2022 is going to be my year. How many of us have started the year with this carpe diem attitude? And does anyone start a new year without at least one health-related resolution? Be it eating more mindfully, clocking in more hours of sleep, hitting the gym regularly or digital detox, we all have at least one item on our list to be ticked off. While it is fantastic you are thinking about a better lifestyle, did you stop to think that you’re maybe overthinking? Perhaps good health isn’t all we make it out to be?
Eating right and being in shape has become all that many people can think of—shopping organic, googling healthy recipes, measuring ingredients, counting calories, the works. It may seem like they are on the path to eating right and taking care of their health. However, if extreme, all these can indicate an eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa. Ortho- is Greek for straight or right, and -orexis means appetite. Even when people aren’t restricting their food intake, they significantly limit their food choices if they are obsessed with eating healthy.
Every day we are bombarded with advice on what not to eat, confusing people significantly. An orthorexic often finds himself perusing dietary guidelines extensively, poring over research articles and adopting specific diets in an attempt to stay healthy. With these diets comes many food groups' restriction (think wheat, rice, and protein-rich lentils). While we expect such a person to be at the top of their health, these self-imposed restrictions often result in deficiencies. Add to this the constant stress of stepping out of line and eating one of the ‘banned’ foods, and the person is riddled with anxiety. Eating a single meal at a restaurant could cause unnecessary stress merely because they don’t know how it was cooked. These people often go to extreme lengths in food preparation and have difficulty at social gatherings.
Even though there are no psychiatric guidelines to diagnose orthorexia, your doctor can pick it up based on your unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Treatment would include anti-anxiety medications, exposure and response prevention (exposing the patient to the situation repeatedly reduces the stress it can cause) and relaxation exercises.
Six pack abs
Do you think that the fat on both your plate or your tummy is terrible? It turns out you’re mistaken. Our body requires a certain percentage of stored fat to function optimally. A minimum of 10-15% is required for males and 15-20% for females. Fat is not some useless tissue with the purpose of making you look unattractive. It is metabolically active tissue that produces hormones, adds to your immunity, protects your internal organs, provides stability to your skin and regulates body temperature.
If you tend to exercise at an intensity or duration that makes you prone to injury or eat a diet that requires you to skip fats (an essential macronutrient) and gorge on proteins (which can contribute to high uric acid) to get a chiselled look, you are harming your body. In the quest for a six-pack, which also includes often curbing salt and water, you may end up even causing irreparable kidney damage.
If I haven’t convinced you yet not to pursue the six-pack, remember that your testosterone (male hormone) production takes a hit when your fat percentage drops so low. So, tread carefully. It is not very different for women either. The calorie restriction and extreme workouts required for a six-pack can disrupt menstrual cycles in women.
Early to bed early to rise does not make an adolescent healthy or wise
This adage has been disproved by science multiple times. Puberty causes many changes in the growing child’s body, alterations to the biological clock being one of them. Wanting to sleep late and be in bed till the sun is well up is not a sign of laziness but a natural development. As they mature, most people’s body clock starts to turn back, making early nights and early morning much more accessible and a habit as the years pass.
While the decision to push the starting time of schools will depend on the policymakers, the American Medical Association has already recommended that schools should not start before 8.30 in the morning. And if your tween is on vacation, let them sleep in. Let them sleep in till the eleventh hour.
10,000 steps and eight glasses of water is your golden ticket to health
A Japanese company made a pedometer right after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This step counter was named (arbitrarily) Manpo-Kei, which means 10,000 steps meter. The 10k steps a day phenomenon is among the many health crazes of the noughties, and a closer look at the benefits by the scientific committee has led to the conclusion that 7000 steps are as beneficial as 10,000. The fact remains that our prolonged sitting is what causes all the lifestyle diseases. An active lifestyle with or without a pedometer is what is going to keep you healthy. An over anxiety over the number of steps displayed on your pedometer will increase your stress hormone- cortisol- making weight loss that much more difficult.
Like the 10 k steps, the eight glasses of water is also an urban myth. While living in air-conditioned rooms might not permit us to follow our natural thirst to drink up water, thirst is still a pretty good indicator of how much we need to drink. And in the name of hydration, drinking sports drinks to fulfil the 2-litre quota could be unnecessarily revving up your brain, causing insomnia and adding to the sugar burden in your body. These drinks are filled with caffeine for boosting athletic performance and simple sugars that can wreak havoc in your bloodstream by causing a sugar spike and eventually a sugar crash.
Dr Farah Adam Mukadam is a Bengaluru-based family physician and author of Newborns and New Moms. She vlogs on Instagram and YouTube as Dr Farah_Momstein