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Fragility - the health nut edition


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OK, this is totally speculative and probably highly silly, but distracting enough (at least to me!) during this enforced lockdown.

I have speculated on and off, idly, about whether being a health nut doesn't actually make me more fragile. It sounds - and probably is! - very silly, but hear me out. I've noticed that many of my friends in the approximate same age group, drink alcohol, have feasts and engage in all kinds of physically "risky" behavior, and that if I ever attempted any of those, I'd be down for the count in no time at all. I have pretty much stopped drinking the last few months - except rarely, socially - and I used to take in 1-2 glasses of wine 4-5 times a week. Nowadays, I can "feel" *one* glass of wine. I feel quite sick and out of sorts with extremely minimal departures from my diet, sometimes as absurd as switching my breakfast/lunch content with my dinner content. Back in the day, even a couple of years ago, when I was less strict with my diet insofar as I had no issue departing from my diet on little notice for a special occasion or even a few weeks during vacation. Today, that might have more dire consequences. Skipping exercise feels - at least subjectively - as if I lose conditioning faster. Not long ago, I could stop exercising for a couple of weeks (say, following doctor's orders after dental surgery etc.), and then resume without feeling the least deconditioned. These days if I miss a week, it feels, subjectively as if it's a bit of a tougher workout the following session.

Now, all this might be just the consequence of aging. But then, my ad-lib friends carry on with no issues - drinking amounts that would put me in a grave - eating meals that would land me in the hospital etc. So I formed a theory, that UNLESS you depart from your healthy living practices from time to time, as in effect a kind of hormesis, you are actually making yourself more fragile and vulnerable to failure - your body is simply unused to dealing with these minor insults - you are too protected and unchallenged.

What I've noticed is that in the past - before this feeling of fragility appeared - I did engage in such hormetic breaks from my regular diet/exercise regimen. But for a variety of reasons, mostly accidental, I've been pretty strict the past couple of years - and I now suspect, the worse for it.

I know this sounds silly - how can sticking closely to healthy behaviors make me more fragile. But if hormesis as a concept is valid, perhaps your body requires to be challenged. Ultimately, the benefits of for example exercise are the downstream effects of hormesis; exercise is an "insult", "damage", "challenge" - and the repair mechanism that kicks in response is what ultimately is overall beneficial. So therefore if you avoid all exercise because after all, exercise is "damage", you are worse off. So perhaps here - if you avoid all dietary and lifestyle challenges, because they're "insults", you are similarly depriving yourself of the benefits of repair, and thus overall you become more fragile. 

What do you guys think? Is it completely bonkers?

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In some contexts hormesis is undoubtedly real. But could your sense of increased fragility be in large part an understandable consequence of the heightened stress we all face at the moment? Do you have actual evidence of you being more fragile, as opposed to just less tolerant of things that are behaviorally avoidable, like alcohol and unhealthy foods?

I'm no (medical) doctor, but your sense of being "quite sick" from simply switching your meals around sound like it might be more psychosomatic than actual illness. 


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I think too much rigidity is unhealthy in most cases and likely Dean is right in this case. Perhaps your mind is punishing you for "sinning" against what it feels you should be doing.

But absent something else, it's also unlikely to be actual fragility, at least not in such a short span. In the long run, we are getting more fragile as we age and I guess it's the price we pay for hanging on long enough.

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Well, it's more a feeling than any hard facts/outcomes. Possibly I'm imagining things, but anyhow, I've upped my exercise intensity just in case. I still wonder though, if occasional departures from the diet might not be salutary - what if occasionally, consuming, say, saturated fat, might not be a hormetic? Or anything else for that matter. Exposure to allergens in small doses might be protective against allergies. What about the hygiene hypothesis wrt. development of asthma - and probably other disorders. Nobody doubts the amazing contribution of hygiene to the health of humanity - yet scrupulously avoiding any hint of "dirt" proves counterproductive. Why isn't the same true of diet? Never consuming meat, SFA, sugar, alcohol, etc. - what if that's a form of hormesis too? Obviously the dose makes the poison. Indulging constantly is obviously deleterious. Avoiding totally might however be suboptimal. I still think occasionally about the supercentenarians and their generally moderate and not extreme diets/exercise. In any case, I think I'll go back to *occasionally* having a piece of cake or a glass of wine. Even if it does nothing for me healthwise - or even slightly worse - it might be a boost in QOL.

Edited by TomBAvoider
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Haha, thank you for making me feel better about my lapses. 

I lapse every time I eat at a restaurant, which is roughly twice a week or so. It's virtually unavoidable at restaurants, even vegan ones, there is so much salt and fat, and sugar in restaurant food. And there is the alcohol, and if you drink cocktails, there is enough sugar and salt in some to last me for a year (which is why I stick mostly to wine).

I figure it's fine, as long as I don't overdo it. But I definitely don't feel it's making me "stronger" or healthier :)

Edited by Ron Put
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Well, you might be surprised. What if it indeed is making you stronger? I was very much like you wrt. eating at restaurants and generally being off diet while traveling - although perhaps not as frequently as you seem to indulge. Mine was more along the lines of once a month or every two months if an interesting restaurant openend or was especially insitently invited etc.

I might go back to that practice. And I'm convinced that there is a whole lot we don't know as yet - even if it's unlikely, it wouldn't totally shock me if these occasional excursions into the ad-lib life were not ultimately beneficial for health (including mental health!). YMMV.

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