Calorie Restrictors

Yup, there's breakfast.

The SF Chronicle featured calorie restrictors and UCSF’s intent to study a small group of them (here).

The focus of the story, Trent Arsenault, eats about 1,800 calories a day, mostly in the form of fruit smoothies and salads. He’s maintained this calorie deficit for 4-5 years, eating the exact same things for most of those days. At 6′ 1″ tall and 150 pounds, he believes he’ll live a longer, healthier life than his peers.

Apparently, calorie restrictors aren’t considered to be eating disordered:

Unlike anorexics or others with eating disorders, calorie restrictors don’t usually care about weight loss or body image. They want to live longer.

I read an article a few years ago about a group of calorie restrictors, and it didn’t sound the least bit appealing. Restricting separated them from everyone else in their lives who weren’t calorie restricting and it caused strife in romantic relationships, even if both partners were restricting, due to the sense of competition that develops (Oh, you ate 8 almonds today? I only ate 6.) They seemed grumpy, lacking in energy, and disconnected from the rest of the world. To me, that screams orthorexia at the very least.

But now I’ve read Gary Taubes, and what occurred to me when reading the Chronicle’s article was what could be going on in the body to drive this behavior. In the same way that fat cells drive people to eat more to fuel them, so may these restrictors have something that signals their bodies to not eat. It may very well be similar to anorexia without the psychological components. If I attempted this diet, I can guarantee you I would fail miserably. I’d be lucky to make it through the first day—shaky, crabby, and violently hungry. I’d be unable to think of anything but food. So how does one get around that?

I can guarantee you it has nothing to do with will power. My guess is they’ll discover some organic causes for their ability to do this. Some sort of brain receptor this, or low insulin secretion that. I’d also be curious how their livers are faring with all that fruit.

But why have these people seized on that particular research? Why did we choose the particular research we did? Anyone who chooses a system of eating has to be incredibly trusting of their primary sources. But this in particular—choosing foods only packed with “health” like walnuts, blueberries, and kale—is Nutritionism at its worst. Sure, eating this way is probably not necessarily unhealthy. Who can argue with blueberries?! But to believe that eating nothing but these particular foods will contribute to a longer life? It’s a modern day version of Taoist alchemy, trying to put together a pill for immortality (I previously complained about longer living through diet here).

Thank goodness these same calorie deficits can be maintained with eggs, bacon, and grass-fed steaks. More for the rest of us!

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2 Responses to “Calorie Restrictors”

  1. Admitted, the stats of the guy look a bit on the skinny side, but is 1800cals really so restrictive? On non-workout days I now tend to target 2000cals and i am 50 pounds heavier than he is, and this feels plenty. Whicj is by the way roughly consistent with Zone prescriptions if you convert the blocks into cals

  2. I thought the same thing. Apparently, a calorie restrictor tops out at 10-30% less than an average person. So it’s interesting that our caloric totals can be similar, but doing it their way would mean constant hunger for me.

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