Nutrition & Physical Activity

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My friend constantly worries about her weight — how can I get her to stop?

Dear Want to help,

It can be difficult to hear someone you care about constantly putting her or himself down. Your best friend's constant remarks about weight indicate that she feels uneasy about herself. She may be looking for validation to feel better about her body, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, you may not be able to change the way your best friend sees herself, regardless of how many times you tell her she's not fat. You can, however, provide support in several different ways. This may help your friend on her path to seeing herself in a better light. Here are some suggestions:

  • Express yourself. Let your friend know how her constant worrying impacts you. Does it make you sad or stress you out? Are you concerned that her preoccupation with her weight may be impacting other parts of her life? Letting her know these things may motivate her to look at how her behavior is affecting those around her and, most importantly, her own well-being.
  • Model positive behavior. Make an effort to stop talking about diets and "imperfect" body parts. Challenge media images that unrealistically portray women — to yourself and out loud with your family and friends.
  • Be positive and encourage your friend to do the same. Ask her what she likes about herself. Too often people focus on the negative aspects of their bodies and personalities. Rarely do people tell themselves how much they love their bodies or focus on all the amazing things their bodies can do.    
  • Encourage her to seek support. Speaking with a counselor or meeting with a support group may help her deal with her issues in a healthy manner. Columbia students can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC).

Remember, your friend's issues likely go much deeper than the surface. The way a person views her or his body affects self-esteem. A person with high self-esteem has high self-worth and a positive self-image. People with low self-esteem are very critical about themselves. Low self-esteem can have a whole host of negative consequences, including being more at risk of developing eating disorders. Those with severe body image issues may benefit from using antidepressants or cognitive behavior therapy.

Overall, your willingness to help and active seeking out of information is a great start. While your friend's constant questioning may seem pesky, she may be dealing with much greater issues. So equip yourself with knowledge and a positive attitude — she may follow in your footsteps!


Girlfriend with Celiac disease

Dear Boyfriend,

What a better way to show your support than to become educated! Celiac disease leads to malabsorption of nutrients and abnormal immune reactions to gluten (a protein in wheat, rye, and barley). Celiac disease works by damaging or destroying villi when gluten is consumed or used in a product. Celiac disease is genetic, meaning it runs in families. Therefore, people who have Celiac disease in their family may want to get tested. The disease affects approximately 1 out of every 133 people.

The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. In other words, a person with celiac disease should not eat most grains, pasta, cereal, and many processed foods. Gluten is also used in some medications, vitamins, and even lip balm. Therefore, it is important that people with Celiac speak with a pharmacist to see if prescribed medications contain wheat.  Even if a person doesn’t have symptoms, s/he should still completely avoid gluten in order to prevent damage to the intestines and long-term problems.

It is highly important to diagnose this disease because without treatment, people with Celiac can develop complications such as osteoporosis, anemia, and cancer. Although Celiac disease may affect people in different ways, common symptoms of Celiac disease in adults include:

  • Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Bone loss or osteoporosis
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Tingling numbness in the hands and feet
  • Seizures
  • In women, missed menstrual periods, infertility, or recurrent miscarriage
  • Canker sores inside the mouth
  • An itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

So what’s for dinner? A gluten-free diet could include potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour instead of wheat flour. There are also gluten-free breads, pastas, and other products that are labeled "gluten-free." Corn tortillas, rice cake, popcorn, crackers made of rice or corn, rice, pasta made from rice, flax, quinoa, buckwheat are also fine. While oats may not be harmful for most Celiacs, it is best to avoid oat products as they are frequently contaminated with wheat. Also, most gluten-free grain products aren't supplemented with vitamins, so it is important for Celiacs to take a vitamin supplement. Speaking with a registered dietitian can help you and your lady friend come up with delicious and suitable meals. There are also a variety of cookbooks and blogs that cater to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Creating a supportive environment can definitely make life easier for a person with Celiac disease. Here are some tips for you to help your girlfriend manage her health:

  • Provide emotional support.Being diagnosed as a Celiac may be a difficult, life-changing experience. Eating, grocery shopping, going to restaurants, and traveling may become much more challenging — even overwhelming. Therefore, it is extremely important to be gentle, patient, and understanding.
  • Do your research.Asking Go Ask Alice! was a great first step! Continue to stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of Celiac disease. You can also educate yourself on how to make delicious, gluten-free dinners.
  • Remember, wheat-free doesn’t mean gluten-free.There are a whole bunch of products available that are wheat-free but not gluten-free. While someone with a wheat allergy could potentially eat these products, those with Celiac cannot.
  • Be aware of hidden gluten. You may want to call or email food companies for clarification on a product’s ingredients.
  • Understand that even cross-contamination can be dangerous.For a person with Celiac disease, even the tiniest crumb can cause symptoms. Ideally, a person with Celiac will live in a gluten-free household. This eliminates any chance of accidental contamination. If this isn’t possible, the next best option is to keep foods containing gluten in a separate area of the kitchen, and using different pots, pans, cutting boards and utensils to prepare.

For more information, you may want to check out Celiac Disease Foundation and the related questions below. Here’s to health and happiness — for both of you!


How to help a roommate with an eating disorder

Dear For future reference,

Living with someone who has an eating disorder can be incredibly stressful. It is certain that others, similar to yourself, notice unusual eating patterns among friends, loved ones, roommates, partners, etc. that they later learned were signs of an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.

Your helping strategies depend on whether or not this is an emergency situation. If this were an emergency situation, for instance, the person is blacking out, losing significant amounts of weight, sleeping all day, and/or expressing suicidal thoughts or attempts, then do not try to deal with the situation politely or gently. Tell your resident advisor (RA), residence hall director (GA), or someone else who can help to get the assistance and support you need to intervene. If you are at Columbia on the Morningside campus, you can call Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at 212-854-2878 or Medical Services at 212-854-2284 for an appointment. CUMC students can contact the Mental Health Service or Medical Services at 212-305-3400. Morningside students can also use Open Communicator to make a primary care appointment. If this were an extreme emergency, you would need to call your campus's volunteer ambulance service, if there is one at your school, which should come with security. If you are at Columbia, you can call CU-EMS, Columbia University's Emergency Medical Service, at 212-854-5555.

If this were not an emergency situation, a good roommate or friend may be the best person to express concern and get her to help. You can choose to speak with your roommate directly, or you can do things that are less direct — such as place pamphlets about eating disorders around the common living areas; you can attend a seminar or workshop on eating disorders, body image, or healthy eating and invite your roommate to come with you; or, set up an appointment with a mental health provider to discuss ways to help your roommate.

If you choose to speak with your roommate directly, pick a time to talk when you are feeling calm and both of you have plenty of time. Choose a time and place where you will not be interrupted. Start off by keeping your observations away from food or her body, and on her non-appearance oriented traits — such as what a good roommate or person she is and/or how much you care about her. Focus on expressing your concern by conveying your observations about her health or behaviors. Tell her that you are worried. Make sure she knows you value her and highlight for her the qualities in her you appreciate.

If your roommate seems receptive to your thoughts, you can mention the following things in your conversation:

What you see that makes you think there is a problem: Be specific about what you see regarding her eating, purging, exercising, or starving behaviors. Your observations, rather than evidence of wrongdoing, can be discussed gently if you focus on your concern. Stick to the issue — if she changes the subject, ask her when would be a better time to talk.
How you feel: Use "I" statements to express your feelings about what's happening to your roommate: "I'm upset because I've noticed that you don't eat meals with us anymore," or "I'm concerned because you complain about how fat you are all the time. I think there's something wrong."

What you would like to see happen: Make sure that your goals for the conversation are attainable. Your goal is NOT to stop her from bingeing, purging, or starving. You would most likely end up in an ineffective control battle. A realistic goal is simply to open the door to talk, either now or in the future, and to encourage her to take steps to get the help she needs and deserves.

This may be a difficult conversation, and you can try to keep it from becoming an argument. For example, if you become upset, ask if you can continue the conversation at another time. Also realize that your roommate may need to hear your worry several times before she's willing to have a conversation with you about it.

Remember, regardless of her reaction, you can know that you've tried to help her. She's lucky to have you as a roomie.


Weight loss camps?

Dear Weight conscious,

Feeling like life is passing you by or “putting off” your life can be a discouraging feeling for anyone. Here’s something to consider: If you lose all the weight you want to lose, what would your life look like? What would you be doing that you aren’t currently doing? Can you begin to do some of these things now? Following your heart and doing things you truly love today may help you feel better about tomorrow. And, that just might provide you with more motivation to accomplish your weight loss goals.

Now, let’s talk more about your specific question. Unfortunately, free weight loss camps are hard to come by, and may not even exist. However, if you're willing to think outside the box a little, you may be able to find a short-term physically active job that can help get you moving. For example, you could look into a program such as WWOOF, which places people who want to volunteer on organic farms with small organic farmers around the world. In addition to requiring volunteers to contribute physical labor, many of these opportunities provide one or more meals per day of healthy, farm-fresh foods for their working volunteers. And besides being a great work out, these programs offer a great opportunity for adventure!

Now back to the more traditional residential weight loss programs. Some are helpful, whereas others are simply moneymaking ventures. A sound weight loss program addresses three key issues: controlling calorie intake, changing problematic food habits, and increasing physical activity. Specifically, look for the following characteristics in a weight loss program:

  • The program's diet plan should meet nutritional needs, even though you are eating fewer calories. This means following guidelines like those at, which emphasize healthy and balanced eating.
  • The program should stress gradual, rather than rapid, weight loss. Look for a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
  • The program's plan should be adaptable to habits and tastes. No rigid rituals should be required.
  • The program's plan should minimize hunger and fatigue while ideally supplying at least 1500 kilocalories a day for men and 1200 for women. Any lower calorie regimens should provide either fortified foods or a vitamin and mineral supplement.
  • The program doesn't have to be expensive to be helpful to you.
  • The program should help reshape lifestyle and problem eating habits to make weight loss and, later, maintenance possible.
  • The program should improve overall health. It should emphasize regular physical activity, proper rest, stress reduction, and other healthy lifestyle changes.

You can also make changes on your own to incorporate physical activity and healthier eating into your everyday life. Some tips are:

  • Plan out your meals in advance. Be sure to include a variety of foods (like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein) in each meal. Planning in advance will help you to avoid any impulsive, less healthy choices.
  • Start a food journal. Do you frequently crave a fatty or sugary snack around the same time each day? Do you tend to skip meals, and then overeat later on? Keeping track of what you eat and how much may help you identify where you could make healthier choices.
  • Slowly initiate physical activity. Try starting with a 10-15 minute walk a few times a week and gradually work your way up to 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days.
  • Work in physical activity throughout the day. Using a slightly farther away parking space, bus stop, or subway station; taking the stairs when possible; and stretching or walking around the office as a short break from work are all possibilities.
  • Enlist the help of friends and family. Have a regular weeknight tennis match with a friend. Practice cooking healthy with your family.

For more tips on exercise and healthier eating, check out the Nutrition and Physical Activity section in the Go Ask Alice! archives. You may want to speak with a nutritionist (if you're at Columbia, login to Open Communicator or call x4-2284 to make an appointment); or, contact a registered dietitian in your area for a weight loss camp or program recommendation that will work for you. These providers can help you find affordable, convenient suggestions for successful weight loss.

Good luck!


May 17, 2012

Another idea is to work at weight loss camp. They hire counselors and a 23 year old is the perfect age to do it. They make counselors sign diet contracts so they eat the same way as the campers,...
Another idea is to work at weight loss camp. They hire counselors and a 23 year old is the perfect age to do it. They make counselors sign diet contracts so they eat the same way as the campers, and a counselor could lose a ton of weight while making a positive impact on children. Good luck!

November 9, 2004

Dear Alice,

Another option that you might check into would be hiking/backpacking/bicycling trips in national parks, or other such trips sponsored by outdoorsy groups (Sierra Club, National...

Dear Alice,

Another option that you might check into would be hiking/backpacking/bicycling trips in national parks, or other such trips sponsored by outdoorsy groups (Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, American Wheelmen, etc., if I remember correctly). Try an on-line search for some of these websites. I'm sure some of their trips last for a couple weeks, and maybe you could do them back-to-back, or figure out something creative. I don`t know if they are cheap or not, but it's worth checking out, or contact them stating your needs and they might have further suggestions.


May 18, 2001

Dear Alice, In response to the question from "Weight Conscious": Since you specifically asked about opportunities that would allow you to change your lifestyle and lose weight for free, I would...
Dear Alice, In response to the question from "Weight Conscious": Since you specifically asked about opportunities that would allow you to change your lifestyle and lose weight for free, I would think that the Peace Corps might be an ideal environment for you. It would provide the intensive experience that you described, and would no doubt be very emotionally and spiritually rewarding while requiring a great deal of physical activity (read: fat burning exercise). The Peace Corps has locations in most developing regions of the world, and you will find that your caloric intake is quite reduced in areas where no one has very much food. While normal programs last two years, the Peace Corps also operates short 2+ month courses for people who aren't into the commitment. You might also consider the myriad other volunteer programs in developing areas which desperately need help and offer the chance to do lots of hard (but rewarding) work, but can only provide you with minimal food. Good Luck, Movin' it in Mozambique

Men with eating disorders?

Dear Wondering,

Yes, both boys and men can and do suffer from eating disorders. In fact, disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. You raise a great question, though; all too often eating disorders in boys and men are much less talked about than in girls and women. Doctors are also less likely to diagnose males with an eating disorder compared to females and there are also fewer resources for boys and men who wish to get help with their condition.

In recent years, there has been increased attention (and research) given to this topic. Some older studies reported that around 10 percent of patients with eating disorders were men. More recent studies, however, indicate that as many as 30 percent of patients with anorexia or bulima were male, and that men accounted for 40 percent of binge eating cases.

While men and women can both experience eating disorders, men are often trying to change their physical appearance for different reasons than women, including:

  • A desire to improve athletic performance.
  • A history of being teased, criticized, or picked on for being overweight.
  • Wanting to change a specific body part (to reduce "flab" and promote muscle definition).
  • To make required weight for a specific sport (i.e., wrestling or crew).
  • To be more attractive to a potential partner.
  • To look less like one's father.

In addition, it’s important to note that while women with eating disorders are often preoccupied with weight, men tend to focus more on achieving a particular body type, such as being muscular or lean. One example of this is a disorder known as megarexia, a term used to describe an individual who is obsessed with increasing his or her muscle size. Men are more likely than women to have megarexia, which also goes by the names muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia. These individuals exhibit many of the same symptoms of other more well-known eating disorders, such as a very restricted diet, preoccupation with food and body weight, and a history of low-self esteem. For more information on this disorder, check out Obsessed with building muscle in the Go Ask Alice! archives.

For further reading on how men are affected by eating disorders, try Arnold E. Anderson's book, Making Weight: Healing men’s conflicts with food, weight, shape, and appearance. If you are a Columbia student (of any gender) and feel you are suffering from disordered eating, make an appointment with the Columbia Health Eating Disorders Team.

Take care,


February 27, 2012

Thank you so much for discussing this topic. I have a brother who struggles with an eating disorder and I know how hard it can be for men to get help. It's hard for everyone who struggles with this...
Thank you so much for discussing this topic. I have a brother who struggles with an eating disorder and I know how hard it can be for men to get help. It's hard for everyone who struggles with this issue, but it is more "expected" that this would be a condition only affecting women.

Eating poorly, no exercise, and feeling bad about it!

Dear Reader,

Although the way you feel about your body is valid, sometimes it is helpful to remember that we are harder on ourselves than we need to be. You are smart for not wanting to "diet." Restricting food intake usually backfires because you end up eating more in the long run. This is especially true for college students with late night study schedules. Take a more holistic approach to your health, eating habits, and lifestyle, and make realistic changes considering your current situation at school.

Even if it's true that you feel better when you're exercising and now you're not, you can still benefit from eating healthfully. Many school dining services now offer more healthy and low-fat choices and can alter portion sizes to meet your needs.

For a healthy vegetarian diet, choose a variety of grains: brown rice, breads (whole grain when possible), pasta, cereals, and bulgur. Beans and peas — kidney, pinto, lentils, chickpeas — are a great way to balance grains and get a complete protein source. This category also includes tofu and tempeh, available at health food stores, and probably in some meal choices at your school's dining service. Fruits and veggies are also an important source of vitamins and minerals. If you eat dairy products, eat them in moderation or try low-fat or nonfat varieties.

With whatever food choices you make, eat enough throughout the day so you are hungry, not starving, at night. Do you eat breakfast? If not, a bowl of cereal with fruit can help jump-start your day. If you are living in a residence hall, keep some food in your room, such as fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, and milk. You can also bring food with you to classes. Throw a piece of fruit in your bag for later, or carry some trail mix and dried fruit, graham crackers, rice cakes, or breadsticks, which won't spoil in your backpack. And you may want to eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three larger ones, if that's the case.

Additionally, plan for and allow yourself a late-night study snack, roughly two hours before going to bed. With this plan, you'll know you are supposed to have a snack, so you'll be more likely to make a wise choice no matter where you are. Try a piece of fresh fruit, air-popped popcorn, nuts and raisins, or cut-up veggies. Avoid a highly sugared item, like a candy bar, because it can leave you feelig more hungry, and even tired. And watch how much you eat because calories can add up quickly.

As you know, eating healthy at a cafeteria is only part of the challenge. Making time for physical activity is important, too. If you don't have time to formally integrate exercise into your schedule, walking and climbing stairs are a great way to get some exercise without taking up extra time. Get off a few stops early if you are taking mass transit and walk the rest of the way to your destination. You can also try climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator all the time. You can also check out the exercise classes offered at your school's fitness center. They are usually free for students, and can complement your yoga class. Maybe you and a friend can sign up together and motivate each other to go; or, the two of you can agree to work out together twice a week. It sounds like you know what to do. The next step is to make a plan and follow through with it. Take it slowly, and don't get down on yourself if you miss a workout. For more information on nutrition and overall health at Columbia, students may conatct Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) to make an appointment with a registered dietitian. Outside of Columbia, you may want to speak to your health care provider for a referral.


Forced vomiting effects on singing

Dear Reader,

It sounds like forcing yourself to throw up has become habitual for you. This can lead to a number of health concerns, one of which may be damage to the vocal cords. The research on the damage that frequent forced vomiting (usually in the context of an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa) causes to vocal cords is somewhat inconclusive. But it does point to likely damage of vocal cords as a result of small amounts of vomit and stomach acid finding its way into the larynx each time you vomit. How many times does one have to vomit to cause damage? This is unclear and it may not be the same for everyone, but there is risk of vocal cord damage, voice changes over time, chronic laryngitis, and/or hoarseness developing as a result of forced vomiting.

Do you have a sense of what has led you to start forcing yourself to throw up? Most people who do this are preoccupied with their body image and often judge themselves rather harshly for what they perceive to be flaws in their physical appearance or in other areas of their lives. Being a performer, you are at a greater risk for developing an eating disorder. It may be worth exploring this with a therapist or other health care provider. Even in the short term, forced regular vomiting can result in plenty of health consequences besides the potential vocal cord damage, including:

  • dental complications, including severe tooth decay and gum problems
  • acid reflux and heartburn
  • general gastrointestinal complaints
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

For most people, purging is something that rarely gets better on her/his own. Most people need support to work through the contributing issues. Getting help is very important because eating disorders can cause serious enough health consequences to be life-threatening.

If you're at Columbia, you might consider making an appointment with a member of the Columbia Health Eating Disorders team, which is comprised of medical health care providers, mental health professionals, and dietitians. You might also feel comfortable speaking with a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC) to explore this new behavior and its impact on your life in a non-judgmental environment. Outside of Columbia, The National Eating Disorders Association has a wealth of information on disordered eating, assistance, and support.

It would be wise to visit the counseling center at your college to discuss your body image and other concerns that may have led up to your purging. If counseling is not available on campus, your health service will likely be able to assist you by providing an off-campus referral. You deserve support to help you deal with the issues that show up with eating disorders. The sooner you begin the process, the better off you and your voice will be. Kudos to you for taking the first step and asking for help.

Take care,


Media and body image

Dear Reader,

As you touched upon, pressures to look or act a certain way plague most people at some point in their lives. With seven out of ten women, according to one study, reporting that they feel more depressed and angry after viewing media images like those you described, you're certainly not alone. What is positive about your experience is that you recognize what triggers your feelings and are proactively lessening your exposure to them (i.e. images of women on TV and magazines). Of course, it is very difficult to altogether escape these "endless images," unrealistic ideals of beauty, and sexualization of females (as well as hypermasculinization of males). Outside of the media, you mentioned these ideals and expectations are reinforced by other social institutions and those around us. In order to address your insecurities, focus more of that can-do attitude you already have on replacing negative influences with stimuli that encourage you to celebrate your wonderful, unique features.

You're taking a great first step by simply acknowledging that this outside pressure is making you feel crummy. By recognizing how you react to these images and rechanneling that frustration, you have the power to do more than you may imagine. If it's your style, join a group or start a petition that aims to address these unrealistic portrayals of women in the media. There are certainly others around you who have or do feel similar. Check out campus groups if you're a student or activism communities online or in your local area to join forces with others who share in your frustration. About-Face, a non-profit organization that aims to help cultivate positive body image and take action against harmful media messages, is a great place to start getting ideas.

On a more informal level try the following to help turn your feelings of self-hate into self-love:

  • List what you like about your body (Do you have curves that won't stop? Are you blessed with luscious locks?), post affirmations around your home and enlist friends and family to add to the collection. Surrounding yourself with positive messages may help counter the negative images you see in the media.
  • Recognize the beauty in your talents and passions! There is a reason the adage "beauty is only skin deep" is so widely used. Are you a great cook? Do you pick up new languages super fast? Instead of being your own worst critic, become your own external and internal stylist and regain control over how the world and those closest to you see your beauty and worth.
  • Searching online or in stores, leverage your frustrations with the media into finding clothes and accessories that highlight the features you want to celebrate about yourself.
  • Even the people you see on TV, in movies, and in magazines probably have insecurities themselves but most of them have stylists, personal trainers, and other people constantly helping them look their best. Check out some of the Related Q&As below to learn more about how to become your own stylist and personal trainer.

As much as you repeat these self-love exercises, there will likely be moments where you still feel upset by images in the media. Even without the media, interactions at work, at school, or with friends and family may reinforce these insecurities. When these occur, take a few deep breaths and try to remind yourself what you love about yourself. There is no such thing as "normal" when it comes to beauty. Perfect, flawed, large, small - these descriptors are all relative. Keeping this in mind, do you notice that you're getting negative messaging from those around you? Surrounding yourself with people that celebrate you for all your unique attributes (and taking a break from those who don't) may help you do the same for yourself.

Theories abound about why and how the media affects people's self-image, but with a little practice and the help of your can-do attitude, hopefully you will be able to see your own unique beauty and share it with the world and those closest to you. And remember, it's okay to reach out for help like you're doing; you're not alone in feeling these pressures. If you continue to feel upset by these images in the media, consider attending body image support groups. Local counseling centers may offer opportunities to get together with others who share similar concerns. At Columbia, students can check out Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC). Remember, beauty is measured by the life you lead, not how similar you look to this "A list" movie star or that centerfold model. Everybody and every body is beautiful and worthy.


February 26, 2014

I feel the same way as you do. It is hard to live up to the unrealistic standards that the media portrays women. I keep reminding myself that every single image in a magazine is edited and even the...
I feel the same way as you do. It is hard to live up to the unrealistic standards that the media portrays women. I keep reminding myself that every single image in a magazine is edited and even the models don't look that way in real life. It shouldn't matter what anyone else thinks of you as long as you are happy with your body and your life.

Does sweating release toxins?

Dear Likes it Cool,

Though some like it hot, inducing heavy sweating is not an effective method of ridding your body of toxins — though it's very good at ridding your body of vital fluids, potentially leading to dehydration. Sweating releases traces of toxins (less than one percent of the body's total content), but in reality, its sole purpose is to prevent overheating. The liver and kidneys (not the sweat glands) are the body's true detoxifiers. They filter toxins out of the blood and the body releases them through urine and feces. When someone is dehydrated, these filtration mechanisms go haywire because of a reduction in the plasma level in the blood causing side effects like you experienced post-workout. 

During exercise, the body naturally "thermoregulates" (cools itself down) in a variety of ways: radiation, conduction, convection, and evaporation (sweating). If the environmental temperature exceeds skin temperature like in hot yoga where the room is often heated to 90-105ºF, these first three mechanisms can't function. Furthermore, in a hot room, your body will also absorb heat from the environment causing its core temperature to rise even higher. As a result, sweating becomes the only way your body is able to regulate its rising core temperature and it has to go on overdrive. Adding to this, if the space you're in is low on square footage and ventilation, having a group of people close together and sweating will also increase the humidity. High humidity amplifies the body's need to thermoregulate through sweat, and if everyone is sweating more this increases the humidity…and you see how this cycle continues.    

The more you sweat, the more fluid you lose, and the more difficult thermoregulation becomes. A loss of just two percent body mass in fluid may increase heart rate and decrease blood volume which not only makes you feel under the weather, but may actually reduce your workout endurance. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include a rapid, weak pulse combined with a sense of physical weakness, dizziness, and headache. Experiencing these symptoms like you did during your yoga class is not a sign that you need to detox. Rather, it's your body's way of telling you to move to a cooler environment and rehydrate (electrolytes may help with this). If you experience vomiting, muscle cramps, or feel progressively weaker, this is a sign of severe heat exhaustion and requires immediate medical attention. When the body's core temperature exceeds 103ºF (often the result of malfunctioning thermoregulation and not a steamy workout), life threatening heat stroke may set in and organ systems may begin to shut down.

Don't let this information steer you away from getting all hot and sweaty! Just take heed of the potential risks you take if you choose to exercise in a hot room. Above all, listen to your body! There are actually many benefits to yoga and other forms of exercise that make you sweat. To learn more about these benefits, check out the related Q&As below.

The key in any exercise routine is to make sure you're well hydrated before and during your workout to prevent heat illness. Aside from drinking the recommended eight to ten glasses of water per day, two hours before a workout be sure to drink a 16 ounce glass to give your body an extra boost of hydration. In an attempt to replenish fluids as you lose them during your workout, drink throughout your routine rather than waiting until you feel thirsty. Aim to drink 20 to 40 ounces of water per hour of exercise. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks since they contribute to dehydration. Or, if you prefer some coffee or booze in your diet, make sure to drink more water to make up for it.

Until then, Likes it Cool, try out this new mantra "perspire, don't expire," and leave body detoxification to your liver and kidneys.   


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