What happens when … you try a fad diet
The Master Cleanse and other restrictive weight-loss plans seem to have become more popular than ever. But let me fill you in on something: After a few days of massively scaling back food intake, your metabolism starts to plummet. That’s because your brain senses that there isn’t enough food coming in. It tells your body to cling desperately to the fat stores it already has, and starts burning lean muscle tissue for fuel—two things that ultimately increase your percentage of body fat. After several days on a very low-calorie diet, levels of omega-3 fats in your brain can fall as well. Around 30 percent of the brain is made up of these fats, and without enough of them, you may be more prone to depression.
How to help your body: The healthiest, most effective way to lose weight is to eat small, balanced meals and snacks every few hours so your brain never goes into that starvation panic mode, and to never, ever drop below 1,200 calories a day.
What happens when … you skimp on sleep
After even one night of four hours’ sleep instead of eight, you’ll feel crankier and generally “down.” You’ll have more difficulty processing complex information, and you’ll want to eat more—specifically simple carbs like sweets. Why? Your body wants a quick energy fix any way it can get it. When you don’t get enough rest, your body also produces less growth hormone, a substance that helps tissues regenerate and repair themselves, keeping you younger longer.
How to help your body: The exact amount of rest your body needs is very personal, but, on average, I recommend women get no fewer than seven hours. Men are a bit needier (as you probably already knew). They have to get closer to eight.
What happens when … you eat a fatty meal
Once a bacon cheeseburger gets into your system, the saturated and trans fats cause blood vessels to constrict. They stay that way for about four hours—boosting blood pressure and reducing blood flow and oxygen supply. And here’s the kicker: As soon as those tough four hours are up, it’s time for your next meal; choose another fatty one, and the cycle happens again. Someone who eats this way most days is almost always walking around with tightened arteries—a prescription for heart disease.
How to help your body: To feel your best and live longer, make high-fat splurges like this the exception, not the rule.
What happens when … you have a glass of wine
Piles of studies have linked light drinking—whether it’s wine, beer or the hard stuff—to a healthier heart. One study illuminated the possible reason: After one drink (4 ounces of wine or 1.5 of liquor, not a glass the size of a soup bowl), your blood vessels relax. That’s a good thing, but having a second drink stresses your circulatory system. And it’s worth noting that men have more of an alcohol-digesting enzyme in their stomach than women do. More of the alcohol you drink gets into your bloodstream than it does for men, making you drunker quicker. Once boozed-up blood hits your brain, your reaction time and your ability to process information slow. And your liver gets pulled away from its work of clearing out toxins to focus on neutralizing the alcohol. Research suggests that alcohol may be two to three times riskier for a woman’s liver than a man’s, even when they drink the same amount.
How to help your body: You’re far better off having a glass of wine a day than having none all week and then seven on Saturday night.
What happens when … you kiss someone
Touching a person you love sets off powerful reactions in the body. One study by Swiss researchers found that young women who got brief shoulder rubs from their partners before a stressful event had lower heart rates and levels of stress hormones than women who didn’t get massages. Touching also triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that boosts feelings of closeness and can reduce the perception of pain. All of this happens whether you kiss, cuddle, hold hands or have sex. I say do them all more often. How’s that for a doctor’s order?
What happens when … you overdo it on caffeine
Minutes after you slug back a jumbo java, the caffeine begins to take effect. When you get more than about 250 milligrams (the equivalent of about three 8-ounce cups of coffee) in a couple of hours, your body pumps out stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol, which increase heart rate, tense muscles and push blood pressure higher. Yes, the surge makes your brain more alert, but if you overdo it, you’re apt to experience a crash later.
How to help your body: To get the most out of your caffeine buzz, have small amounts throughout the day, and keep your total to around 400 milligrams. Just don’t sip it after 3:00 P.M. or it’ll disrupt your sleep.
What happens when … you go for a jog
You may have heard a recent report that exercise does not help you lose weight. It’s a juicy story that makes the rounds every couple of years, but I’m here to tell you: Cardio exercise like jogging, biking, running or fast walking will help you lose weight. I’ve seen it in the research, I’ve seen it in my patients—and I’ve seen it in myself! Aside from all that, it’s good for your entire body and mind. Lace up your sneakers and head out for a jog: Right away, more blood flows to your muscles, and they start working more efficiently. As you continue to work out, you’ll strengthen the muscle fibers in your heart, too. Then the feel-good endorphins you always hear about begin flowing, putting you in a more positive, happy mood. When all this happens regularly, your risk for heart problems and cancer drops. Bonus: Your metabolism will stay high for a few hours after—so you’ll be burning more calories just soaping up in the shower.
How to help your body: Quite simply, exercise is the most powerful drug I’ve ever seen. Get your fix three times a week at least.
What happens when … you stub your toe
I know—even though it’s just a toe, it kills. Same thing with other minor injuries, like paper cuts. Research suggests you actually have more pain receptors on your skin than a man does, so you literally feel more pain. That said, I find that women have a higher pain tolerance. (Men—especially young men—are wimps! Believe me, they’re the worst group of people to do surgery on.) It’s a coping mechanism that developed largely to help women endure the pain of childbirth (long before the miracle of epidurals, of course).
How to help your body: You’re probably already doing the right thing: Rubbing an owie makes it feel better by stimulating nerves around the injury and sort of distracting your brain. (And go ahead and yowl—a study found cursing may help.
What happens when … you’re stressed
Let’s say your boss calls you into her office and says she has bad news. Wham! Your body’s stress response kicks in and the hormones cortisol and epinephrine flow, making your mind hyperalert and speeding up breathing and blood pressure—all to get you ready to either flee the scene or fight whatever danger you’re facing. Once your brain senses that things are OK and you’re not going to be swallowed by a bear—or, in this case, canned—things return to normal. In small doses, this isn’t a terrible thing, but when acute stresses become chronic—say, you’re forced to work late every day for weeks or you’re going through a divorce—cortisol levels get stuck on high, and your body, heart and mind never fully relax. That kind of chronic stress increases your risk of heart disease, depresses your immune system (and mood) and causes headaches, back pain, breakouts, even weight gain. I can look at a woman’s belly and know how hectic her life is—cortisol overload causes your body to lay down fat, particularly around your middle.
How to help your body: Want a double-whammy cure? Exercise. You’ll burn off fat and reduce the stress overload that leads to belly pooch. Even just a 10-minute brisk walk can make a difference.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is the director of the Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. His new, nationally syndicated TV program, "The Dr. Oz Show," started airing in September.
What Your Body Says About Your Health