Regulars and Shorts

Body, Mind & Wellness: August 2009

By Lucy Beale

More may not be better.
by Lucy Beale

The idea that “more is better” is an underlying primitive belief system many of us seem to share. It’s so easy to go to logical and rational excess in pursuit of ultimate wellness. You know how it goes: Some of us were quite relieved when we learned that chocolate, especially the dark, sensuous kind, is actually good for us because it provides important antioxidants, may help keep blood pressure down, and possibly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Indeed, women who eat chocolate weigh less than those who don’t. This may all well be true, but…a lot of chocolate is not healthier than a little chocolate. There’s a limit, even to a good thing.

This also applies to eggs. An egg or two a morning is quite different from the five or six per day that folks were eating on the early Atkins Diet programs. All that cholesterol and diet imbalance led to high risks of heart disease, not to mention eventual weight gain from messing with the body’s natural metabolic processes.

Same for soy. Moderate amounts of soy, about 3-4 servings a week, is fine. Soy contains phytoestrogens, and excessive amounts of soy are associated with impaired thyroid function and other hormonal imbalances. I’ve encountered this situation many times in working with clients. When they stop eating lots of soy, hormone levels return to normal; those on thyroid medications often no longer need them.

With food, as with wellness, the body craves balance. Each person’s mind may have its unique preferences, but the body simply wants balance. That means enough protein-three servings a day, each about the size of a deck of cards and 5-10 servings of vegetables and/or fruit, with 20-30% coming from high quality fat. Too much or too little of these three eating basics is bad; ask your hairdresser-your hair will thin and become brittle.

Slow those supplements

Sustained use of large quantities of vitamin A (over 50,000 IUs, though some sources say only 10,000 IUs-still a large quantity) can be toxic to the liver, as well as cause dry skin, hair and eyes. Adequate intake of vitamin A is important for preventing night blindness and acne. It helps form bones and teeth, aids in fat metabolism, and protects against colds, flu and wrinkles. You need it in the right amount-overdo it and not only your appearance will suffer but also your liver.

Low levels of vitamin D are found in many un-fun chronic health conditions, including fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease. But having too much can lead to skin rashes, loss of bone mass, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness and weight loss. It can also raise blood levels of calcium, leading to confusion and heart rhythm abnormalities. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, but we don’t necessarily produce enough. It’s important to occasionally have a blood test and work with a doctor to attain the proper balance.

The latest research on fish oil suggests there is an optimal dose, with diminishing returns for greater quantities. What’s “enough” varies from person to person, however. Again, tests are available to help you determine what’s best for you.

Watch that tan

Speaking of sunshine-that’s another wellness factor we need in moderation. When the eyes are exposed to bright sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes a day, the body’s hormones work better. Moods are better and energy increases. As with chocolate and eggs, too much sun exposure, with or without sunscreen, can lead to skin cancer and wrinkles. Experts still don’t know all the factors involved and are unable to make informed recommendations as to how much sun under which conditions is most beneficial. Until we know more, get enough, but err on the side of not too much.

Water water everywhere…

The same goes for water. Most people have heard about the importance of drinking enough water every day, but a person drinking lots of water can flush out vital salts, minerals and electrolytes and collapse from imbalance. When hiking in the desert, bring electrolyte packets along with adequate water. My hiking partner and I now drink an Emergen-C in water before we set out. It really keeps our energy up and our bodies in balance.

Off the deep end

A couple years ago, I taught a class for a fitness club on how to eat and be naturally thin. At the time I accepted the engagement, I didn’t know that the class participants were competing to win a luxury car. The person who lost the most weight in three months would win the car. Participants had reduced their daily intake to less than 600 calories and were exercising five hours a day. When they complained to the trainers at the club that they weren’t losing weight, they were told to stop cheating, further cut calories, and to exercise more.

The class participants asked me why they felt flabbier and seemed to be gaining inches. The answer: What they were doing was guaranteed to make them flabby and would ultimately ruin their metabolism so that losing weight in the future would be harder, if not impossible.

The reason: Each of them was in starvation metabolism. When the body doesn’t get enough food to sustain life (about 1200-1500 calories daily), it slows the metabolism and stores all food eaten as fat. The body then burns fuel from fat stores and muscles for energy. It’s now thought that in starvation mode the body also takes energy from vital organs that contain muscles, such as the heart.

Easier than you think

Excessive behavior like this is not only self-defeating, it’s unnecessary. A person needs only about one hour of moderate daily exercise to stay fit and healthy. That one hour is the best “wellness pill” any of us can take. Beware too much exercise, and beware too little. The same goes for food: Eat enough and not too much.

Yes, it seems like there are so many balance points to think about, so just use common sense. It doesn’t make sense to eat soy three times a day, or to eat a pound of bacon daily for breakfast. Your body knows this. And somewhere inside, so do you.

Lucy Beale is a regular contributor to CATALYST. Her newest books are “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Glycemic Index Weight Loss,” and its cookbook companion, coauthored with Joan Clark-Werner. Lucy lives in Sandy, Utah.


This article was originally published on July 30, 2009.