely contains phthalates. Although you will never eat your shower curtain, you may ingest pills and vitamins made with coatings that contain phthalates. Many personal care products such as soaps, shampoos and lotions also contain phthalates (but not my homemade deodorant!), exposing you to this compound. According to Lustig, “In adults, urine phthalate levels correlate with adiposity [obesity], waist circumference and insulin resistance…Again, while this is correlation and not causation, it is still highly worrisome.” (Robert Lustig, Fat Chance, Penguin, 2013, p. 162.)

The Environmental Working Group lists both BPA and phthalates on its “Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors.” Reduce the plastic packaging of food and personal care products and you reduce your exposure to these chemicals.

2. If you cut packaging waste, you cut all processed food. I have always cooked but I also used to buy all sorts of processed food: canned tomato sauce, canned beans, the odd frozen pizza, broth in Tetra Paks, cereal, crackers, cookies. When MK and I decided we would try to live plastic free, our diet changed (and MK lost weight). We stopped eating canned food. We stopped eating cereal for breakfast. We stopped snacking because we didn’t have anything to snack on.

Processed food contains tons of sugar, which makes insulin levels spike, which leads to weight gain. (Read Fat Chance for the low-down on sugar’s role in the obesity epidemic.)

spot the food app3. You drink less junk. When I first visited California, I tried an Odwalla juice and loved it. After I moved here, I bought it fairly regularly. But when I kicked the plastic, I stopped drinking juice altogether. And thank goodness! Do you know how much sugar an Odwalla contains?! Forty-seven grams in a 15.2-ounce bottle of Superfood! Was I unable to locate food labels back then? To give you an idea of how much sugar that is, a 12-ounce can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar. Today I stick with water, tea I brew from loose-leaf I buy in bulk and milk I buy in returnable glass bottles. Cut the unnecessary drinks and you cut the sugar.

farmers market 08.17.14
A recent haul from the farmer’s market

4. You’ll shop more at farmer’s markets. When I cut my plastic waste, I started shopping religiously at the market. Fresh, organic, healthy farmer’s market food tastes better than anything I can get at the grocery store. Most food there even lacks those annoying little plastic produce ID stickers. And how can you gain weight if you stick with foods like those pictured above? (I guess if you ate them all in one sitting…)

5. If you cut processed food, you must cook from scratch. Big Food has rendered a large number of North Americans utterly helpless in the kitchen and dependent on their processed, sugar-laden crud. People don’t feel they have time to cook. Parents don’t teach their kids to cook. How strange that as people have cooked less, kitchens have become larger and more elaborate. I’m pretty proud of the delicious, healthy food I can crank out of my tiny, yet well-implemented kitchen. When you cook your own food, you eat better. As a bonus, you thumb your nose at the big food corporations.

“Food made by hand is an act of defiance and runs contrary to everything in modernity.” — Bill Buford, Heat

31 Comment

  1. Awesome post!!! Very useful and informative 🙂

    1. Thank you for the compliment. I really appreciate it 🙂

  2. Mr M calls the practice chez nous as the new regime, which I like as it plays on the French word for diet and the socio-economic-political meaning of the word in English. Of course, this isn’t really a diet and there is nothing new about it 😉

    PS – I know what you mean about the size of kitchens. Well-meaning friends say I need a bigger one as I like to cook but I like my little kitchen and take pride in the proper housekeeping I do in the tiny room with minimal gadgets and equipment!

    1. If I had a larger kitchen, I would also have more clutter. You’re right, there’s nothing new in this “diet.” We need to go back to the old (smart) ways of buying, preparing and eating food. I like chez nous. Maybe I should call this plan chez Bonneau 😉

  3. true true so true…
    more like the common sense diet but really what sort of a word is diet
    Sandra

    1. You’re right, it is just common sense to eat this way. My daughter sprouted some beans recently and I told her she was brilliant. She turned to me and said, “People have been doing this for thousands of years. Don’t get so excited.” Eating real food used to be the norm.

  4. This is great information! It’s amazing what just plain simple cooking can do to change your life. (Ditto on the teensy kitchen)

    1. I think cooking improves your life in so many ways. It tastes better. You sit down with your loved ones to eat. You appreciate more where the food came from. And you become more self-reliant. (I’m sure I’m missing other advantages of cooking, but those are good to start with.)

  5. Such good points in this post! I’m going to go home and check all of my shampoo for phthalates now…

    1. Thank you! I don’t think your shampoo label with list “phthalates” but if you see “fragrance,” it most likely has phthalates in it. Here’s more info: http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors

  6. This is such a great post, thank you and I hope you continue to educate us on your way of life and the benefits. I have run into quite a few “zero waste” personalities, via articles in magazines, etc. and it is soooooo inspiring! Honestly, though, our little issue is getting the rest of the family in gear . . . my hubby was single for 56 years before we married and he just is very set in his ways, which includes buying at least 1 or 2 sports drinks and other “supplement” drinks a day, to mix with his water and my kombucha for his post workout stuff. Oh well!

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I’ll keep educating if people don’t mind hearing it 🙂 It’s really difficult to go plastic-free/zero-waste when you don’t have everyone on board. My older daughter started us on the (nearly) plastic-free path, so she’s very good about reducing her waste but not nearly as OCD as I am about it. My younger daughter doesn’t complain much (except about my homemade, non-Heinz ketchup), but overall I would say she’s indifferent. They each sneak stuff in occasionally but they produce much less trash than they used to. My ex-husband drinks soda and juice all day long. Recently when I was at his house to pick up our younger daughter, I saw him drinking a glass of orange juice and made him sit down to watch Dr. Lusting’s TEDTalk. I don’t think it helped though. But people on WordPress seem to listen to me 🙂

      1. I’ll have to check out that TEDTalk!

      2. Here’s Dr. Lustig’s short TEDTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmC4Rm5cpOI

        At 20 minutes, it’s much shorter than his viral YouTube video, but you get the gist of it. I just love him. He teaches at pediatrics at UCSF, so he’s not some quack selling another food fad. And he makes so much sense. Big Food probably wants his head on a platter (with added sugar).

  7. We don’t make a point of being plastic free, but we do make a point of reducing our waste, as well as eating healthy. I’m slightly obsessed about knowing where our food comes from and that’s translated into working with various groups (I’m on the board of the nonprofit that supports our local farmer’s market, doing programming and promoting the SNAP program there, teaching kid’s cooking classes as well as adult ones) in our area to change on the grassroots level how our food system works. We had an a-ha moment several years back where we made a conscious effort to walk away from as much plastic as we could, although I’ve pretty much always avoided it, as I have always been able to ‘taste’ plastic.

    That said, I’m going to make a small plug for a good fit for plastic in my life – boxed wine. The bags keep oxygen out, keeping the wine fresher longer (about a month!). The packaging costs are a fraction of glass, hold more than bottles and take up far less storage space, a huge appeal for winemakers. Buying boxed wine is sort of the equivalent of buying it in bulk, because you tend to end up paying a fraction of what you would should you buy that wine in bottles. Generally, you can get 4 bottles for the price of about 2. I’ve even found a place where I can recycle the bag! And no, I don’t taste plastic, which is totally a deal breaker.

    1. That’s wonderful that you teach cooking to kids and adults. I wish every public school would teach cooking. You’re my hero. That’s exactly what we need to help solve this obesity epidemic–parents and their kids learning how to cook. I was horrified to learn that yesterday, in my daughter’s public school, the kids were “rewarded” with root beer floats. What the hell?! (It’s her first year at public school. Before this she went to a hippy school where everyone was either into Weston Price or a vegetarian.) I thought it was a bit over the top. When we cut the plastic, I also had an a-ha moment: real food doesn’t come in the stuff. I hadn’t thought much about it before (but I had banned bottled water from our home).

      Buying wine or anything in bulk really helps cut down on packaging. That’s great you can recycle the bags. One of my cats has a condition that requires prescription food (yes, I’m a crazy cat lady) and it comes in plastic of course, but I can at least buy a huge bag of it, so the packaging to product ratio is lower.

      1. I wouldn’t mind the occasional root beer float so much if I knew every kid was eating healthy on a regular basis. The whole school lunch thing is exactly how I figured out how the system needs to change. They are driven by USDA regulations that are tied into the various farm subsidies, but those aren’t going to change anytime soon without a grassroots movement. And the grassroots movement has to be big enough to gain enough traction to cause those regulations to change. It’s going to take a while, but I think it’s doable.
        At the same time, I’m the first to admit that eating real food all the time takes a little more work & effort. Although not all that much.

      2. I like to think things are slowly changing. People are so interested in where their food comes from today. My extremely popular farmer’s market just expanded, for example. It is more work to cook and eat this way though. When I recently made ketchup, I understood why people would rather buy a bottle of Heinz. And then of course if you’re working two low-wage jobs, you’re too tired and broke and opting for Taco Bell is just easier. It’s complicated!

  8. Powerful and important post. And I love your lead picture. (BTW….I wrote a post on plastic this week too although it was from a different angle. Mine was about protecting Mother Nature.) I haven’t heard of Plastic Free Tuesday. I will look into it.

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you like the photo. I took that at Whole Foods, the supposedly green grocery store. I never buy bottled water, so I had never noticed it and wondered if the store carried it. I was slightly horrified when I saw so much of it.

      I went (nearly) plastic free after reading about the plastic in the oceans, so my motivation was environmental. The improved diet was a very wonderful side effect. The website for Plastic-Free Tuesday is http://plasticfreetuesday.com/. They encourage people to go plastic-free one day a week. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  9. I have to find that TEDtalk. This is something I don’t know about at all. My husband drinks a glass of orange juice every morning. He used to buy it in plastic jugs, but I prevailed upon him to make a switch to the frozen concentrated, which I can still find in cardboard cans, although they have a plastic, sealing ring. I must learn more.

    1. Here it is 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmC4Rm5cpOI

      The problem with juice is it’s fruit devoid of fiber, so it’s basically sugar, which makes your insulin spike. You may as well have a can of Coke. Dr. Lustig talks more about juice in his book, Fat Chance, than in this video, but he does mention it. I think you’ll find the video very educational. I watched it again today after I found the link and think he’s just brilliant. I love sugar and need to be reminded regularly that it’s bad for me.

  10. Very very useful post and most of us use plastic container one or the other way so this info will be always triggering when we go for it next time. … nice 🙂 🙂 👍 👍

    1. Thank you. I’m glad you found it useful 🙂

  11. Amazing post!!!!!!!!!!!! Agree 100% Love the end quote, going to put it up on the fridge.

    1. Thank you so much. I love that quote too. The author, Bill Buford, left his desk job as a writer at the New Yorker magazine to go work as a kitchen-slave in a three-star restaurant and he wrote about his adventures in his book Heat. (I loved it. Made me tear up at the end.) When I read that line I jotted it down, knowing I had to use it. I feel like a rebel in my kitchen, especially when I make something myself that the big food companies would rather sell me.

  12. I was thinking of writing a similar post! Maybe I still will and reference you!

    1. Please do write it and ping me when you it’s up. I would love to read it 🙂

      1. Thanks! Yours is very helpful and inspiring!

  13. Such a great post. Insightful on a relevant topic and left us wondering why we didn’t think of these reasons before ha! Sharing this!

    1. Thanks so much for the comment and for sharing. After I ditched the plastic, it soon dawned on me that zero plastic leads to a much healthier diet.

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