Giving Calorie Restriction a Whirl

Ever heard of calorie-restrictive diets? If you read Eat to Live you’ll probably remember Dr. Fuhrman saying, “Reduced caloric intake is the only experimental technique to consistently extend maximum life span. This has been shown in all species tested, from insects and fish to rats and cats.” Intriguing, right?

Recently Julian Dibbell of New York Magazine played the part of journalist/guinea pig as he assumed an ultra-extreme calorie restrictive diet for two months. What he uncovered is fascinating.

Most impressive is after two months of CR (what the cool kids call calorie restriction) he dropped over twenty pounds, going from five-eleven 178 pounds to his high-school weight of 157. One thing Dibbell points out that really grabbed my attention was the “high” a calorie restrictive diet can create. No, I’m not kidding. Apparently CR actually induces a bona fide chemical high. Check it out:
Had I noticed the manic gleam in Paul’s eye before this? Maybe not, but there is no mistaking it now, and as I contemplate his peculiar fervor for the food he isn’t eating, I am brought face to face at last with a question that’s been taking shape within me from the moment I met him: Dude, are you high?

I don’t put the question to him in quite those terms, but his answer, basically, is yes: He is high, and chemically so. “When you fast for seventeen hours at a low glucose rate, brain-derived neurotrophic factor is released, which is a chemical which creates optimism,” says Paul. “This brain-derived neurotrophic factor is actually a natural part of the chemical thing that happens to me every day … I feel pretty exhilarated right now.”

I believe him, but only because I’ve felt something like it myself.

It’s no secret. From mystics to anorexics, people who go for long periods without eating often report feeling more awake and energetic, even euphoric. It’s nice for a while, but even the calorie-restricted can get too much of it. When April started CR, she often went long stretches between meals and eventually decided something was a little off. “It makes you feel like you’re on drugs; I got too euphoric,” she says. “You know, thinking you’re in love when you’re not.” She switched to a more consistent, balanced eating schedule, came back down to Earth, and that, she says with a shrug, was that:

“It’s like, ‘Eat something! You’re not in love.’ ”
Dibbell also points out that CR in some cases can heighten sex-drive (it can also reduce do it too). CR sounds pretty appealing to me—you lose weight, get high, and have lots of sex—where do I sign up?
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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Bree - October 30, 2006 5:54 PM

Too bad these people aren't on ETL-- they are obsessed with eating a certain number of calories, but they still eat dairy and meat. Think how healthy they'd be if they did ETL too!

April - December 31, 2006 5:55 PM


Actually, quite a few CR practitioners are vegans and/or raw foodists. We have many different eating styles. But it's important to get enough protein if you're doing CR, as CR folks protein needs are even greater than ad lib fed people. Of course there are many sources of vegan protein if one wishes to follow a vegan diet.

Be well.


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