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Dr. Willie T. Ong (Internist-Cardiologist)

How often have you heard someone say, “I’m so full I can’t eat another bite?” Unfortunately, although the stomach may appear satisfied, this “all-you-can-eat” habit may actually reduce one’s lifespan.

 Eating less may be the new secret to prolonging life. One piece of evidence comes from the people living in Okinawa Island, Japan, which boasts of having one of the longest life spans worldwide. Many Okinawans live up to over 100 years old.         

What’s their secret? The Okinawans eat only until they’re partially full, just enough so they won’t go hungry.

Several studies have shown that overweight people don’t live as long as normal weight or even slightly underweight individuals. Just take a look. How many healthy overweight people over-80 years olds do you know? Most of these individuals already have long-standing cases of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Eating Less To Live More:

You might ask, “How can eating less food lead to more life?” Although this concept, at first, seems hard to believe, studies done on animals and humans seem to prove this theory. Studies done in rats, monkeys, fish and even microscopic yeast, show that semi-starved animals live as much as 50% longer than their overweight and fully-fed counterparts. The thinner animals also have less diabetes, cancer, heart and brain disease.

More importantly, initial human studies have come to the same conclusion. A pilot study in 2006, enrolled 48 subjects to either a normal diet or a 25% reduced calorie diet, for over six months. The researchers are trying to see if food restriction (less caloric intake) can slow down the aging process. Results show that the low calorie group had lower bad cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance.

This study has been featured in numerous articles, including TIME magazine. One participant is quoted as saying, “I feel better, lighter and healthier. But if it could help you live longer, that would be pretty amazing.”

A two-year larger study (acronym of CALERIE) called the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy at Tufts University in Boston, is in the works.

What could possibly be the reason why eating less seems to be beneficial to the body? Some experts have theorized that being slightly hungry may act as a mild stressor that makes us stronger and more resistant to disease. Less food may also mean less waste products and toxic materials stored in the body. Eating less may also possibly slow down one’s metabolism, which could delay the aging process.

Problems With Eating Too Much:

Although we’re not sure why eating less may be beneficial, we do know that eating in excess is definitely bad. Obviously, the body needs to work doubly harder to digest the food.

Blood sugar levels will also rise steeply with a large food intake. If you eat too much meat, this can also lead to the generation of more toxic substances called “free radicals,” which may cause cancer.

 An Asian disease, called Bangungot syndrome, has been attributed to an inflammation of the pancreas, which has been linked to overeating at night.

On the other hand, if you eat just enough or around 10-20% less than your usual food intake, your body can obtain several health benefits. Your blood pressure, blood sugar level and cholesterol level will most likely decrease. Losing weight can also make you less prone to arthritis and other diseases.

High Nutrient, Low Calorie Diet:

The concept of eating less is not the same as starving yourself and being deficient in nutrients. The secret lies in eating foods with a high nutrition content but are relatively lower in calories. This means eating healthier foods.

For example, take more vegetables, fruits, fish, beans and soy products. Eggs, wheat bread and high-fiber cereals are acceptable, too.

Try to avoid eating too much beef, pork, sugary beverages and desserts. Limit eating foods with a high fat and high sugar content, such as candies, gravies, creams and icings.

White rice can be reduced and replaced with healthy vegetables like cabbage, kangkong, bean sprouts, cabbage and broccoli. If you usually take two cups of rice, reduce this to one cup. If you’re eating a cup of rice, reduce this to two-thirds cup.

A concurrent advice to eating less is to eat more often, preferably five to six times a day. This strategy won’t make you fat if you will stick to smaller meals. A banana, an apple or a piece of bread can already constitute as a meal. By eating less and more often, your blood sugar will not rise as high. Eating less is also gentler to your body and may help you live longer.

In fact, according to Dr. Marc Hellerstein, a nutritionist at the University of California, Berkeley “Calorie restriction is pretty much the only thing out there that we know will not just prevent disease but also extend maximal life span.”

So, no more second servings, no more all-you-can-eat buffets, and no more huge mounds of rice. Let’s learn to eat a bit less, if we want to live more.

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