I wanted to write a bit about this, without overloading you with detail. It explains what can happen when you diet or have an Eating Disorder.
(it also explains why I have been a miserable hangry bitch for the last year or so)
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment was a clinical study performed in 1944. The investigation was designed to determine the physiological and psychological effects of severe and prolonged dietary restriction.
(The study was used after it was recognised that millions of people were in grave danger of mass famine as a result of the War)
The 36 subjects had to be male, single and demonstrate good physical and mental health.
They spent the first three months of the study eating a normal diet of 3,200 calories a day, followed by six months of semi-starvation at 1,570 calories a day.
Their diet consisted of foods widely available in Europe during the war, mostly potatoes, root vegetables, bread and macaroni. The men were required to work 15 hours per week in the lab, walk 22 miles per week and participate in a variety of educational activities for 25 hours a week.
Throughout the experiment, the researchers measured the physiological and psychological changes brought on by near starvation.
During the semi-starvation phase the changes were dramatic:
- Beyond the gaunt appearance of the men, there were significant decreases in their strength and stamina, body temperature, heart rate and sex drive. Their heart rates fell to 35bpm.
The psychological effects were significant as well:
- Hunger made the men obsessed with food. They would dream and fantasize about food, read and talk about food and savour the two meals a day they were given.
- They reported fatigue, irritability, depression and apathy. They grew irritable if they weren’t served their food exactly on time, or if they had to wait too long in line.
- Depression became more severe during the course of the experiment. Mood swings were extreme for some of the volunteers. They became progressively more withdrawn and isolated
- Another interesting thing that happened to these men during the semi-starvation period was that even though they were extremely skinny, even skeletal, they didn’t see themselves as being too skinny. Rather they saw that everybody else were just too fat compared to them (body dysmorphia).
- The stress proved too much for one of the men, twenty-four-year-old Franklin Watkins. He began having vivid, disturbing dreams of cannibalism. On trips into town, he cheated extravagantly, downing milkshakes and sundaes. Finally he broke down sobbing. Then he grew angry and threatened to kill the doctor and take his own life. He was dismissed from the experiment and sent to the psychiatric ward of the university hospital. After a few days on a normal diet, he appeared completely of sound mind again.
What can we take from this experiment?
Eating more after dieting is a natural instinct and it is very hard to force ourselves to eat less. It is not about having no self-control or willpower. The body is not simply “reprogrammed” at a lower set point once weight loss has been achieved.
No wonder 95% of all diets inevitably fail and 99.5% of dieters gain all the weight back after only five years. The before and after photos that they show you, are never 5 years after, because most people gain the weight back. The men in the study overshot their pre-study weight by 10 percent when they began to eat normally again.
Your body needs to be a certain weight to FUNCTION and be healthy. Each individual may have a genetically determined set point for adult weight. This means you should consider your set weight like your height, it depends on your genetics.
Your body knows the weight it wants to be, and when we try to force our bodies beyond those limits, our bodies work against us. If you’re struggling to diet, it means that your body is healthy and comfortable at your weight. Why not try to make your mind comfortable with it? We aren’t all supposed to look the same!
We live in a culture where people desire to be “skinny” and aspire to be the picture of health or “wellness”. We need to learn to accept ourselves and challenge the idea that thin/fit people are happier and healthier! As you can see in the experiment they’re not necessarily happier or healthier. That’s why it’s called an Eating DISORDER.
I experienced all of these effects when I was restricting and “eating clean”, and I was eating around 1,200 calories a day with NO carbs. I was crazy irritable, depressed, cold and my body and hormones were shutting down in order to survive.
If you don’t fuel nourish your body then your brain CAN’T function, the malnutrition completely altered my personality.
To sum up, starvation dramatically alters personality and that nutrition directly and predictably affects mind as well as body.
Pursuing health is about balance, it’s about a nutritious and varied diet and being more physically active for the benefits of feeling better, to be happy! It is not painfully restrictive and it’s not based around a number on the scales.
To my family and friends– I am sorry for being a miserable, irritable, unsociable skinny bitch for the sake of a fucking six-pack.