All excess is harmful. Excess means over-indulgence in the normal or wholesome things of life. The word excess is not correctly applied when used in reference to tobacco, opium, alcohol, etc., for this would imply that the use of these up to a certain point is normal and wholesome. Excess is more than the needs of the mind and body. It cannot be said that anything over the normal needs of the mind and body for tobacco, alcohol, etc., is excess for the mind and body have no normal needs for these things. Their use in any quantity is simply an unmitigated evil.
The human body is very largely a self-regulating organism. It is so constructed and arranged that if excessive demands are made upon it during youth and middle age, provisions for supplying these demands are made, so that there seems to be no injury done to the body. No generally recognized sign is given that the demands upon the body's forces are in excess and that its reserve fund is being slowly consumed. The greater the demands made upon the forces of life, apparently the greater the supply. However, no truth is more certain than that expressed by Graham, when he declared that: "An intensive life is not compatible with an extensive life."
Health and serviceability demand that an organism shall possess all that is necessary, but no more. Redundancy, beyond a reasonable reserve for emergency, is unwholesome and becomes an impediment to the highest physiological efficiency.
The injurious effects of excesses of all classes of foods are so little understood by physicians and laymen that few are willing to believe that their favorite indulgences cause their discomforts. Daily, the Hygienist is consulted by people who are driven to seek relief and cure; yet are unwilling to discontinue the habit that is responsible for their discomfort; indeed, it is well nigh impossible to convince them that ill can come from their simple pleasures.
Not what we use, but what we utilize constitutes the real asset of nutritive labors. If the digestion of a meal costs the system more in energy than it can derive from the meal itself, the whole act of feeding has been a loss.
Overfeeding is commenced in infancy. Despite the fact that overfeeding and sickness are universal, the undernourished child is a bugbear of about all mothers and most doctors. Helpless infants are stuffed until they leak the excess at every orifice of the body and still their caretakers are not satisfied. Too much pampering and feeding is the reason there is so much more sickness in human babies than in brute babies. The fact is that sickness is expected--indeed, looked for--by everybody, and a child that has no sick record up to five years of age is looked upon as a miracle. The death-rate is very great in childhood and youth; sickness is the rule from birth to maturity. If parents could be assured of dependable health for their children, a load of anxiety would be lifted from their hearts.
Overeating wastes nervous energy, taxes the digestive system, overcrowds nutrition, and, due to the gastro-intestinal decomposition, poisons the body.
Overdrinking is also enervating. People who overeat must also overdrink. The habit of eating and drinking between meals is sure to produce harm. Constant drinking establishes polyuria--frequent urination. It overworks the kidneys and inhibits the normal secretion of fluids into the gastro-intestinal tract, inducing indigestion and constipation.
Imprudent eating in hot weather calls for much drink and induces excessive urination. Watch picnickers load up on a lot of greasy, salty, peppery foods and then attempt to allay the irritation-produced fictitious thirst by frequently drinking water and eating ice-cream. The more ice cream and sweetened drinks they consume, the greater their thirst, until the day is finished in much discomfort. Many crawl protestingly out of bed next morning with a coated tongue, headache, and other evidences of trouble.
Public speakers who are compelled to drink water at frequent intervals during an hour's talk, have eaten thirst-producing foods before the lecture.
If you want good health and desire to be useful in old age; if not dead from bad habits before, you must cultivate abstemious habits.
Overclothing is a common means of weakening the body. Men are more prone to overclothe themselves than women. Present styles in women's clothes are far more sensible than men's. Particularly in winter do men overclothe themselves.
The business of bundling up like an Eskimo begins in infancy. Fond parents weaken the reactive powers of their baby's skin by overclothing it. When the child grows older, his weakened powers of resistance cause him to feel the cold more than he normally should. He therefore keeps up the bad habits. The functional powers of the skin are weakened and it becomes unable to quickly and easily adjust the body to changes in temperature. The normal man or woman will wear the same underwear summer and winter. The outside clothing will be a little heavier for winter.
Parents should know what causes enervation in children. Without such knowledge children cannot be properly cared for. All too often in early life habits are acquired that exact their toll throughout life. In our ignorance we build habits that require the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime to convince us of their injurious influence. Then if they have not destroyed us before we become convinced of their injuriousness, they have so broken our will power that, after a few fruitless efforts at reform, with as many relapses, we finally sink under them.
"If," says Tilden "as children we could be taught that our lives are to be a struggle between self-control and self-indulgence, that control leads to the only true success and happiness possible, and that indulgence leads to self-destruction and failure, and have it impressed upon our minds understandingly that it does not profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls, we at least need not stumble along through life haphazardly."
A child that is not taught self-control, one who knows no law above the gratification of its own impulses, is likely to grow into maturity with no more regard for the laws of nature than it has for civic, state, or national laws. The young of today having relegated parents and their control to near-oblivion, are inclined to regard the laws of life as officious, meddlesome, and unnecessary and to treat them with indifference, even with contempt. The theories of cause and cure taught the young in school are equally lawless and unreasoning. They encourage the blind belief that man's sufferings are outside and beyond him; that suffering is his prerogative; that cures are of surreptitious origin, and are beyond the individual except through the good offices of a priest of medicine.
Over-bathing is enervating. Too many people have the idea that unless they are soaking the life out of themselves by frequent bathing, or by staying in the bath for prolonged periods, or by taking too hot or too cold baths, they are not treating their bodies right.
Swimmers, also, overdo their amphibian practices. Remaining for hours in the surf or in fresh water is enervating, and will so greatly impair the action of the skin that its resistance to cold weather is greatly reduced. These enervated subjects crawl into the heaviest underwear at the first approach of cold weather. Those who have bathed properly will be well satisfied with the lightest underwear or no underwear at all, for the hot weather will benefit rather than enervate skin function.