Healthy Eating – Point of Diminishing Returns?

Take a look at many weight loss plans or healthy living advice, many of them will insist that we eat only a limited choice of certain healthy foods in order to lose weight, or even to have a long active life. We must abstain from the foods that many people find delicious if we want to slim down, or enjoy a very active retirement. Eat only organic foods or eat only those foods, otherwise you’ll suffer all sorts of health problems.

Obviously, eating a balanced diet consisting of foods that have the full range of essential nutrients is a key component of good health. Decades of research bear this out and new scientific research confirms the importance of a balanced diet. That is not what is in question. The question is, is it really necessary to eat like this 100% of the time in order to have a long, active life free of health complications? If you listen to the proponents, they claim absolutely yes. There are those who truly enjoy eating like this, and that is fine if that is what they desire. People who advocate this idea come from many different walks of life. Some are enthusiasts of organic foods, others simply believe strongly in eating only the healthy foods. Others are personal trainers, fitness coaches, or otherwise involved in fitness. So, are these people correct? Do we have to give up, forever, ice cream, desserts, soda, candy, burgers, pizza, or anything else that tastes good but is fattening, just to lose weight or to be healthy?

The answer would seem to be no, not entirely. The magic is, as many would suspect, the oft-used word; moderation. In my own experience, I have personally seen two relatives reach very old age, still in good health, still active. My own great-grandmother lived to 104. My grandmother is an active 96, having survived two bouts of cancer, a stroke, and other health issues. Neither one engaged in completely Spartan eating. My great-grandmother loved Coca Cola, greasy pork sausages, pies, and ice cream. She did not eat these all the time, but enjoyed them as occasional treats. My grandmother loves her cookies, beer, also greasy pork, potato chips, and Coke as well. Naturally, personal experience is insufficient to come to a conclusion, so I looked into longevity to see what I could find out about people who had long lifespans.

The case of most interest was that of Jeanne Calment, the Frenchwoman who live to 122; she was reported to be alert all her years and physically active until 120. Yet, she not only did nothing special to live so long, she also did many things that these health advocates insist we cannot do. Calment would eat 2 pounds of chocolate per week, and even smoked until she was 119! Two points of observation were made about her lifestyle; she kept herself physically active (riding her bike until she was 110), and she handled stress supremely well. Both of these were observations recurrent among others who lived to the 100s or 110s. Their lifestyle consisted of some form of exercise or physical activity and they knew how to deal with stress. There were few overweight centenarians and the very few who were had a much lower quality of life. However, a rigid, Spartan diet was not prevalent among the extreme centenarians, though for the most part they ate what was considered healthy foods – but only most of the time. No of them claimed they reached their age by eating only alfalfa sprouts, tofu, bean curd, and raw vegetables, 7 days a week 365 days a year. Many had their “dietary secrets”, but universally their “secret” to long life was simply to avoid letting stress get to them; Shigechiyo Izumi, the disputed oldest man to ever live put it best; “the secret to long life is not to worry about it”.

In conclusion, it seems clear to me that we do not need to adhere to a martinet-eating plan, either for good health or to lose weight. There comes a point were eating well no longer has any additional impact, where instead other factors such as genetics, stress level, and physical activeness are the influencing factors. Make no mistake, most people will have to cut back on junk food, but there is no need to totally give up your favorite foods. In my weight loss plan I built in a “free day”, one day, sometimes two, of the week where I enjoyed my favorite foods, ate out without regard to calories. Looking back, doing so did not impact my weight loss – but did help me keep my sanity. If you are trying to lose weight, you will be able to still enjoy your favorite foods, in moderation. Indeed, I find I can savor and enjoy them more when I only eat them occasionally, as opposed to my previous lifestyle when I ate them daily. Eat healthy most of the time, but occasionally allow yourself to enjoy what you like, if that is your desire.

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