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Eat MORE to lose weight?!?! 

Yep, you read that right!! The biggest mistake we see in the bariatric community (and the diet community as a whole) is people ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH! 

First, let’s start with the research. In my Psychology of Eating diploma, we talked about the Starvation Experiment. It has been used for years to look at the physical, mental, and physiological effects of a semi-starvation diet. 

What the Starvation Experiment in 1944 taught us about the Psychology and Physiology of semi-starvation on the human body.



The Facts

During the 13 months between Nov 1944 and Oct 1945, an experimental study that was done by Ancel Keys and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota which came to be infamously known as ‘The Minnesota Starvation Experiment’.

The basic objective of this study was to see the physical, mental, and social effects of food restriction on otherwise healthy subjects and the long-lasting effects of disordered eating. Looking at the objective, you might already be assuming that these subjects were almost on the verge of starving to death. The average caloric intake during the ‘semi-starvation’ period was 1600 kcals. Much more than most people these days tend to diet on.

The main reason this study was conducted was that post World War II, the US media was flooded with war victims and refugees suffering from food shortages and starving. Ancel Keys, one of the most influential researchers in the field of nutrition thus decided to conduct this study to provide useful data and insight for relief workers.

Hundreds of volunteers came forward for the study but only 36 men who were deemed mentally and physically healthy were selected for this study.


The main notes of the study are:

  1. The experiment began with a 12-week control period and on average, the men were fed ~3400 kcals per day. 
  2. They had basic daily work assignments, had to walk 22 miles a week, maintain a diary. 
  3. Apart from the dietary restrictions, there were no other restrictions placed on them socially. 
  4. After the control period, their caloric intake was slashed by 55% and brought down to ~1500 kcals per day for the next 24 weeks inducing a period of semi-starvation. 
  5. The subjects lost 24.5% of weight on average towards the end of the study period. (you might think wow that is great….. BUT read on)
  6. Their metabolic rate/expenditure dropped by 40% by the end, of which 25% was associated with the drop in body mass and the remaining 15% due to adaptive thermogenesis. 

The above stats were only concerning body weight, energy expenditure, and adaptive thermogenesis. What about the social and mental aspects of the diet?


Some of the social behavior observations by the researchers were:

Obsession over food – They would dream and fantasize about food. They would act in a way they never had before. And they took up other habits to fill the void. Some examples are: 

  1. Many men stayed up till 5 a.m. collecting recipes from recipe books.
  2. Plate licking was a common practice at the dinner table to extend the meal timing and feel fuller.
  3. The men reported a decline in physical energy and personal motivation.
  4. They diluted potatoes with water, held bites in their mouths for a long time without swallowing, or labored over combining the food on their plate making weird and seemingly distasteful concoctions.
  5. They guzzled water, to keep themselves full.
  6. Some started purchasing or stealing food whereas one man started stealing cups from a coffee shop.
  7. Some took to smoking and chewing up to 30 packs of gums a day until it was banned by the lab.
  8. Budding romances collapsed and sexual desire evaporated.


The mental behavior change observations were:

  1. They preferred going to the movies alone and would recognize comedy but never felt compelled to laugh at it.
  2. Their usual emotion was resignation.
  3. They would bicker and fight in the line standing for food.
  4. They would coddle [the food] like a baby or handle it and look over it as they would some gold. They played with it like kids making mud pies.
  5. The men found themselves distracted by daydreams of food most of the time.
  6. They used to get easily pushed around in a store due to their frail frames and they never used to care about it.
  7. Sometimes, this dullness would give way to moments of euphoria followed by an emotional crash.

This semi-starvation period ended with a 20-week rehabilitation phase and the data that emerged was even more surprising. Their physical recovery started progressing but the mental state deteriorated even further.


So WHAT does this experiment have to do with eating to lose weight? 

In today’s “diet world” many professional companies are putting their members into semi-starvation every day. 

In the bariatric world, 800-900 calories a day seems to be the norm. 

Noom is suggesting as few as 1,100 calories to people, Jenny Craig is about 1,200, Nutrisystem is 1,200, Medifast is 800-1,000, there’s the diet where you eat 500 calories a day and get injections made from the urine of pregnant horses.

BUT according to the science and psychology of semi-starvation diets, THEY DO NOT WORK LONG TERM! 

We want you to have a long term, sustainable, balanced lifestyle. This means eating enough calories so you don’t suffer physically, mentally, and psychologically. 

Remember not all calories are created equal and that is the biggest difference. Eating WHOLE foods with no added sugars or chemicals is the best “diet” out there. 

Are you really NEVER going to have a piece of cake again, I doubt that. The more you can live in balance, the healthier you will be. 

As Always, to your success 


PS If you struggle with your eating and still wonder what makes the most sense for you, Christina has 2 SPOTs left for 1:1 nutrition coaching. These will go quickly since she only opens so many spots a year. Jump in and get yourself back on track – eating healthy and delicious foods that will help you lose weight.