It can be tempting to cut calories very low when trying to lose weight, especially if you have been trying for a long time. However, the consequences of dieting to lose weight can be dangerous.
Metabolic damage, food obsession, rebound weight, depression are just a small few of the nasty side effects from dieting. In addition, numerous studies tell us dieters end up putting the weight back on and more.
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment is a well-known study which illustrates some of these negative health effects dieting can cause. This is not a once off result, subsequent research into eating disorders further demonstrates these wanted side effects.
Background Into The Minnesota Experiment
In November 1944 the study commenced. Men for 3 months in a standardisation period received 3200 calories of food. This was followed by 6 months of semi-starvation in which they received 1800 calories of food. The next and last three months were a nutritional rehabilitation period in which they were gradually refed.
During the study, the men were expected to live as they normally would and to walk 35 km a week and burn 3000 calories per day.
In the 6 month semi-starvation period, the men lost about 25% of their body weight. By the end of this 6 months and by the end of the rehabilitation period, the men experienced dramatic physical, social and mental changes.
In 2003 18 or the 36 participants were interviewed. The long term effects of this starvation experiment are interesting, to say the least.
One participant described the eating rituals men developed. Some people diluted their food in water to make it seem like more. Others would put a little food in their mouth and hold it in their mouth for a long time to savor it. Some meals could take two hours to consume when normally it would have been over in a matter of minutes. Chewing gum, coffee and tea consumption increased dramatically in the experiment as well. Many of the men started collecting cookbooks and one reported to owning nearly 100 by the time the experiment was over.
Food became the main topic of conversation and day time dreams. Concentration on other activities non-food related became difficult as food preoccupied their thoughts instead. One man interviewed in 2003 commenting on the food obsession said, “if you went to a movie, you weren’t particularly interested in the love scenes, but you noticed every time they ate and what they ate”.
The obsession was so great that three of the men ended up changing careers becoming professional chefs after the experiment.
During the refed period many men started binge eating. They could no longer control their appetites and were more or less eating continuously.
3 months post refeed period some men were consuming 6000 calories on most days and on the weekends close to 10000 calories per day. 5 months later some still reported to no longer being able to feel satisfied eating despite eating abnormally large amounts of food.
One man reported that after the starvation period it was “no better”, “partially because there was not a noticeable relief from feelings of hunger”. Another man described the next year as a “year-long cavity” that needed to be filled. Another after the experiment had to be taken to hospital due to get his stomach pumped because “he overdid it”.
Not all men completed the study. Two volunteers broke diet; one stopped at various shops for sundaes and malted later stole food and another admitted to chewing excessive amounts of food and eating food scraps from garbage cans. Both also suffered severe psychological distress during the semistarvation period, resulting in brief stays in a psychiatric ward.
Psychological and Neurological Changes
During the experiment, the men reported anger outbursts, depression, anxiety and mood swings, and. They experienced fatigue, dizziness and lack of coordination, They lost interest in sex and their relationships began suffering. They also withdrew from social interaction preferring to be alone.
Physically the men looked gaunt, lost strength and lost stamina. They lost hair and experienced muscle soreness. Internal physiological changes were also apparent with lower body temperature, decreased heart rate, decreased respiration rate and the metabolic rate dropped 40% than prior to the experiment.
Take Home Message
Dieting can be incredibly damaging. Food fixation, mental decline, and negative physiological changes occur as the body tries to preserve energy. The drive for food and survival goes into full swing.
If you want to lose weight you do need to change your food and lifestyle habits. It’s not easy when you have a history of dieting due to the changes described but it is definitely possible to lose fat and free your mind of food. There is a healthy way to approach it. If you’d like to lose fat the healthy way consultations can be booked online.
You may also download your free guide and get healthy weight food and your body. Learn how to keep weight off in a sustainable method.
Baker, D., Keramidas, N. (2013). The psychology of hunger. Monitor on Psychology, 44(9), 66-66.
Kalm, L. M., & Semba, R. D. (2005). They starved so that others could be fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment. Journal of Nutrition, 135, 1347-1352.