The human race’s greatest threat to survival has always been starvation. The most devastating famines are well documented in the historical record of the race, and even now in 2008, more people die every day from starvation than from violence.
And millions of people, mainly women, are voluntarily starving themselves in the name of gaining the ideal “look”. To gain this look, they must reduce their calorie intake so that their body will use its fat stores for energy, and thereby change the shape of the body to something more pleasing.
Reducing calorie intake for any prolonged period, however, triggers what’s called Starvation Syndrome. Science doesn’t know what triggers it but the effects are plain:
Shut down the body’s demands for energy – that is, lower the metabolic rate and temperature
Initiate a search for food.
This is the most difficult aspect for dieters, because food cravings and sharpened food senses really feel like obsession!
It’s enough to make a person wonder if they’re insane, or just weak willed.
We already know the answer to that one, though. At the end of the WW2 a now-classic study was undertaken to prepare to re-feed the starving millions of people in Europe in the best possible way. The Minnesota Starvation Study studied 36 physically and emotionally strong and healthy young men over 12 months. Most were members of the pacifist Brethren Church and therefore conscientious objectors to the war, well educated, and idealistic.
The first three months of the study closely monitored the mens’ normal eating and activity patterns. For the next six months they followed a semi-starvation diet of around 1500 calories a day, and the final three months involved re-feeding.
During the six months of semi-starvation the men lost around 25% of their body weight, and some startling patterns emerged:
They became obsessed with food, it was the major topic of conversation and reading, several so much so that after the study they changed their career plans and became chefs. They dawdled over their meals for up to two hours.
They ate every last crumb and many even licked their plates.
They drank more tea and coffee and ate more gum.
They smoked more, some non-smokers became smokers.
Their weight loss was also an endless topic of conversation. Several reported being annoyed about it in others, but were unable to stop themselves doing it
They became highly nervous, restless, anxious, apathetic, moody, tired, and depressed.
Mood swings were common.
They were unable to concentrate and their interests narrowed.
They became very self-centered and antisocial, looking out only for themselves; their sense of compassion for others faded along with their idealism, previously a driving force in their lives.
They lost their ambition.
They neglected their personal appearance.
They lost interest in their girlfriends, replacing their pictures with pictures of food. They seemed to lose their libidos.
Psychological tests confirmed that their hypochondria, hysteria, and depression had all increased markedly.
Their metabolisms dropped by alsmot 40%, saving 600 calories per day.
Their heart volumes shrank by about 20%. Their pulses slowed and they felt cold.
Many other physical symptoms rose: skin ulcers, thinning hair, aching eyes, ringing in the ears, insomnia, dizziness, stomach pains, headaches, muscle cramps, tingiling in their extremities, frequent urination, and they reported feeling old.
Does any of that sound familiar, oh dieter?
We haven’t done the refeeding phase yet:
As soon as they were allowed to eat more, they gorged. Their appetites were insatiable. Most found it hard to stop eating even when they felt stuffed. They continued to lick their plates. In week 13 of refeeeding calorie restrictions were removed, and they ate over 5000 each, each day. They ate nearly continuously, and slept most of the time they were not eating.
Their social behaviour was not improved – they still lived essentially isolated and alone. It took nearly five months for the mens’ interest in others to return.
And what happened to their post-study weight? They rapidly gained body fat. They quickly exceeded their original weights by 10%. Then their bodies stabilised as the food supply was guaranteed, within about nine months after refeeding began most had returned to their pre-study weight. The men who ate the most food had the greatest increase in metabolic rate.
And does any of that sound familiar?
Feel better? You’re not crazy, you’re simply working with a human body that likes to stay alive.