Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
If you’ve ever consumed a big bowl of popcorn during a movie, then you probably know you can have too much of something good. We see the effects of over-indulging in our lives every day: too much screen time can make us irritable, too much free time can leave us feeling restless, and too much responsibility can cause undue stress.
All Things in Moderation
Whether you’re adding in new routines or cutting out old ones, it’s important to maintain moderation in all things. Abruptly stopping cold turkey isn’t a tactic that applies well to all habits; sometimes it’s best to gradually taper off an activity or substance. Similarly, you can’t expect to automatically make something a new habit in one day. It takes time to rewire your brain to accept new ways of doing things.
For example, the majority of diets fail people. And do you know why that is? Most diets involve restriction. Often, a fad diet eliminates certain food groups, which is not a sustainable practice. Even if a diet is initially successful in reducing weight, studies show that most people gain all of the weight, if not more, back in the end.
What’s a Fad Diet?
Any diet that claims to help you lose weight quickly is most likely a fad diet. It will not stand the test of time, and it may end up doing more harm than good. Signs that a diet is not sustainable include:
- It requires severe caloric restriction
- It eliminates entire food groups
- It encourages “cheat days”
Fad diets often include celebrity endorsements, but lack in-depth scientific research to support their claims. Chances are if a diet plan sounds too good to be true, it is.
Why Fad Diets Don’t Work
When restricting calories, our bodies not only lose fat, but muscle as well. Our brains register dieting as our bodies suffering from starvation, at which point the body will turn to any possible source of energy to keep functioning. Do you know what muscles contain? A lot of protein, which translates to energy. In an attempt to help your body survive caloric deficiency, your brain signals that it’s time to hold onto existing fat reserves for later, and instead begins to break down muscle mass for energy.
Signs You’re Losing Muscle
If you’re restricting your diet and consistently working out, you may suffer from a lack of stamina or strength. Additionally, if your body is turning to your muscles for energy, your exercise regime may not be providing you with the boost of endorphins you’re used to.
Another sign that your diet is contributing to the loss of muscle versus the loss of fat is the dreaded plateau. If you’ve been consistently losing weight, but suddenly get stuck without seeing any changes to the scale, it’s probably time to rethink your caloric intake. Muscles metabolize faster than fat when you’re working out. This means that you burn more calories when you have more muscle mass to assist you during physical exertion. If your muscles are instead being used to fuel your body (vs fat reserves), you burn fewer calories because you have less muscle mass to spare.
The Diet Alternative
Instead of adhering to rigid food rules, a better alternative is to thoughtfully meal plan and eat intuitively.
In short, intuitive eating means to eat when you’re hungry and to look for cues that signal your body is satiated. Your meal planning can support intuitive eating practices by including a variety of (non-processed) foods, whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian, or omnivore.
Tenets of Intuitive Eating
- Acknowledge signs of hunger and eat when they arise.
- Separate the desire to eat (such as eating to cope with emotion) from the need to eat.
- Refrain from labeling foods as “good,” or “bad.”
- Stay mindful when you eat, noticing what you’re experiencing during a meal or snack (taste, texture, smell, etc…).
- Recognize when you’re no longer hungry and stop eating, even if you still have food left on your plate.
- Exercise to celebrate your body, not to punish yourself for what you’ve eaten.
Should Any Foods Be Restricted?
There are so many conflicting studies about “good” food and “bad” food; how do you know what to believe? It’s up to you to include foods that efficiently fuel your body and enrich your quality of life. You can also consult with a doctor or nutritionist if you believe you may be intolerant or allergic to certain foods. If that’s the case, you may have a legitimate health reason for eliminating or restricting some things in your diet.
You’re probably familiar with some of the most controversial foods and food groups: red meat, sugar, wheat, dairy, alcohol, etc… But are they really a problem when consumed in moderation? Let’s take a look at some findings.
- Total Health and Fitness shares the truth about red meat in an article HERE.
- Healthline reports that enjoying one glass of wine per day offers health benefits (learn about what makes a fine wine HERE).
- Sugar derived from natural sources (i.e. fruit) is necessary for providing energy to our bodies.
- Grain is also an important energy source for our bodies, and it includes beneficial vitamins and minerals.
- Our bones need dairy products for the calcium, vitamin D, and protein they offer.
Of course, you can find the nutrients in the aforementioned food groups from a variety of sources. It may just take some research to find what best aligns with your lifestyle and values. If you do need to eliminate a certain food, be sure you’re getting the benefits elsewhere.
Settling on a Happy Medium
Juggling our wants and needs can be difficult, whether it’s related to our health, our work, or our relationships. Psychology Today shares some insight on why it’s important to find a happy medium in all things: “Optimal levels of adrenaline and cortisol boost your concentration and performance; these hormones protect your body, in direct opposition to an excess of those substances hurting it. When you’re optimally aroused, you’re in flow, you’re on the top of [an] upside-down ‘U,’ and everything is juuust right.”
In contrast, too much of a good thing and you start to slide down the side of that inverted ‘U.’ The luster fades, and stress hormones outweigh the happiness hormones and we no longer derive satisfaction from the experience.
Like Goldilocks, it can be a continual journey of finding what’s just right in our lives. A happy medium is a satisfactory compromise between extremes.