In last week’s post I pointed out some flaws in the arguments supporting both Intermittent Fasting (IF) and Calorie Restriction (CR). But now, in this second part, let’s tackle specifically CR. Fortunately, it’s not a very mainstream movement yet, but it’s worth talking about it to prevent those interested in health and aging from falling into their traps.
Calorie Restriction: an eating disorder?
The group that promotes it most is the Calorie Restriction Society. And I’m sorry, but I can’t be impartial towards them. They’re screwed up. They say they have nothing to do with anorexics, but they are just like them. Only that they believe they’re too intelligent to have an eating disorder. Their page outlining the differences between CR and anorexia is plainly outrageous (I was going to say hilarious, but then I’ve remembered this is a life/death question).
Perhaps my favorite is “anorexia: I am bad” vs “calorie restriction”: I am good”. They clearly don’t know what they’re talking about, the strong moral implications of anorexia. Although “obsessed with the scale on your bathroom floor” vs “obsessed with the scale on your kitchen counter” is a close second. Wtf. I believe the most lucid conclusion is this one by Kate Taylor:
“I’ve always thought that voluntary starvation has potential appeal for a lot of people. It just happens that in our society it’s mostly women who push dieting far enough to discover the possible benefits: the emotional solace, the outlet for anger, the spiritual elevation, or intellectual edge. But CR now offers an opportunity for hyperrational, slightly obsessive men—men who are uncomfortable with aspects of a conventional male identity—to discover the upside of starvation”.
The dangers of malnutrition and a low weight
The concepts “infranutrition without malnutrition” and “calorie restriction with optimal nutrition” (their mottos) sound paradoxical because —in real life— they are. The body doesn’t only need nutrients. It needs calories. That’s why when you’re in recovery from anorexia nervosa and coming from a critical BMI, every weight you gain translates into a massive improvement in your biological health markers, even if it’s been done with the worst diet.
The premise then is to eat as little as possible while keeping a healthy weight. But, isn’t that what we should all do in a maintenance phase? If you consume 30% less than the calories recommended for you —the magical number usually proposed by these groups—, you’re going to lose weight.
Another thing is that these people believe that being at a lower weight is not a problem. They don’t understand that your ideal weight doesn’t have to be the minimum allowed by the BMI scale (don’t even get me started on those who are below that but don’t care).
They say they’re different from anorexic because they “are in control”. Yeah, recording everything they eat meticulously in nutritional analysis softwares. Seeing everything as numbers. But you can’t trick nature forever.
Osteoporosis and more
This shows before in us. For women, an excessive calorie restriction or being at a weight lower than your ideal weight (not the one you think it should be, but the one your body determines), leads to amenorrhea, lose of periods. And the most alarming consequence of this —apart from, as it’s obvious, infertility— is osteoporosis.
In order to increase bone density you need to do exercise with enough impact and intensity so as to provoke catabolic reactions, that is, that some cells called osteoclasts destroy the bone. In the recovery process, there will be a proportional response through anabolic reactions, in which osteoblasts will stimulate bone formation. The bone, following Wolff’s law, will grow in mass and strength in response to the stress it’s subjected to. It’s very difficult to achieve this with a diet of about 1400 calories and without getting to horribly low weights.
The body gives more signs. In men it’s very notorious the reduction of testosterone levels. That’s why both men practicing CR and anorexic women report loss of sexual desire. Another sign is the incapacity of thermal regulation, of resisting cold temperatures.
The role of protein
It is also to be feared the stance —more and more in vogue since the publication of The China Study by Colin Campbell— that what we have to reduce in order to live longer is protein. Promoting protein restriction is highly dangerous. After all, what good does it to expand your supposed life expectancy if then an illness is going to kill you, because you aren’t going to be strong enough to face it?
In this sense, it’s worth analyzing a famous study * in which rats were given a carcinogenic substance (aflatoxin), and they discovered that the ones who were feed a higher protein diet developed liver cancer, while the others didn’t. But what we usually don’t hear is how these rats, even without cancer, died before. They didn’t reach adequate growth levels, they developed fatty liver, and died quickly when exposed to aflatoxin because the acute effects of its toxicity affected them to a greater extent.
That is, they didn’t develop cancer because 1) they didn’t have time for that; they died before and 2) they didn’t have enough amino acids as to allow the cellular proliferation of a tumor. Let’s repeat this: their protein deficiency made them unable to carry out the synthesis process to create new cells. This cannot be considered as something good in any case.
Perhaps if the rats had lived in the lab, without getting the doses of aflatoxin and protected from all the illnesses of the world in an aseptic environment, they’d have lived more. But that’s not real life. Taking aflatoxin isn’t real life either; better, stop abusing carcinogenic substances. Moreover, rats live less 2 years, so extrapolating possible increases in their life expectancy to humans is laughable.
As always when studying health issues, mental health is completely ignored. It seems like any food obsession is valid in the name of health. Let’s not forget that mental health has a huge influence not only on life quality, but on physical health. Stress is directly related to mortality (so I’m screwed… well, it seems like giving to others removes this correlation though, so I hope my work here is worth it haha… but I digress).
Many people report that, after feeling terrible during the first days or weeks practicing IF or CR —this also happens with the keto diet—, they then reach a state of like euphoria, of being constantly in a “high”, of not being hungry and experimenting raised levels of energy.
Why the high?
This effect is nothing to be celebrated. The same thing happens to us people with anorexia. In the beginning, the body sends you all these signals in order to make you know it needs food. But, if you ignore them, it changes its strategy. The body desires so much to survive that it adapts to anything as best as it can, and in the case of a prolonged restriction it believes the best way to do it is that you have energy and are not overwhelmed by feelings of hunger so you can place all your attention in the action: in the action of getting food, which in other times would have implied an effort like going out to hunt.
That’s why you have more mental clarity. That’s why I felt more intelligent and elevated and spiritual than the rest of the world, as it happens to the people who reach this critical stage. Please, if you ever feel like that, don’t interpret it as a triumph, but as a signal of danger and that you need to get out of there as soon as possible.
It’s not the same to get to be comfortable with an IF schedule (which is totally cool, if you want to try it you need to hold on beyond the initial days to overcome the force of habit and see if your body responds well to the new rhythm), than to be like if you had shot up with something.
I have nothing against Intermittent Fasting as a “diet” to lose weight if that’s what you need. It’s not superior as some say, all those proclamations are false. Do whatever you can stick to in order to maintain a calorie deficit.
It has benefits, most of them shared with the rest of diets. First, due to weight loss. And second, due to the changes in your food choices and your lifestyle that usually come with starting a diet (more real food, more veggies, more exercise…).
It has then specific benefits, as each diet has its own. They may work for better or worse on you. Listening to your body will reveal that to you.
Think about this...
Calorie Restriction isn’t but another eating disorder, an elegant way of calling it because these people believe that anorexia is about being thin and not about obsession, which is what they have. Obsession for prolonging their life, being willing to sacrifice all the hours of their day if they can just be a few more in this world. Taking care of your life and expanding it through healthy habits is an important duty, but not at any price. Deep down, what’s latent is fear of death and the longing for eternal life. But I prefer a body with which I can live daily and fulfill my duties and give my 100% at each moment. This also applies to Intermittent Fasting if it doesn’t allow you to do that in your life.
In order to get the metabolic, cardiovascular and cerebral benefits from CR, I prefer exercise. Which often has to be severely limited if you’re eating few calories, and even more if you’re restricting protein. So the benefits you think you’re gaining on one side, you’re losing them on the other. If there are really benefits and you don’t just end up with deficiencies that make you hyper-susceptible to any illness and osteoporosis that doesn’t allow you to even walk.
Autophagy from IF is an interesting field for investigation. But I believe that it’s only good for those who thrive in this kind of structure. Those who don’t may suffer negative effects which are so bad that they counteract by far this benefit. And in the end make you lose your health. And die before.
I could say many things more, but I hope this post has been useful to bring forth some of the main dangers of this new invention of diet culture. Always think critically before falling for obsessive cults like this!
*Although the article is very good and has been written by an extremely trustworthy professional, the website quality in general is questionable. So please just read this one article, don’t scroll.