Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Almost Became a Calorie Restrictor

There's been a fair amount of media in the past few years about CR--calorie restriction. It's a lifestyle that promises an extra couple of decades of life in exchange for eating far fewer calories than you need to maintain your weight. Like 20 percent fewer.

Calorie restrictors weigh and measure everything. Each mouthful of food has to really count, nutritionally, so they look for the highest quality foods with the lowest calorie density. It goes without saying the fats and sugars are very limited.

Sounds nutty, right? But the research does seem to point to life extension benefits from calorie restriction. It has to do with the fact that digesting food seems to wear out the body's cells pretty quick, so the less your body has to process, the newer your cells stay.

Of course, as everyone always points out, who wants to live an extra 20 years without being able to eat anything yummy?

When I opened the current issue of Nutrition Action, I was excited to see a piece on calorie restriction. (Side note: I love that newsletter, but I don't think I'm in the target demographic quite yet. Pretty much every article is slanted toward those in late middle age, whether it's about vitamins and supplements, or this issue's cover story on staying "regular." They need to run some pieces on teen nutrition or something to balance things out a bit). Finally, I thought, we'll get some debunking of those Krazy Kalorie Restrictors.

Well, no. Actually, the piece reiterated the life-extension virtues of limiting your calories. "Animals on calorie-restricted diets typically have a lower body temperature and reduced insulin levels. So do the longest-lived men in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which has kept tabs on the health of close to 1,400 people since 1958," notes the piece. It further goes on to say that calorie restriction seems to slow the progress of both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Moreover, the piece put forth a new way of calorie restricting that I hadn't heard of: Fasting every other day, and eating whatever you want on the off day. "Brilliant!" I thought to myself. Maybe I should try it!

(Intermittent fasting is apparently an idea that's been around for awhile. I just hadn't seen it.)

I kept scanning though the article. There was a study, of course. Hmmm, it says study participants reported irritability on fasting days. O RLY? Those who live with me already put up with plenty of irritability from me, so how much worse could it be? "People who try calorie restriction on their own frequently report feeling cold and thinking about food all the time," the piece went on. Again, not that much out of the ordinary for someone who keeps the thermostat at 59 during the day (and is food-obsessed).

Of course, for the first few years, you're going to have a depressed immune system, but apparently that clears up in about 15 years, and then your immune system is better than ever! So far, so good.

But then I read this: "If you talk to people who have been doing it [calorie restricting] on their own, most of them experience a loss of libido...If you went to a movie, you weren't particularly interested in the love scenes, but you noticed every time they ate and what they ate."

Okay, so no pleasure from food and no sex drive--and an extra 20 years to experience both? OH HELLZ NO! I don't think I'll be restricting my calories anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like hell on earth.

MamaShift said...

IMHO, the original calorie restrictors -- those stick-thin old ladies and gents -- did it out of a natural inclination to eat less (or perhaps had some psychological reasons for doing it). We do (did), in fact, tend to eat less as we grow older.

It's our current culture that fuels our food obsession and, therefore, our inability to restrict calories without obsessing.

Some people can barely eat a thing and be fine with it (my MIL, for example). But, trust me! Those obsessions simply show up somewhere else.

And, of course, eating less naturally leads to less disease in the body.

Miriam said...

I agree, MamaShift, that as we age and our appetites (both food and sexual) naturally curb themselves, calorie restriction to avoid disease makes a lot of sense. But people in the 30s and 40s are restricting calories, and, for me, I think the cost in pleasure is just too high for it to make any sense for younger people.

MamaShift said...

Yes, I think it's another fad; the mentality behind it is all wrong.

MamaShift said...

And that mentality won't do a thing to avoid disease -- on the opposite.