It’s too hard.
I don’t need to conform to some chart’s idea of an ideal weight, I don’t want to watch my calories. I get tired and miss my old days of excess. I miss eating whatever, whenever. I’d rather spend my time reading a good book, thinking more important thoughts.
Life’s too short.
But just about the time I make up my mind that I could live better bigger, I trip over some annoying bit of evidence that says getting and staying lean really is a good idea. Well, for one thing, it can help you live well and live longer as you age.
And I’ve started to think a lot about aging well. That actually started when I turned 39, but every year the subject becomes more interesting, somehow. Downright fascinating.
What keeps cropping up is news from the folks who have studied the effects of moderate-to-extreme calorie restriction over the lifetimes of many animal groups (and the folks who are experimenting on themselves to prove the theory). They have found that cutting calories a good bit has the effect of increasing overall health and extending the lifespan of most animals.
I know, I know, I’ve been working like a dog to increase my metabolism. To burn calories faster so I can eat more. That makes this reading difficult to, well, swallow. But reading it, I’m forced to put science before gluttony and consider the facts, as hard as that is for me.
Calorie restriction seems to cut back on the wear and tear we typically experience while eating our typical high calorie diets. Researchers don’t yet understand all of the mechanisms that make this happen, but they do agree that it happens. And that means, theoretically, that we can avoid heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimers, a whole host of age-related diseases by choosing more nutritious foods and putting down our forks once in awhile.
The dean of these studies is gerontologist and nutritionist Roy Walford, M.D., who became interested in this research as the doctor-resident in Biosphere 2, a prototype space station in the early 1990s. The residents of Biosphere 2 lived on a lower-calorie-than-planned (because of crop failure), nutrient-dense diet during their stay. They each lost quite a bit of weight, and in the process lowered their blood cholesterol, blood sugar, and insulin production, among other changes.
Walford’s subsequent research, ideas and diet have evolved into his “120 Year Diet” and the diet planning software he developed with his daughter and makes available from his website, www. Walford.com. The principle is simple, a matter of eating at the calorie level that maintains your body at a weight 10-20% below your natural “set point,” while eating well enough to assure you receive all the nutrients your body needs.
Meantime, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken on a reworking of their calorie consumption recommendations as one precursor to redrawing the old food pyramid. The news is not great for people like me who love to eat and sit still. They have significantly lowered the calorie recommendations for us in particular, publishing a table of recommended calorie levels based on age and lifestyle.
Nutritionists have begun commenting on (arguing over) these recommendations, saying they don’t go far enough or say enough about how these fewer calories should be fulfilled (more vegetables, beans, whole grains, fruit, good fats, nuts, lean proteins, etc.).
But the message is there, once again. Many of us should be eating less than we do and more plant-based foods than we do. And once again, the choice is ours to make. Live fast, eat all you want, and die young? Or live a long time, eating less? Walford’s caveat: Decide early. The sooner you opt for fewer calories, the longer you’ll live.
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