One of my favorite studies on caloric restriction and the effects of dieting on appetite, metabolism, and brain function is actually 50 years old. Ancel Benjamin Keys, PhD., did a groundbreaking study about the effects of a restricted calorie diet on healthy men during a 6-month period.

I’m very, very thankful that he did this study on men, cause you can bet that if it’d been a bunch of women consuming 1600 calories a day (which, these days, is considered a pretty liberal “diet”), the amount of freak-out hysteria he found would have been attributed to the fact that his patients were women.

Check it out:

Young male volunteers, all carefully selected for being especially psychologically and socially well-adjusted, good-humored, motivated, active and healthy, were put on diets meant to mimic what starving Europeans were enduring, of about 1,600 calorie/day — but which included lots of fresh vegetables, complex carbohydrates and lean meats. The calories were more than many weight loss diets prescribe and precisely what’s considered “conservative” treatment for obesity today. What they were actually studying, of course, was dieting — our bodies can’t tell the difference if they’re being starved voluntarily or involuntarily! Dr. Keys and colleagues then painstakingly chronicled how the men did during the 6 months of dieting and for up to a year afterwards, scientifically defining “the starvation syndrome.”

As the men lost weight, their physical endurance dropped by half, their strength about 10%, and their reflexes became sluggish — with the men initially the most fit showing the greatest deterioration, according to Keys. The men’s resting metabolic rates declined by 40%, their heart volume shrank about 20%, their pulses slowed and their body temperatures dropped. They complained of feeling cold, tired and hungry; having trouble concentrating; of impaired judgment and comprehension; dizzy spells; visual disturbances; ringing in their ears; tingling and numbing of their extremities; stomach aches, body aches and headaches; trouble sleeping; hair thinning; and their skin growing dry and thin. Their sexual function and testes size were reduced and they lost all interest in sex. They had every physical indication of accelerated aging.

But the psychological changes that were brought on by dieting, even among these robust men with only moderate calorie restrictions, were profound. So much so that Keys called it “semistarvation neurosis.” The men became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical with distorted body images and even feeling overweight, moody, emotional and depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers in stress. ­They lost their ambition and feelings of adequacy, and their cultural and academic interests narrowed. They neglected their appearance, became loners and their social and family relationships suffered. They lost their senses of humor, love and compassion. Instead, they became obsessed with food, thinking, talking and reading about it constantly; developed weird eating rituals; began hoarding things; consumed vast amounts of coffee and tea; and chewed gum incessantly (as many as 40 packages a day). Binge eating episodes also became a problem as some of the men were unable to continue to restrict their eating.

So… the dieting industry keeps itself in business by encouraging the binge/purge cycle of starvation. And dieting men and women are more likely to be weak(er) and more hysterical than average.

Excellent. We’ll be less likely to make informed political decisions. Old White Rich Guys must love this.

WTF `04, indeed.

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