I recently had lunch with an old friend whom I had not seen in over a year. We met at a quaint locally owned restaurant and enjoyed a great afternoon together. When Lucy, now aged 50, arrived, she was as lovely as ever, dressed in the latest fashion, and perfectly manicured. Her 5’5″ frame was thin and she turned heads as she confidently walked through the restaurant to meet me at our table.
We caught up on family stories, career successes and challenges, vacations and past memories. Then Lucy stated that the reason she invited me to lunch; she needed a new outlook on life. For the past many months, Lucy had not been well. She developed symptoms that indicated that she may have Multiple Sclerosis: muscle weakness, balance and coordination challenges, fatigue, memory loss and disorientation and strange sensations in her hands and feet. A recent diagnosis, revealed, however that she did not have MS, but rather a very severe Vitamin D and B12 deficiency.
Lucy had always been naturally thin and as she aged, staying thin was not as easy as it had been for the majority of her life. For that reason, she began limiting her diet and excluding many important nutrients needed for neurological and muscular health. She incorrectly believed that she needed to cut the majority of the calories out of her diet to be “thin.” She eliminated animal protein sources such as fish, poultry and beef. She lost weight and was encouraged by this early success. The weight loss was caused by loss of muscle mass, not fat loss. She had heard that grains caused weight gain and she eliminated all cereals, breads and pastas from her diet. She lost even more weight. Finally she eliminated all dairy from her diet because she had heard that high fat in dairy caused weight gain as well as cardiovascular disease. To her pleasure, she was back to her 25 year old “pre-wedding” weight. Unfortunately, her extreme diet caused serious deficiencies resulting in serious symptoms.
There are some nuggets of truth in Lucy’s thinking with regards to animal protein, carbohydrates and dairy. Her downfall was her extreme lifestyle change without consideration of nutrition. A better health option for weight loss success would have been a decrease in calories, perhaps from dairy (whole milk cheeses, ice cream, butter), fatty meats (thick steaks and sauce-ladened chicken), and prepackaged carbohydrates (crackers, pretzels, cookies) AND an increase in physical activity. Eliminating or decreasing the consumption of high calorie foods, which are generally high in fat or sugar content, not only provides weight loss, but also improves overall health. Eliminating entire food groups eliminates intake of essential nutrients putting the body at risk for serious health problems.
My recommendations for Lucy? First and foremost, counteract the vitamin deficiency with a nutrient rich diet! Expanding her diet to include a variety of nutrient-rich foods will provide vitamins and mineral needed for body systems function while providing the necessary carbohydrates and fats for energy and protein for tissue repair. The implementation of an outdoor walking program will increase her access to the Vitamin D rich sun while increasing her caloric expenditure. Adding 2-3 days of functional strength training that include a minimum of one set of exercises per body part will improve her muscular strength, coordination, balance, and endurance. Adding vitamin and mineral supplementation at the suggestion of her physician will help reverse and will prevent nutrient deficiency.
Moral of the story: Eat a variety of food types that are rich in vitamins and minerals, and avoid high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie options.