(REPRINTED FROM AN IGIGI COLUMN)
A few years ago I read “The Great Starvation Experiment” by Todd Tucker. It was about “the Minnesota Starvation Experiment” done in the 1940’s run by Dr. Ancel Keys. In it 36 conscientious objectors were willing to starve themselves for 24 weeks, so that Dr. Keys could learn more about hunger. How it worked, what is was, and how people who were in the process were more or less likely to behave.
While starving the men invariably became preoccupied with food. Some men suffered from terrible edemas. Four men were removed from the study due to their reactions: the first dreamt of cannibalism, then went on a massive eating binge (food, not people). When confronted with this, he first threatened to kill himself, and then threatened to kill Dr. Keys. The second failed subject went on a massive eating binge without even being aware of it until after it was over (although he was not removed from the study because of that. They removed him for peeing blood.) The third subject was caught stealing food and eating out of the garbage, the fourth was accused of cheating when he stopped losing weight.
Those were merely the ones removed for presenting extreme behaviors. Of those who remained, one chopped his finger off and another repeatedly started fights. They all lost muscle mass, felt depressed, had trouble exercising, and becoming aroused. After the study was finished, 10 men decided to get involved in a follow up study. When they were finally allowed to eat freely and unsupervised every one of them went on a massive binge.
Here’s a fun challenge: take a guess as to how many calories these were the men were allowed to consume each day: 500, which would be complete starvation according to the U.N.? 900, which was about what the Nazis thought was enough for slave laborers? Nope. In Keys’ study the men were consuming about 1,500 calories a day give or take. Scary monsters, huh? If 1,500 calories a day is enough to turn an otherwise healthy happy human male into a slavering zombie, can you imagine what someone taking in only 900 or 500 calories a day must be going through? What must it be like to be really hungry?
After the establishment of the Nuremberg Code (which banned torturous medical experiments), no one thinks that an experiment like this one would be allowed to happen again.
Except that it is still going on today and shows what can only be called full and willing participation by all involved. I’m talking about commercial diets. According to Consumer Reports the average amount of a major diet is 1500 calories. Liquid diets and weight loss surgery can go even lower (about 800 calories); Weight loss surgery is forced starvation because there is a limit to how much food the stomach can take before the body has a bad reaction to so much food. Which is bad enough, but actually paying $20,000 or more to volunteer for this is just plain crazy.
People consuming these low amounts of calories suffer the same symptoms as the men in Keys’ study. Even if they are fat! The last time you dieted, don’t you remember that you thought about food all the time or that you were too tired to do anything you enjoyed? Every diet I was on I remembered that all I thought about was food. Nothing was more important than my next meal.
Chuck the diet, the diet mentality and weight-based health. Embrace Health at Every Size (HAES). Don’t fall for false promises, overnight success stories, celebrities or any BS that the diet companies put out that they aren’t really a diets. (Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are DIETS). Dieting or changing your lifestyle plan solely on the purpose of losing weight will only end in failure.