Despite the evidence supporting the longevity benefits of below-average body weights, some warnings are necessary:
Nothing on this website should be construed as medical advice. I am not a doctor and I have no medical training. These are just my opinions, based on what I have read, and they could all turn out to be wrong. I take no responsibility for the results if you act upon these opinions. If you do so, you do so at your own risk.
Weight loss and/or exercise programs should be practiced only under a doctor's supervision. Your doctor can advise you on the safety of the diet or exercise program you choose, and can conduct the appropriate physical examinations and laboratory tests to determine whether you are harming yourself.
It's dangerous to take weight loss too far, especially if you're doing it wrong. The working of the human body is complex, and tampering with it is risky. We'll explore this concept in the following paragraphs with a couple of "thought experiments".
Thought Experiment 1: Nutrition Suppose you currently consume twice as many calories as would be optimal for maximum longevity, and that nutritious foods comprise half of those calories (while the other half are junk food, aka "empty calories"). Though you're getting 200% of the calories as you need (which is bad), at least you're getting 100% of the nutrition you need (which is good). Next, imagine that you become gung-ho about weight loss and cut your food intake in half--but, alas, without altering the mix of foods in your diet. You're now getting 100% of the calories you need (which is good) but only 50% of the nutrition you need (which is extremely bad). You're effectively starving yourself to death, even though you're eating enough. The less you eat, the more critical it becomes that everything you do eat is nutritious. Alas, some people do the exact opposite when attempting to lose weight; to their detriment, they munch on snack foods whenever they feel they can no longer resist their hunger.
Thought Experiment 2: Variety Again, suppose you currently consume twice as many calories as would be optimal for maximum longevity, but this time it's all nutritious and varied for a nicely balanced diet. You decide to halve your calorie intake--by eliminating all dairy products and fruits/vegetables. Your remaining diet might still consist of highly nutritious low-fat meats and whole wheat grains, but without two entire food groups, it's still lacking healthful variety. The easiest way to reduce your food intake is to eliminate whole portions of particular items from your meals, but this approach unfortunately also reduces dietary variety. Indeed, a recent large-scale study by the National Cancer Institute showed that dietary diversity results in dramatic reductions in mortality rates. When I eat out, my own favorite tactic is to dine at all-you-can-eat buffets, where I can consume just a spoonful of each of many different nutritious foods and obtain outstanding variety in my diet. Of course this still isn't easy, since it takes phenomenal willpower to practice calorie restriction at an all-you-can-eat buffet!
Thought Experiment 3: Hunger Artist Syndrome Austrian-Czech writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924) wrote a classic short story titled "A Hunger Artist", in which a master of the art of public fasting performances pursues his profession too far and starves himself to death. Imagine that you actually succeed in changing your thinking about hunger, sublimating this normally unpleasant urge into a satisfying sense of accomplishment. When do you stop? Anorexia nervosa usually results from non-health-related motivations such as the desire to improve one's appearance, gain peer approval, qualify for a career as a model or ballet dancer, or make a silent protest against sexual abuse, but it seems quite possible that an obsession with CRAN could lead to the same behavior. Also, a victim of anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders might seize upon life extension as a convenient rationalization for his or her behavior.
Thought Experiment 4: Skipping Meals Another approach to calorie restriction that you might be tempted to try is skipping meals entirely. Sorry, but that doesn't work either! The human body functions best when given food in frequent tiny doses. If by skipping meals you cause a delay of 14 hours or more between two meals (such as might occur between dinner one night and lunch the next day, if you skip breakfast) you increase your risk of suffering gallstones. Furthermore, a sudden intake of food after a long fast can cause a spike in your body's insulin production that will so increase your hunger that you might be unable to resist eating more. The resulting binge could block your body's fat-burning process (called ketosis), bringing your weight loss efforts to a grinding halt. Worse yet, diabetics who subject themselves to long fasts can become victims of the potentially deadly condition known as ketoacidosis. And hypoglycemics risk low blood-sugar episodes that can cause lethargy, mental impairment, seizures, comas, and death.
These are just a few oversimplified examples of the myriad ways you can make fatal errors
when tampering with the delicate mechanisms of your mind and body. Even if you're
completely successful at losing weight without upsetting the balance of your biochemistry,
you could encounter dangerous surprises. For instance, very thin people may be highly
susceptible to cold, or might not have the fat reserves needed to withstand extended illness.
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