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Starvation Mode

April 26, 2013

Do you know what happens when you add women and children to poverty, low education, food deserts, food insecurities, and hunger? You get miserable people. You also happen to gethigher instance of fat people, as well as people who suffer from other diseases, namely depression).

This couldn’t possibly be because those who are poor can’t afford healthcare, nutrient-dense foods, or a place to live that is safe and not polluted, could it?

In related news, I stumbled upon a discussion of the famous Minnesota Starvation Study done back in the 1940s (PDF). Synopsis and interesting points:

  1. The 40 men who participated were put on a calorie restricted “diet” of a measly 1600 kcal, “to reflect that [calorie consumption] experienced in war-torn regions.”
  2. As the men lost weight, they became anxious, almost completely apathetic despite having strong political opinions at the start, withdrawn, very impatient and short tempered, self-critical with distorted body images and even feeling overweight, and of course depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers with an axe, though the guy didn’t know if he did it on purpose or was an accident.
  3. The men also experienced obsession with food, to the point of outright hostility if they did not receive their food at exactly the right times. One man had dreams about devouring another person’s flesh. He would go into town unsupervised and consumed everything he could get a hold of. After being confronted about cheating on the diet, he first cried then became super aggressive, threatening Dr. Keys life and his own. He had to be dismissed from the study and hospitalized. It was only a few weeks into the starvation phase.
  4. Physiologically, these men shrank to be skeletons. Their heart rates went from 55 bpm to only 35 and their heart’s size also shrank. Their skin became rough and hard and the smallest blood vessels started to collapse, causing places like their eyes to become unnaturally white. Psychologically, these men displayed distorted body images. Worthy of note, these men actually started thinking everyone else was too fat when they were shrinking obscenely.
  5. When the men were allowed to eat ad libitum again, they had insatiable appetites, but never felt full. These men ate, on average, 5000 kcals and sometimes as much as 11,400 kcals a day. Despite the seemingly excessive amount of food, Dr. Keys found that about 4,000 kcals was a requirement for appreciable results in rehabilitation.
  6. The men regained their weight plus 10%, then after 9 months they naturally went back to their original weight. Now, these guys were not fat to begin with, but damn.
  7. Decades later, the (surviving) men admitted to having issues years after the study was over.

    Sam Legg, one of the participates. This is him before (left) and after (right) the starvation phase.

Those mental changes happened to those men in only three months. Imagine what happens when a large portion of the population perform their own “experiments” with fewer calories over a longer time period.

If you are confused about what exactly I am trying to say, I think that diets are nothing more than controlled starvation. Sixteen hundred calories is a “starvation point”? Ha! I ate half of that when I was a teen. How many times do we hear 1400 or 1200 or 1000 or even 800 kcals diets? How many of you purposely ate below 1600? Did you ever maintain it more than three months?

On a completely different note, I compiled a list of studies that is from the /r/AskHAES subreddit (so it can be edited to add more studies). There are a lot of interesting things to read, I recommend it. So far we have 52, but we are always looking for more.

Kitsune Yokai

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Rubyfruit permalink
    April 26, 2013 1:02 pm

    I know that starvation does things to your mind as well as your body, but I didn’t know that it’d make you injure yourself and not know if you meant to do it. The emotional effects of starvation, whether it’s beyond one’s control or induced via dieting, scare me even more than the physical effects. Maybe because the idea that even a relatively modest-by-diet-standards reduction to 1600 calories a day can cause changes in one’s personality, and people on diets reduce to even less than that.

    It puts the diet companies’ promise of “a whole new you” in a new and terrifying context.

  2. April 27, 2013 1:34 am

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I guess this post kind of leads to an answer as to why I tend to get defensive and feisty on posts about subjects like intuitive eating. I actually try not to respond to such posts, because I know I’ll get defensive and feisty.
    The reason of this. I fall into the working class echelon. I work weird hours and I don’t really make enough money to cover my needs. I’m also buying food for my son, who is a full time student working to become a doctor, which is very important to me.
    You know what? Sometimes I do eat at McDonald’s or Burger King on my way to or from work. A lot of the time I don’t eat healthy, home-cooked, vegetable based meals. I’d like to, but a lot of the time I don’t. Sometimes (not as often as I used to, but sometimes) I do eat emotionally because I feel stressed out by my situation. I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. But sometimes I fucking eat for emotional reasons.
    So, this is why the intuitive eating posts make me feisty, in case anyone cares. It’s a trigger for me because I know I’m doing something “wrong,” but right now, there’s nothing I can do about it.
    At any rate, my bipolar mind will now get back to the actual subject of the post. I have done the 1000 calorie a day diet more than once. I did Atkins. I wanted to chop people’s heads open with an axe. Not literally, but what I’m saying is, I was grouchy and unpleasant. I was like a hungry toddler. I just wanted something to freaking EAT! Starvation diets do make one unbalanced in more ways than one.

    • violetyoshi permalink
      April 28, 2013 4:05 am

      Sounds like what happens if you take Annuale.

      For those of you unfamiliar with this, it’s a skit that parodies what happens when you get PMS after taking one of those pills that lasts four months. It’s more funny for women, but it does also feature Tina Fey going axe crazy on her office mates, which should be funny for everyone.

  3. April 27, 2013 4:34 pm

    Interesting in light of the fact that I just started reading Bob Harper’s new book (for the purposes of a critical review), and he advocates an 800 calorie a day diet for women. “Only” for three weeks.

  4. violetyoshi permalink
    April 28, 2013 3:58 am

    The effects of starvation, are truly like something from a very brutal horror film.

  5. Dizzyd permalink
    July 13, 2013 6:38 pm

    The part that I thought was interesting was how these men in this study thought that everyone else was too fat while they themselves were shrinking away to nothing. This might explain the trolls.

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