Thursday, May 3, 2012

Can You Be Too Thin?

Can you be too thin? Certainly--but in a day when the average American man and woman weigh 191 and 164 pounds(1), and some athletes have bulked up with steroids, some people have lost perspective of what "too thin" is. Maybe somebody should tell these civic-minded Russians in miniskirts to let a tractor shovel the snow, lest they faint on the sidewalk. Better drop that log! And those clay water jars! That paleo diet is going to kill you! Better take up dainty activity of gardening instead--er, wait...

The pictures show that people can be thin, strong and energetic. Yet my best friend worries about me and my diet because she thinks I'm too thin (even though we both have about the same energy level--and she has health problems that I don't). My mom thinks I'm too thin, too, but she grew up in the thirties and forties, when thinness was associated with malnutrition. "Of the first million men screened by draft boards in 1940," says the article "Wonder Bread" in The Wilson Quarterly on how the USDA got so involved with bread, "at least 13 percent were rejected for reasons relating to malnutrition."(2) (As of the late nineties, "the average military BMI was well into the overweight range."(3))

So what's too thin, really? Unexplained weight loss isn't good, but you already knew that. As long as a person is healthy and feels good, how can they be "too thin"?

First, how's your energy level? Could you shovel snow, go to work or school, chop some wood, do some household chores, read a magazine, play with your kids or pets, and call it a good day? (Even in their 70s and 80s, my grandparents kept a large garden and ran a household with few modern conveniences and no air conditioning in southern Missouri.) How's your strength? Assuming no injuries, even a petite woman should be able to pick up a toddler and move furniture and large appliances by herself. It's not necessarily down to bad diet if you can't do these things, but it's something to consider. You need sufficient protein and other nutrients to build and maintain muscle.

How does your stomach feel? Paleo and low-carb diets tend to improve digestive problems since they eliminate or cut down on wheat and dairy, two common digestive irritants. Gas, bloating and acid reflux are often from too many carbohydrates, or carbohydrates that your particular system doesn't digest well.(4)(5)(6)

How are your skin and teeth doing? Cavities suggest too many carbs and not enough nutrients.(7) They can also be a sign of diabetes.(8) Likewise, certain deficiencies will show up on your skin. My GP suspected I had an iron deficiency because of my pallor (a test proved him right), and I've found that a higher fat diet has made my skin softer and smoother. And it's common knowledge that zinc and vitamin A are needed for good skin health. Not all skin problems are from deficiencies, of course, but being free of cavities and skin problems, to me, suggests good diet.

What about your mood and concentration? Needless to say, if you're thin because you're starving yourself, you'll be in a lousy mood. (And you'll be lowering your metabolism.) This is unscientific, but I've observed that people who starve themselves or eat a lot of flour and sugar tend to overreact to things. Your brain is part of your body, and it needs nutrients to function properly.(9) It sends a clear signal when it lacks nutrients: hunger.

In other words, poor diet, malnourishment and underlying illnesses are problems. But if your thinness doesn't seem to be from any of these things, where's the problem?

1. "Americans Getting Taller, Bigger, Fatter, Says CDC," by Robert Longley,
2. "Wonder Bread," The Wilson Quarterly, April 1, 2012.
3. Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD, page 58. Rodale, 2011.
4. "My GERD is Cured! Low Carb Hits the Mark!" by Lori Miller. Pain, Pain Go Away! March 3, 2010.
5. "Gas Bloating: The Incredible Shrinking Waistband and Exploding Intestines" by Lori Miller. Pain, Pain Go Away! September 25, 2010.
6. "Fodmaps Diet: Why Not DIY?" by Lori Miller. Pain, Pain Go Away! November 9, 2011.
7. "Can Teeth Heal?" by Lori Miller. Pain, Pain Go Away! March 12, 2011.
8. Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution by Richard Bernstein, MD. 
9. "Lousy Mood? It Could be the Food" by Lori Miller. Pain, Pain Go Away! February 7, 2011.


tess said...

:-) of course, it's possible to be too thin -- but it's not very likely for an intelligent woman in the "western" world, who doesn't have an eating disorder. we're just so used to seeing overweight as normal!

Lori Miller said...

I really like being thin, but I wouldn't suffer with constant hunger or give myself health problems for it. Being healthy and energetic should be the goal.