Slimness is good in our culture at the moment. The overweight are regarded as lazy, slothful and even morally doubtful. Whereas those who are slim are regarded as active, positive and good. (Examining these value judgements about work being good and recreation as bad would be the subject for another blog). So slimness is seen as healthy.

BUT, Dale Atrens has written a book, called “Don’t DietDon't Diet”, showing that the scientific evidence for slimness is far from unanimous.

Some studies even show that being slightly (emphasis on the slightly) overweight is healthier.

His case is, roughly speaking, that fitness has been confused with slimness (the fit may be slimmer, but the slimmer aren’t necessarily fit). Dale’s answer is to find out what you really enjoy and you’ll probably have a healthy diet.
BUT, this answer isn’t based on scientific evidence either.

Roy Walford (see his “Maximum Lifespan” or one of his other books) points out that in a series of experiments on a whole range of animals ‘undernutrition’ leads to an extension of lifespan. There are experiments going on with monkeys at the moment.

BUT, this is severe calorie restriction, way below what is recommended for any diet and, as Roy points out, there is no way on such a restricted diet to get all the nutrients required for health. It is unlikely to be attractive or viable for those living a usual life.

There have been reports of long-lived populations, and obesity was quite rare in these populations. The Russian (not American) Georgians are the most famous. BUT, it turned out that these people had put up their ages for various reasons. They were certainly healthier than many in the West, reportedly riding horses was usual for 90 year olds.
BUT this fell well short of what had been claimed (120-150 years).

So is it all fakery? No, we now know that there is at least one population of people who live much longer than normal – the Okinawans. And they have good records, so no faking is involved. And yes they eat quite lightly and remain quite slim. The details are given in “The Okinawa Program: How the World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health–and How You Can TooThe Okinawa Program (by Bradley J. Willcox, D. Craig Willcox, and Makoto Suzuki).

BUT, there is more than diet involved: the lifestyle of the long-lived involves strong family ties, physical exercise (often including a martial art – the Okinawans invented karate), respect for the aged, as well as diet. Some people say that this means it is not applicable to modern western life, my opinion is that it shows the modern western lifestyle is unhealthy.

So to live long and healthy:

  • it is good to eat less (starting with the traditional Chinese advice to eat until 70% full is a good place to start),
  • it is good to have enjoyable relationships
  • and it is god to have a place for exercise in your life.

It means a different way of life, but we can get there through lots of small steps – and after each one we will feel healthier.

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