Everything has a sweet spot.

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” ~Oscar Wilde

My introduction to The Inverted U Curve.

I learned of The Inverted U Curve in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “David and Goliath.” In it, he refers to how the number of students in a classroom can affect their academic achievement. Too many students and their grades drop, too little and results are similar. To show exactly how this worked he used an illustration. That illustration was the Inverted U Curve.

If the horizontal line of the chart refers to “students” (0-30) and the left vertical line refers to “grades” (bad – great), you can see that the “Sweet Spot” is somewhere in the middle. In this case, around 15. Add more students to the classroom and the grades start to drop. Start removing students and the results are the same. I am generalizing here. If you want a much more detailed, accurate, and entertaining coverage of this topic, please read, “David and Goliath.”

The inverted U curve

The Inverted U Curve is basically the visualization of the phrase, “Everything in Moderation.”

In his book Malcolm Gladwell had several examples how the Inverted U Curve worked. It made me realize that this Inverted U Curve applies to everything, EVERYTHING. In my mind I had a image of a chart the could be used regardless of what you want to measure the benefits of. It wasn’t that hard. I put it down on paper, made a couple corrections and came up with what you see here. The Inverted U Curve as it relates to ANYTHING.

To see how this works simply replace the word “anything” with, well, anything. Stress, booze, caffeine, carbs, work, alcohol, vitamin C, travel, sun exposure, poison, etc. When you do this, you see that too much or too little of anything results in decreased benefits.

How this hit home for me.

When I learned of this, the first thing that came to mind was EXERCISE! Last year, I was training my ass off with crossfit several times a week and also, a couple trips to the rock climbing gym. I was over doing it but didn’t know it. Eventually my body let me know. At one point I had 7 injuries, right shoulder, tailbone, lower back, both knees, and both middle fingers. I was on the far right of the Inverted U Curve. I was exercising too much and the benefits had dropped to almost zero. I eased up and started to recover until I realized I eased up a little too much. That’s when I found myself on the left side of the curve. I was now doing too little and it was showing in my strength and endurance. I was totally confused at the time and had no idea what was going on. It was this little chart that put things into perspective for me. I needed to find the middle ground. I needed to find the sweet spot.

Some more examples.

Vegetarian/Vegan Is this healthy for you? In moderation! We all  know, or maybe even have been someone who went vegetarian. That person probably saw some major improvements in their health within days. This probably gave them a false sense that what they were doing was perfect for them. They were wrong. Personally, I thought I was healthy but over time I realized that I had no energy. I remember feeling lethargic and exhausted on short hikes. I eventually started eating eggs and fish and got much of my energy back. I found the sweet spot.

Do you know people who have been vegetarian, or even vegans for several years? I know of a few and they do not look healthy. Their skin is pale and sagging, hair looks dull, and they get sick often. I know of one that even had cancer. These people were way on the right of the U curve.

Gluten Trust me, I am anti-gluten! I see no physical health benefits to consuming this anti-nutrient. Now, I did say that the Inverted U Curve applies to everything so can it apply to something I advise everyone to stay away from? Of course, but the benefits may come more on the side of social and mental health rather than physical health. Perfect example, sushi. I love sushi and so does my girl. If I had not taken her out for sushi for one of our first dates who knows what the current situation would have been. I mean, is it worth not taking a hot girl out on a date because there may be wheat in the soy sauce? I don’t think so. Another example, beer. Now, I am no longer the beer guzzler I used to be. In fact, I went quite some time without drinking beer but there were a couple occasions where I said, “the hell with it” and enjoyed a beer or two with family or friends. (One of those times, the beer was Guinness and that will put you on the far right of the Inverted U Curve. My stomach was not happy with me on that occasion.) In both of these examples, sushi and beer, I benefited greatly by the consumption of gluten because of the quality time I got to spend with people I loved. I just had to find the sweet spot.

So… how do you find the sweet spot?

Trial and error. Each of us are different. There are people that train 6 days a week and thrive off of it and some that it would kill. Some of us need little, if any sugar, some of us need a lot more. It all depends on the individual. The key is to just give it a try and see what happens. I know if I drink a Corona I’ll be fine but if I drink a Guinness, I’ll be hurting. I know this because it happened. This is also how I know not to eat an entire bag of cashews. How about something that is not food or exercise related. Easy, gambling. I love to gamble but stay away from it because I tend to leave casinos broke. I do, however, love to sit with friends or family and play poker with a $5 buy in. Losing five bucks to family on Christmas day is way more beneficial than losing $100 in 10 minutes at a Casino. Again, I know these sweet spots through trial and error. These are mine, not yours. So go find your own.

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One comment on “Everything has a sweet spot.
  1. Great illustration and supplemental explanation of the “everything in moderation” idea. I like how you included the discussion of the risks/benefits that aren’t immediately obvious, like social. It is sometimes hard to see past the initial reason for doing something (like going gluten free) to accept other effects. Thanks!

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