DEAR DR. BLONZ: I find that even with 30 to 60 minutes of strenuous activity a day, I have trouble keeping my weight where I want it. I recently lost 20 pounds and now weigh 125 pounds, but if I were to eat the amount of food needed to supply all the Recommended Daily Allowances, which I assume are required for optimal health, that weight would come back. I also know that recent research shows that restricted caloric intake may actually improve health and extend life expectancy. So this is my question: Is it healthier to be slightly undernourished (not starving) as I am, or to be properly nourished (according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines) but somewhat overweight? -- F.S., Hayward, California
DEAR F.S.: My thoughts are that it is better to be well-nourished (along with being active) and slightly overweight. But I want to point out that the research you mention about caloric restriction and extended life expectancy does not involve any nutritional deficits. Your question needs to be reframed: Undernourishment or being overweight should not be embraced as your only options. Meeting the RDAs need not be a burdensome task.
Those who have been successful at losing weight have experienced the annoying tendency to regain at the slightest provocation. Just looking at food seems to make the numbers on the scale go up. With weight loss, you need to maintain your activity level and stick to a conservative eating pattern to, in effect, establish a new status quo. According to the Calorie Control Calculator (tinyurl.com/pozleth), a moderately active woman weighing 125 pounds needs approximately 1,900 calories per day. There should be no problem meeting your nutrient goals within that allotment.
Eating is one of life's great pleasures, and it makes no sense to get frantic about occasional nutrient lapses. The "R" in RDA stands for "recommended," not "mandatory." If you happen to fall short of your RDA every now and then, your body is not going to degenerate into a slab of broken bones or a mass of oxidized flesh. Just as it does with calories during a diet, the body becomes more efficient at nutrient conservation during times of disease, famine or nutrient inadequacy.
Know the good foods that your body needs, and keep your nutritional house in order as best you can. Healthful eating involves a plant-based diet that is rich in fruits and has plenty of greens and other vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and dairy products, and an occasional meal with low-fat meat products. I have written an aisle-by-aisle guide of the best choices at the market, and it is online at no charge (goo.gl/ZDHHs5).
A helpful strategy is to have some nutrient-rich power foods in your diet. For example, a vitamin/mineral-fortified whole-grain cereal is a great way to start the day. You can opt for some blended vegetable juice instead of a diet soda, and some fresh fruit and nuts instead of chips. A cup of yogurt provides a calcium boost. Have a green salad with carrots and other fresh vegetables with one of your daily meals. For those on a weight-loss regimen in which fewer foods are eaten, or if there are special needs, it is reasonable to take a dietary supplement to help bolster the intake of certain nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.