Starvation and dieting.

Okay, so I talked about this book a couple weeks ago, and am just finally getting around to talking about it!  I tell you, my new job keeps me busy!  Anyway, the book is called The Great Starvation Experiment by Todd Tucker.  It recalls the experiments on starvation and recovery in postwar famine times.  Now the book itself has a lot of different interesting story lines, such as conscientious objectors to the war (who were the volunteers in the study), the study itself, and the resulting career of Ansel Keys and some of the study volunteers.

Of most interest to me was the study itself.  It was a year-long study that went through 4 phases, the baseline period of 3 months where each participants exact maintenance calories were calculated.

Then the 4 month starvation period, where the men’s calories were cut to 1500 calories per day  (okay, that threw me for a loop, since I and many dieters eat this *or less* when trying to lose). These men lost on average 25% of their body weight during this time (and none were overweight to begin with)

Then a restricted recovery phase, where the men were given a precise amount of calories and their recovery was calculated.

After that was the unrestricted phase where the men could consume at will.

What struck me most was the behavior of the men during the starvation and recovery phases.  As the starvation period continued, the men began to obsess about food, talk about it constantly and write about it in their journals.  They took to licking their plates, eating “floor food” (as I call it) and arguing over any apparent discrepancy in food allotments.  Some men cheated, even resorting to eating garbage because they were so hungry.  There was one man who did not cheat at all, but after a period of time, his weight would not budge downward even after repeated reductions in his calories (below 1000!).

When they were finally allowed to eat more food, it changed their moods and actually made them more vocal and rebellious within the group.  One reason behind the theory of rationing during wartime was to keep the people subdued of an occupied country (turns out that works).

Then during the unlimited recovery phase, the men found that they could eat and eat, but were unable to feel full.  This was not really understood, but maybe the body’s seeing food and having just been starved it forces one to eat to prepare.

Quite interesting, really.  I saw so many parallels in the thoughts and actions of these men and my own thoughts and what I read of other people’s thoughts and actions who calorie restrict to lose.  It just makes you think there has to be some answer in this, or some better answer any way than just eat less and move more.

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7 thoughts on “Starvation and dieting.

  1. debby

    Man, that’s really interesting, Lori. Our bodies are so much more complex than we want to acknowledge. It is fascinating to hear how men in a controlled experiment have some of the same compulsions that we do. And we just tend to blame ourselves for being ‘undisciplined.’ (Well, at least, that’s what I do.)

  2. SuperDave

    I actually did this in a 3month period. 1000-1200 cals a day. My mood was horrible, but I lost lots of weight. I remember thinking about food all the time.( Don’t I do that now – haha) Bad dieting – gained it all back. Just goes to show you that unless dieting the correct way, our bodies do weird things to hold onto cals.

  3. NewMe

    Diets don’t work, at least for 90% of the people who lose the weight and then gain back and more.

    Despite the cheesy title, I suggest all dieters read “I Can Make You Thin”, by Paul McKenna. It’s “real” food for thought. He completely throws diets out the window.

    I’ve been working on applying the McKenna method to my eating habits. Although it sounds really easy, it’s not.

    McKenna says:
    1. Eat when you’re hungry.
    2. Eat what you want.
    3. Eat consciously.
    4. Stop when you’re full.

    Obviously, it’s 3 and 4 that get you losing weight. But learning to eat consciously (with no distractions like books or TV, and very, very slowly) and recognizing and RESPECTING the all full signal can be a real challenge.

    Drop by my blog if you’re interested in my extremely slow but real progress in losing weight.

  4. SeaShore

    Thanks for posting that, Lori. Surprising how much like a typical weight loser the experiment made the volunteers’ bodies reactions and mental behaviour. I don’t suppose there were any helpful conclusions about how to overcome these things, huh?

  5. MizFit

    WOW. very very interesting to the Miz in me and the wanna be PhD candidate in Carla.

    Im gonna check this out—thanks for the review.

  6. Lori

    Seashore – There weren’t really any tips for dieters in the book, as that wasn’t the focus of the experiment. It was done in order to figure out how to best rehabilitate starvation in war torn (or famine related) peoples.

    Definitely a lot to be pulled form the book, though.

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