Could Depriving Yourself of Food Get You Fitter? (Yep.)
What’s the difference between eating less food and eating no food? Well, Let’s look at two different situations. …Many years ago, a study called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment was conducted and was designed to understand the effects of caloric restriction on the body in order to gain some knowledge that would help people starving in the aftermath of World War 2.
Thirty-six healthy men with an average height of 178cm (about five foot ten) and average weight of 69.3 kilograms (or 153 pounds) were selected. For three months, they ate a diet of 3200 calories per day. Then, for six months they ate only 1570 calories. However, caloric intake was adjusted to attempt to have the men lose 1 kilogram per week, meaning some men got less than 1000 calories per day.
The foods given were high in carbohydrates- things like potatoes, turnips, bread and macaroni. Meat and dairy products were rarely given. During the six months, the men experienced profound physical and psychological changes.
Everyone complained that they were too cold. One subject talked about having to wear a sweater in July on a sunny day. The subjects’ body temperature dropped to an average of 95.8 degrees Fahrenheit (35.4 degrees celsius). Physical endurance dropped by half, and strength showed a 21 percent decrease.
The men experienced a complete lack of interest in everything except for food, which they were obsessed with. They were plagued with constant and intense hunger. There were several cases of neurotic behavior like hoarding cookbooks and utensils. Two participants had to be cut from the experiment because they admitted to stealing and eating several raw turnips and taking scraps of food from garbage cans.
At first, the participants were allowed to chew gum, until some of the men began chewing up to 40 packages a day. Now compare all this to the case of Angus Barbieri, a Scottish man who in 1965 fasted for over 380 days straight. That is he took in no food whatsoever -nothing but water, black coffee and straight tea for just over a year.
He lost 276 pounds, going from from 456 pounds to 180. A case report published by the Dundee University Department of Medicine in 1973 said “…the patient remained symptom-free, felt well and walked about normally,” and “Prolonged fasting in this patient had no ill-effects.” There were no complaints of mind numbing hunger and he kept the weight off- for several years his weight stayed around 196 pounds.
This of course is not a perfect comparison, with the case of Angus, there’s only one subject and his starting weight was drastically higher compared to those in the Minnesota Experiment. However, it does illustrate some very interesting points about just how different of a physiological response you get from fasting (that is, eating nothing) compared to eating less, or caloric restriction.
Dr. Jason Fung, a Toronto physician specializing in kidney disease, and author of the Obesity Code, says that compared to fasting, Caloric Reduction will result in: less weight loss, more lean mass loss (i.e. more muscle loss), and more hunger. Let’s start by talking about hunger. In Upton Sinclair’s 1911 book “The Fasting Cure,” he writes about fasting as a means to improve health.
In describing his first couple attempts at fasting he writes “I was very hungry for the first day-the unwholesome, ravening sort of hunger that all dyspeptics know. I had a little hunger the second morning, and thereafter, to my great astonishment, no hunger whatever-no more interest in food than if I had ever known the taste of it.
” Sinclair recommends to do quite long fasts – around 12 days or so. In a section addressing concerns about fasting he writes “Several people have asked me if it would not be better for them to eat very lightly instead of fasting, or to content themselves with fasts of two or three days at frequent intervals.
My reply to that is that I find it very much harder to do that, because all the trouble in the fast occurs during the first two or three days. It is during those days that you are hungry.” Then he says: “…perhaps, it might be a good thing to eat very lightly of fruit, instead of taking an absolute fast-the only trouble is that I cannot do it.