10 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Body header

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Maybe she’s tired. Missing out on sleep makes you crave sugar, sugar, sugar!

Maybe she’s tired. Missing out on sleep makes you crave sugar, sugar, sugar!

I give health advice to everyone: patients, friends and, of course, my 23-year-old daughter. But it doesn’t really stick unless they know the why. I’ve found that if you understand how your body works—say, the effect that getting four hours of sleep instead of eight has on your brain—you’re more apt to make a healthier choice. So I’m going to share some of the info that doctors usually don’t have time to get into: Use it to help yourself feel, look and live better.

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.

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