Calorie Restriction has Downsides?

You’ve likely seen the headlines on calorie restriction, or a “permanent diet“, increasing the lifespan of monkeys.  Turns out some research is being done on human volunteers, too — and it’s not without problems:

[I]t has potential downsides, including constant hunger, sensitivity to cold, weakened immune function and sour mood, says Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University, where she is leading a study on calorie restriction diets.

Gee.  I don’t remember reading about those “potential downsides” in  diet books, though I’ve certainly experienced them.   Wonder why that is?

  1. The assumption that fat people always always overeat and dieting is just about learning to eat normally?
  2. Fear of discouraging the poor fat suckers people who so need the benefits of dieting?
  3. Assuming that these downsides (and others) only affect people who are already thin, so fat people are immune?








47 responses to “Calorie Restriction has Downsides?”

  1. Tiana Avatar

    Assuming that these downsides (and others) only affect people who are already thin, so fat people are immune?

    That might just be the biggest problem. You know how people on diets always say they don’t need the food because they have their “reserves”? My boyfriend, while not technically on a diet, does that whenever he doesn’t feel like eating. He is completely convinced that if he ever were to starve, it couldn’t possibly start having negative affects on him before he got thin because fat people don’t really need the food, right? ARGH.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      Indeed. Hell, it surprises *ME* that I get fatigued and start thinking and acting slower when I’m hungry.

    2. chava Avatar

      I mean, body fat might help you live longer in a starvation scenario–*because it will keep your body from digesting your internal organs*–but why is it that we can’t seperate out “Death Is Likely” scenarios from “Golly Gee Whiz, this would be a Great Diet!” scenarios…


  2. cicadasinmay Avatar

    The article I saw on that study said that reducing your calorie intake by ANY percentage from WHATEVER you are eating now will DEFINITELY make you live longer! I, like Dave Barry, am not making this up. Implied: If you are currently eating 200 calories a day and you reduce this by 100% YOU WILL LIVE LONGER!

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      From about halfway through the New York Times piece:

      Critics, however, are not yet ready to accept that the rhesus study proves caloric restriction works in primates.

      If caloric restriction can delay aging, then there should have been significantly fewer deaths in the dieting group of monkeys than in the normally fed comparison group. But this is not the case. Though a smaller number of dieting monkeys have died, the difference is not statistically significant, the Wisconsin team reports.

      The Wisconsin researchers say that some of the monkey deaths were not related to age and can properly be excluded. Some monkeys died under the anesthesia given while taking blood samples. Some died from gastric bloat, a disease that can strike at any age, others from endometriosis. When the deaths judged not due to aging are excluded, the dieting monkeys lived significantly longer.

      Some biologists think it is reasonable to exclude these deaths, but others do not.

      So, um, I don’t think it’s anywhere near that cut and dried.

      1. wriggles Avatar

        The Wisconsin researchers say that some of the monkey deaths were not related to age and can properly be excluded.

        I’m not sure why. If a lot more of the ‘starved monkeys’ are dying at a young age, then calorie restriction could be described as a weeding out those who have shorter lifespans.

        Making it less heatlhy.

        It’s like those isolated tribes, who have no access to modern healthcare.

        The adult members are often described as incredibly ‘healthy’, but higher infant mortality, and lack of interventions to mitigate shorter lifespans means that those that survive are likely to have greater intrinsic health that those who perish.

        Also there was a comment about how reduced calorie rats bite more and exibit more aggression, if replicated in humans, that will cost us a lot more too, that has to be factored in.

        Incidentally, their blatant appeal to our fear of death is quite amusing.

        1. living400lbs Avatar

          If a lot more of the ’starved monkeys’ are dying at a young age, then calorie restriction could be described as a weeding out those who have shorter lifespans.

          Apparently the death rates of the two groups are about the same (within the standard deviation). So the calorie restriction group isn’t living shorter, just not necessarily longer.

  3. Xanadon't Avatar

    I remember seeing a TV interview a while back with one of the proponents of this movement. He was 6’2″ and 130 pounds ( a human pipe cleaner) and spent hours each day weighing and planning his food to keep it to “1,500 nutrition-packed calories”.
    His friends all had the same virtuous-yet-restless expression on their faces as they described how they overcome hunger each day. As a therapist, I recognized signs of both anorexia and orthorexia. I had to ask myself, “A longer life, but at what cost?”

    To me, HAES is just intuitive and natural, while depriving oneself for years on end seems like one of those scientific experiments that tries to short-circuit nature itself. I am not at all surprised that most of the splashy news bites proclaiming, “Eat less and live longer!” fail to acknowledge the psychological and quality-of-life issues involved in those who voluntarily starve. Remember the Minnesota experiment in the ’50s, in which otherwise healthy young soldiers became non-functional and distraught when their calories were cut in half for months? The simple fact that some health-obsessed wingnut “chooses” to partially starve doesn’t mean they are exempt from these complications.

    I need a cookie.

  4. Cara Avatar

    I fail to see how “weakened immune system” and “longer life” can possibly go together; but oh, well, whatever. Anything to avoid Teh Death Fatz, ya know.

  5. WellRoundedType2 Avatar

    I guess there are technically lots of things that could prolong life… but we all make trade-offs about quality over quantity of life.
    It’s just that somehow, the idea that eating in an amount that allows you to thrive, not only survive or live longer, is distasteful.
    We all have a right to experiment with what the “right” amount is for us, but we are only figuring out what works for us. If someone wants to live their life in a food-deprived state in order to extend their lives, fine. But anyone who tries to tell me I have to eat less in order to extend my life is just asking for a fight.
    Yes, it’s the unintended consequences that aren’t being taken into account. What if all of the calorie-restricting people require more heat in the winter — then who is “overconsuming”?
    I guess all of the people who are eating the absolute minimum amount of food needed for survival expect that they won’t be more susceptible to flu. The “living longer” argument only works if you don’t get wiped out by one of the regular illnesses that human seem to contract and pass along throughout history.
    I can picture geodesic domes filled with calorie-restricting people unwilling to have any contact with the rest of the world for fear of becoming ill. That would be a very, very pleasant way to spend 100 years — not.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      The “living longer” argument only works if you don’t get wiped out by one of the regular illnesses that human seem to contract and pass along throughout history.


  6. lifetraveler Avatar

    What’s the point of living longer if you are always in a “sour mood”? If you are going to live a longer life, don’t you want to enjoy it?

    Everyone that I’ve ever known who lived to be in their 90s or higher, did not care about what they ate. Several of them were heavy smokers and drinkers. Some of them were even lifelong fatties! All of them did not let things stress them out. They laughed a lot and took life’s ups and downs in stride.

    That’s how I try to live and I’m much happier than I was when I was always stressing about dieting.

  7. shyvixen Avatar

    Supposedly prolonging my life while being constantly hungry and in a sour mood? Sounds like the perfect definition of hell to me.

    The question I always ask when confronted with these calorie restriction/live longer stories is this – how will restricting my calorie intake protect me if I get hit by a bus?

  8. chava Avatar

    When I was “thin” I was always cold, relatively weak, caught the death plague (flu which would morph into pneumonia 1-2x/year), and saw black spots every time I stood up too fast.

    30-plus pounds later I (maybe) get the flu 1x/year, no longer see spots, and am no longer abnormally freezing.

    Seems simple enough to me.

  9. sarah gray Avatar
    sarah gray

    I have been trying to control what I eat lately, in part because I have gained some weight, but mostly because in trying to eat “real food” instead of “edible food-like substances” (to use Michael Pollan’s words), I have realized how disordered my eating has become IN RESPONSE to having being told I was too fat since puberty ( I wasn’t even technically “overweight” until I was 20). My attempts at “intuitive eating” have always led me back to bingeing on things that my body has no use for in large quantity. Concentrating on nourishing my body with good food, as opposed to concentrating on hating myself for not being able to live on “diet” foods has been a revelation.

    I have family members tell me that the reason I am “still fat” (at 5’5″ and 179 pounds! – and at my lowest adult weight, I wasn’t able to get below the highest “healthy” weight for my height, no matter how little I ate or how much I worked out) is because I won’t reduce my caloric intake to UNDER 1400 calories, period. (It’s generally more; there’s a 600 calorie range I like to stay in, because I know some days you want more food, and some days you want less. I am a lot more worried, though, about eating too little than occasionally eating more than I “need” If you are genuinely hungry, it’s time to EAT, regardless of how many calories you have “used up” for the day!)

    If it’s *under* that at the end of the day, I make myself eat something healthful (to be fair, I will say that to me, “healthful” is something like full-fat cottage cheese, or a salad with real dressing, or some fruit, or something like that). When I am more in tune with what “hungry” actually feels like, I have no intention of continuing to count calories, because I doubt my body will steer me wrong when it’s used to being nourished properly (instead of cycles of sugar highs and crashes). I know that if I try to eat less than that on a regular basis, I end up feeling very ill, along with cravings for foods I don’t even like that much- leading me to eat mass quantities of such foods, and becoming sick as a result.

    I’ve had several people suggest I go on a 1000 calorie a day diet. My 7 year old eats more than that! I get hounded for how “unhealthy” my diet is for insisting on full-fat dairy products and putting olive oil or butter on veggies, instead of trying to cut fat out. And when you try to explain to them that just because you have “extra” adipose tissue doesn’t mean you can live off of it, that that is actually a really disordered way of looking at things, they try and bring up the “fewer calories is healthy! ” BS. I feel a thousand times better already, with very minimal weight loss, and if I don’t lose any more- well, ok. I can live with that. It’s way better than starving myself for the rest of my life, and having a shorter lifespan as a result.

    I will never understand why hurting your body and doing bad, unhealthy things to it is supposed to make you healthy. And I’m sick of my doctor telling me I’m a few pounds away from immediate heart failure, when in the same time period, I’ve both gained 30 pounds, and lowered my cholesterol by 35 points. (which is apparently what replacing a third of the simple sugars in your diet with fat, and also becoming more sedentary, does) It’s disturbing to me that few medical professionals will admit that it’s possible to eat healthfully, and exercise regularly, and still be 20 or 50 or 100+ pounds “overweight”. That by taking care of your body, you can be fit at nearly any weight, and that simply having “excess” adipose tissue won’t kill you.

  10. Carolyn Avatar

    I have been gritting my teeth through a “health” class that I took at the college to help fill credits. On Thursday my teacher was giving a presentation and emphasizing the point that a person should “NEVER GAIN A SINGLE POUND AS THEY AGE!” that it was unhealthy. I just about joked. Seriously? I raised my hand and said “that’s not what the research says.” Thankfully my teacher was graceful and asked me to bring in the research for him and I took him an article from Junk Food Science. This is the same class that I sat through having to listen to people go OMGZ!! 300lb WOMAN!! That is just GINORMOUS!! ( I am currently 335.)

    Of course out of this class of 30 people there are 27 heavy smokers and most of them have appalling diets. For example one student doesn’t eat all day long then gorges at the Country Buffet each night. .. . but it’s okay he’s thin. I however, am Vegan (so I get plenty of veggies and variety), I average a very reasonable # of calories per day (less than 2,000 why is the weight not flying off??) and exercise 20 minutes per day. But because I’m FAT FAT FATTY MC FAT FAT then I get the looks and pointed lectures about how I’m going to die from heart disease, diabetes, cancer etc etc and it’s all my fat fatty fault. But you know, just keep sucking on that cigarette while you point your fat hatting finger at me jerks. GAH!

    Whew! Sorry about the rant – this has just been bugging me for two weeks now and your post reminded me of exactly the rhetoric I keep hearing in this class.

    And if they really want people to live longer, why don’t they do something substantial instead of torturing poor monkeys. Hey I know! Lets put valuable research money into improving our air or water supplies! no? Okay lets put money into making sure our Nation has adequate food and shelter for all it’s citizens!! No? Ohhh, uhm, how about improving health care?? ((Dodges things thrown)) Ooh, okay, you can go torture monkeys. . .I guess it’s not that important anyway. . .

    1. sarah gray Avatar
      sarah gray

      It’s even more jarring when you are both overweight and a smoker. I have had far more “concern” directed at me for my health in regards to the diet people assume I have than for the damage smoking has done, and is doing, to my body. To the point where numerous people have suggested that I *not* quit smoking, in order to use it as a weight-loss tool. GAH!

      1. Carolyn Avatar

        Wow. . .the logic . . . .it burns!!

        I’m glad you mentioned your experience Sarah – I smoked briefly in high school (which is practically the social standard now) but have never faced being over weight and a smoker in our current culture.

  11. Scotlyn Avatar

    Just FYI I had a brief correspondence with a caloric nutrition researcher (works with rats), and asked him about downsides. The rats apparently never get used to being hungry throughout out their long, long ratty lives, and will eagerly eat their fill if allowed. While on caloric restriction they don’t do much, they can’t be exposed to cold or germs, and unlike bees, they just can’t be bothered to “do it” – which gives the term “sour mood” an altogether more sinister spin. I asked him whether he would consider it for himself and pretty much got a “not bloody likely.” The rats, as he says, are not volunteers. You gotta wonder about the human volunteers…

    1. Carolyn Avatar

      Yeah no kidding right? It’s like the drug commercials on TV. Sure you gain a “Social life” but you also get diarrhea, stomach cramps, liver failure, stroke, seizure and DEATH! but ya know, it’s all worth it right?

      Sure, I won’t have sex, I’ll be grouchy, cold, sick and lethargic but I’ll look DAMN HOT doing it!

      1. Cassi Avatar

        Carolyn, if, in your example of ‘drug commercials on TV,’ you’re referring to the “social life” one gets by using drugs that combat social anxiety, I can tell you that the minute risk of death from the drugs is often quite negligible compared to the risk of suicide for those who are utterly socially isolated. Just because the benefits mean nothing to you, doesn’t mean that the trade off is meaningless to others. (If that wasn’t what you were referring to, my apologies, it’s actually hard to tell as so many ads have the same format. Heck you could be referring to ED treatment… but even so, I think my point still holds)**

        I suppose I’d sum up my feelings on the CRON stuff the same way. The trade off of a chance at a longer life while being hungry all the time wouldn’t mean squat to me, but if it’s what someone else wants I respect that. Their bodies are theirs to do with as they please and, as a fatty in a thin obsessed society, I’ll be the last person on earth to tell them they’re wrong just because I don’t see the point.

        ** Note: I’m referring to erectile dysfunction not eating disorders. Forgot for a second where I was and that “ED” probably has a different meaning here. As an aside, can anyone tell me why couples are always sitting in bathtubs in those ads? I always find that really odd.

    2. living400lbs Avatar

      Thanks for sharing this!

      1. Scotlyn Avatar

        What struck me when I was conversing with this fellow was how similar these symptoms are to those of Ancel Keyes’s “starvation study” subjects. One of them related that if he went to the movies, he could no longer work up an interest in a romantic story-line – what would consume his attention was any depiction of food or eating. The romantic lead was only as interesting as the hot dog or cookie he or she might be munching on!

  12. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    Making decent health care available to all people & providing size neutral, competent, respectful care to all would definitely be helpful, yes. Also, I am reasonably certain that this media spin is yet another which omitted a lot of what the research actually found, & this idea is one which has been trotted out time & again & pretty much debunked. People want their grants, they want to stay in their ivory tower & have tenure, & not be forced to go out in the real world & WORK for a living &, as always, fat people (who are assumed to eat ‘too many’ calories even though plenty of thin people eat many more calories than many fat people) make very convenient scapegoats.

    I certainly value quality of life over quantity any day &, as Lifetraveler mentioned above, I have had plenty of indication that I do not need to sacrifice one for the other. I not only have known, but have been & still am related to many people who have lived/are living well into their 80’s & 90’s; they are mostly fat people, they all have eaten heartily, many have smoked for many years, the majority have consumed at least SOME alcohol, & a few have been heavy drinkers So few of my relatives have been into regular exercise that I have always been mentioned at being ‘weird’, ‘odd’, or ‘different’…not just for being book-smart, a voracious reader, & imaginative…but for going out for walks every day. Yet, the majority have persisted stubbornly in living well beyond the average life expectancy, with at least one great aunt surpassing 100. I will continue to eat what I like & take my chances…besides, when it becomes necessary to live on a fixed income, my food choices will be limited enough by financial considerations without worrying about following some fad or paying attention to some bullshit study.

  13. Constance Avatar

    In one of my previous lives I had a boss who lost a good deal of weight. She was still a large woman but complained of feeling cold all the time and her skin was constantly dry. No amount of moisturizer could solve that little issue.

    1. julie Avatar

      I’ve gone camping with not quite enough food, and it gets very hard to stay warm, even if it’s not cold, no matter how many sweaters I put on. It was very uncomfortable and strange. The skin thing kinda sounds like she’s eating a fat-free (or too low-fat) diet

  14. Godless Heathen Avatar
    Godless Heathen

    Do they actually live longer, or does it just seem longer?

    And “weakened immune function” doesn’t sound like a life extending strategy unless you have an auto immune disease or a transplant.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      And “weakened immune function” doesn’t sound like a life extending strategy unless you have an auto immune disease or a transplant.

      Or you’re in a controlled environment. Note the animals studies, which show longer lifespans, are in controlled environments. It will be interesting to see how the weakened immune system affects the human studies. I don’t mean that in a snarky way (well, not JUST a snarky way) because it may give us some good science on long-term affects of dieting.

  15. sarah gray Avatar
    sarah gray

    look, I understand why you would not accept my first comment- I realize people talking about how they are trying to improve their health, when that includes weight loss (which I am perfectly willing to admit may not be possible to do in a healthy way for myself, and many others; I just know I looked and felt better when I weighed less), is triggering to some. I wasn’t sure what the policy on that was here. On the other hand, other people’s comments about eating the same amount as me are let through, and a completely relevant comment about people’s attitudes towards smoking is not accepted. Am I not fat enough? Is binge eating when it doesn’t make you puke every single time you do it not disordered enough? seriously, what gives?

    All first-time comments are moderated, and I don’t live on the computer. I was actually asleep when your first comment came in. I do talk about HAES and my own getting-stronger-type stuff here, which is fine.

  16. sarah gray Avatar
    sarah gray

    ah, ok. sorry for the bitchiness. as someone who is an “in-betweenie”, as it’s known on Shapely Prose, I find that any talk about my weight or food or disordered eating is met with static with nearly anyone I try to discuss the subject with IRL. I shouldn’t be so sensitive!

    You know, thin people who tell me that I’m “not fat”, but criticize my food choices as being unhealthy when I’m pretty damned sure they are not. (especially the thin folks who ‘can eat whatever they want’ and ‘don’t have to exercise’. As if being thin naturally protects you from diet-related health problems!). I find this ironic, because in my bouts of “eating everything in the fridge until I feel sick”, nobody saw this. Nobody knew that was what I was doing to my body, so of course, to them, it’s the ounce of whole milk I put in my coffee in the morning that makes me look the way I do.

    The women I work with who tell me I “don’t need to diet” because I eat plain yogurt every morning with honey and berries (the presweetened stuff has a funny texture and is too cloyingly sweet to me), but talk all day long about being “good” or “bad” depending on the foods they eat. They eat a lot of food that I consider unhealthful, both of the ‘lean cuisine’ variety, and the ‘burrito that I can’t imagine eating all of these days because it would make me feel ill’ variety, and it would be really nice to know more people who enjoyed food without feeling the need to announce how bad or good they are for their choices. The food choices I’ve been making lately make me feel healthier. Maybe what works for me and my lifestyle wouldn’t work for other people, but I don’t think I am a better person because I like eating vegetables. A number of the women I work with have had bariatric surgery, and that makes me really sad. I have hated my body plenty, but never that much. And to think of anyone hating themselves more than I have, enough to surgically alter their digestive system, is heartbreaking.

    I know that, for me, my weight varies depending more on what I eat, not how much I eat, and the same foods that make me feel good are usually the ones that contribute to weight loss (but never to a point where I am even remotely thin).Trying to reconcile this and lose the thought that I can just be thin if I *tried* hard enough is maddening.

    I’m one of those people who has lost a lot of weight, and kept most of it off long term- but that’s because the way I got to a higher weight was similar to how the subjects in the studies they did on “normal weight” prisoners to make them fat were fed. I remember adding up the calories I ate then once, and it was something like 6, 000. And I was almost completely sedentary. Of course, when all I did was cut out soda and junk food, and got a few hours of exercise a week, I lost a ton of weight and dropped back to what is clearly (in retrospect) my lowest set point. And I was dumb and tried to get thinner, so it is now probably a bit higher.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      as someone who is an “in-betweenie”, as it’s known on Shapely Prose, I find that any talk about my weight or food or disordered eating is met with static with nearly anyone I try to discuss the subject with IRL.

      Heh. Even I sometimes get the “but you’re not THAT fat” from people, which, HELLO!

      I started this blog to talk about what it’s like to be much fatter than average, but the reality is that most fat people are in-betweenies ;)

      The food choices I’ve been making lately make me feel healthier. Maybe what works for me and my lifestyle wouldn’t work for other people, but I don’t think I am a better person because I like eating vegetables.

      I think it can be a huge revelation to start thinking about how eating certain foods makes us feel physically. So much of nutritional education/advice is focused on getting or staying skinny* that things like “a green salad and fish can be more energizing than lasagna, but lasagna will last longer” are real discoveries that we often end up making as adults.

      *Even bodybuilder advice on how to get bigger is focused on building muscle and avoiding fat.

      1. sarah gray Avatar
        sarah gray

        “Heh. Even I sometimes get the “but you’re not THAT fat” from people, which, HELLO! ”

        I think people don’t realize the range of what actual weights on people look like. When you tell people that a) there is no way Kirstie Alley is only 200 pounds and b) so what, she looks fine and needs to stop self-flagellating in public, they seem to think those two statements are contradictory.

        I recently had someone yell something rude at me while I was out jogging, and I bitched about it on facebook. So many comments from people seemed to be “what? you’re not that fat!”, as if it would be ok for someone to say degrading things to someone who was without a doubt very fat! And it made me wonder how these people would feel about me if I *did* weigh 100+ pounds more than I do.

        “I think it can be a huge revelation to start thinking about how eating certain foods makes us feel physically. So much of nutritional education/advice is focused on getting or staying skinny* that things like “a green salad and fish can be more energizing than lasagna, but lasagna will last longer” are real discoveries that we often end up making as adults.”

        oh, totally! It took me a long time to realize that it’s not that I *shouldn’t* eat lots of simple sugars because they will “make me fat” (the attitude which only led me to eat mass quantities of french fries and doughnuts) , but that I *don’t need* all that much in the way of carbohydrates when I’m not going to be active, and that I feel much better when I’m treating food as tasty fuel for the things I need to use my body for, and not some sort of endless “screw you” to everyone who told me I wasn’t allowed to have cake because I was chubby. But some people might not have the blood sugar wonkiness I do (so far, unexplained by my doctors who say everything looks normal from my blood work), and don’t have the mood swings/digestive issues I experience when I am eating a high proportion of those sorts of things in my diet. I also seem to be able to digest more fat than a lot of people can, without gastro problems.

        It amazes me that people can sell books based on the “one diet plan that works to make everyone thin”, when in actuality, humans are so diverse, that the only way to really know how to eat is to listen to your body and figure out how what you eat makes you feel, and ignore what other people tell you is “bad” or “good”. I’m only part of the way there, but I’m amazed how crazy most people seem to think this is. (to the point where they insist that there is no way my cholesterol went down so much after I started eating more saturated fats and stopped stuffing myself with simple carbs instead of eating vegetables). That my changed diet can’t be healthy because the weight isn’t melting off.

        I mean, cake is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but eating a few pieces of the supermarket kind because it’s sweet but not all that great, and therefore, not all that satisfying, doesn’t do anything but give me a headache and the runs an hour later. Something from a good bakery or made from scratch by a talented baker? I’m *so* on that, unless I’m already totally stuffed. Life is too short to deprive yourself of good things, and we all deserve good things. Especially things like my mom’s carrot cake ;)

        The more I try and categorize foods as “healthful and nutritious” or “not so nutritious, but awesomely tasty and won’t make me feel ill as long as I don’t make it the basis for a meal” (instead of the nebulous “bad” and “good”), the easier it is for me to feed myself without worrying that I am eating too much or not enough. We aren’t born with portable nutrition calculators other than our brains and stomachs. I hope it’s not too long before I feel comfortable with relying on them all the time.

      2. CassandraSays Avatar

        This is a really key point that I hardly ever see mentioned in our wierd cultural discourse about food. For me I often make food choices based on prior knowledge of how different foods make me feel, both immediately and a few hours later. So, I tend to avoid stuff that’s mostly starch at lunchtime, because it tends to make me feel sluggish and sleepy an hour or two later and that’s inconvenient if I’m trying to work. At dinner time, though, why not have a big plate of pasta if that’s why I’m in the mood for? It’s not like I can’t take a nap then if I need one. Also vegetables…if I don’t get enough fiber my digestion is unhappy. So I make sure that I do. Which doesn’t have to involve counting fiber grams, it can be as simple as oh, had a grilled chicken sandwich for lunch, should probably have some veggies with dinner.

        I think the obsession with counting calories and fat grams and carbs and all that stuff makes it harder for people to learn to focus on how what they eat affects how they feel. For me tuning all that out and refusing to count anything was key to getting to a point where I just sort of automatically notice what my body seems to need at any given time and eat it. You have to learn to trust your own body to know what it needs, which is hard to do when the entire cultural discourse about eating is based around the idea that you can’t trust yourself to figure it out because appetite is the enemy.

  17. […] Calorie Restriction has Downsides? You’ve likely seen the headlines on calorie restriction, or a “permanent diet“, increasing the […] […]

  18. Trabb's Boy Avatar
    Trabb’s Boy

    I keep wanting to write a Jonathan Swiftian satire about how one of the key factors correlating with a shortened life expectancy is maleness, and how transgender surgery is much safer and more widely available now than it used to be, and even if surgery isn’t right for you you could at least take daily estrogen and watch an hour of Oprah five days a week. It always falls apart because I hate churning out the female stereotypes, but I loved the idea of warning parents to tell their sons that if they kept peeing standing up they were going to die!

    That’s how all of this garbage comes across to me. Even if they are right that a reduced calorie diet leads to a longer life span, is that really the end of the discussion? Does the extra average of two, five, or ten years warrant the cost? I guess there’s nothing wrong with studying it, so that people who think it is worth the cost can go for it. It’s just the assumption that this is the morally right answer.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      I keep wanting to write a Jonathan Swiftian satire about how one of the key factors correlating with a shortened life expectancy is maleness, and how transgender surgery is much safer and more widely available now than it used to be, and even if surgery isn’t right for you you could at least take daily estrogen and watch an hour of Oprah five days a week.

      Just so you know, I am giggling like mad.

  19. Bilt4Cmfrt Avatar

    First it was don’t eat red meat. Until they realized what a good source or iron it is and that it’ more likely the steroids IN the meat that’ not so good for you. So it became eggs. Too much cholesterol. Unless you consider what an incredible source of protein they are and that cholesterol might not be the killer everybody assumed it was. Soy Beans were supposed to be the perfect food, until somebody figured out too much of it could give you cancer. Pork, chicken, fish, whole grains, yogurt, high fiber, low carbs. Now calorie restriction is supposed to extend life?

    These people really need to get a grip and realize that they are doing the exact same, damn, thing Ponce de Leon was trying to do when he went tromping around the south west looking for mystical fountains. Really, people; In the 3000+ years of recorded human history, no one has EVER found a food or diet scheme that will make you live forever, but YOURS? Yours is gonna work, for sure, by Grud!!

    Let me let you in on a little secret; Your gonna die. It’s the New Thing. Everybody’s doing it or will eventually. So why not give this ‘cumquats in grain alcohol can help you live longer’ crap a rest. Along with the rest of us who are pretty tired of hearing about it.. . . . Hold on. . . Cumquats and moonshine, hmmmm. . . . .

    1. Scotlyn Avatar

      Bilt4cmfrt – you are so right… I often think the whole broad “healthy lifestyle” thing (which includes dieting, but also lots of other stuff) is totally based on the magical belief that somewhere out there there IS a magical diet, a magical combination of foods, a magical pill, a magical potion, a magical ritual that, if pronounced exactly correctly, or consumed in exactly the right way, will lead to never getting sick and never dying. I definitely think the CRON folks (Caloric Restriction with Optimum Nutrition) are prime magical thinkers. Admitting that, as you say “Your gonna die,” is so liberating. The search for Ponce’s magic fountain of youth distracts so much from actually living your life… doesn’t it!

  20. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    Just for the record, Sandy has posted an excellent explanation of the truth about this research, what was found &, more importantly, what was NOT found…absolutely no difference in mortality rates or length of life between monkeys whose calories were restricted for over 20 years or those allowed to eat whatever they wanted for the same period of time. As I already knew, this is just so much more marketing & media spin & more attempts to control people & make us feel guilty & convinced that whatever we eat is ‘too much’. If they cannot make it work by telling us that we look ugly, they will try to threaten us with premature death.

    And to me, knowing for certain every day that one is eating between 1400 & 2000 calories IS living fulltime calorie-restricted &, for me personally anyway, talking about certain foods being ‘bad’ for us, etc., is not really about fat acceptance or living/eating normally. As someone mentioned on another blog, actually whenever we start going on about how ‘well’ or how ‘little’ we eat & how ‘healthy’ our lifestyles are, we are ‘othering’ anyone who lives differently & playing by the rules of the media/culture/medical/pharma complex from whose oppression we are supposed to be breaking free. As the last poster said, we are ALL going to die sooner or later, regardless of what we eat or how we live. I work every day to own my body & live as I please, recognizing that, any way we look at it, life is too short to do otherwise, & I am not really comfortable with people who claim to be about fat acceptance spending so much time talking about the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways of eating; it still sounds like disordered thinking/eating & drinking the Kool-Aid of the culture.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      Sandy’s post is good – while the NYT had picked up how you have to really juggle the data to get ANY improvement in lifespans, it didn’t include how they were “overfeeding” their control group as well as “underfeeding” them.

      And yet, they have to juggle the data (and not count some of the underfed monkeys’ deaths from “non-age related causes”) to show any difference. Interesting.

      Re: calorie counting, I CAN see how for some people dealing with learning to eat normally after EDs/dieting that counting calories can be a helpful tool. But I agree it can also continue the dieting mindset.

  21. Bree Avatar

    When I’m very hungry, my stomach hurts and I get shaky. If people really want me to feel like this all the time so I will look physically attractive for them, they need to wake up and smell the coffee.

    I also find it ironic that people are calling for calorie restriction to prolong life, when at the same time, complaints are made because people aren’t up and dying, which drives healthcare costs up. And if fat people aren’t dying, that’s even worse.

    You can’t, pardon the pun, have your cake and eat it too.

  22. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    Amen. Their problem with us is not that we don’t live long enough, but that we live too long, but they love to distract everyone from that fact in any way they think they can.

  23. Wendy Avatar

    I enjoy your blog and I appreciate people of all sizes.
    I would, however, like to make a few points about the calorie restriction in question.
    Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition (CRON) is the only thing that has consistently been shown to extend the lives of primates. CRON practitioners, including myself, are not saying this is for everyone. In fact, the major proponent of CRON, the late Dr. Roy Walford, made a point in his books to say, essentially “look, not everyone can do this nor does everyone want to”.
    The downsides you mentioned (being cold, etc.) affect people at varying degrees. CRON practitioners vary widely in their calorie restriction protocols. All the serious CRON practitioners I know eat incredibly healthy diets, and most of us have software to analyze its’ nutritional content to ensure that we are getting the maximum amount of nutrients in our restricted caloric diet. CRON is generally considered eating 30% less calories than is recommended for your age, gender, and activity level.
    Many of the CRON practitioners who have been on tv have been late middle aged to older folks and of course they look older, but they are extremely healthy.
    Not all of us are looking to simply live for 20 or so extra years. Most of us simply want to stave off serious illness.
    I have a serious family history of cardiovascular disease and cancer, so I am taking a more drastic step than many would so that I may be able to avoid being very old, fragile, and hospitalized.
    I realize people come in different shapes and sizes and we all have a right to be here and be proud of who we are. I have family members who are thin, but many are overweight. If they’re okay with that, I’m okay with that.
    I ask you and your commenters to please consider that while they may feel ridiculed or ostracized for their weight, folks like me are ridiculed, too. You all shouldn’t be ridiculed for your weight, exercise, or diet choices, so why should I? Size acceptance goes both ways; the world need all of us!

  24. Beautifulfatgirl Avatar

    My mom in law has been in engaged with severe calorie restriction for nearly 5 years. And so far, these are the benefits it has given her:

    1. hair loss – she is almost bald now from malnutrition (according to her dr)

    2. hypoglycemia

    3. osteoporosis

    4. high triglycerides ( go figure)

    5. fatigue

    6. looking older than her age

    7. moodiness – she is going on an anti-depressant for that

    Her doctor has told her he’s not going to take care of her anymore if she won’t eat. I don’t understand these new studies saying calorie restriction is good for you, when I have seen this weaken my mom in law.

  25. Karin Avatar

    I think I’d rather live a shorter, happy, well-fed life than a long, calorie-counting, sour-tempered one. (I would definitely be sour-tempered on such a regime.)

    Each to their own, but I rarely get ill and that’s a good enough barometer of health for me.

  26. […] Calorie Restriction has Downsides? […]

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