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Caloric Restriction Is NOT on my Menu

Posted: Wed, February 20, 2013 | By: Food / Diet

by Hank Pellissier

Immortality Seeker? Yes, I am. 

Epicurean? Ditto. I enjoy flavorgasmic satiety in the foodie troughs of San Francisco. Daily I ingest about 3,600 oily, spicy calories. 

Does this make me corpulent? No! I’m 6? 2”, 168 lbs, 9.9% body fat, cholesterol 145, BMI (body mass index) 21.6. - scrawny because I exercise, regularly and often vigorously, swimming, running, and lifting weights.

Am I in fine shape for a 60-year-old? My doc says yes. My wife responds. Everybody thinks I’m healthy, except…

The CRONies. They say I’m going to die. Before they do. Because I don’t follow their diet. CRONies (those who practice “Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition”) think they’ll thrash my ass in the race away from the Grim Reaper. 

I emailed three CRONies with questions, and now the CRONies are giving me advice on how to extend my existence. 

Halt the stamina training, they warn me, stop pumping iron, don’t run marathons, and most importantly — quit gobbling your way into the grave! Your high caloric intake is killing you!

(this essay was first published in HplusMagazine, in November 2009)

What are these CRONies full of? Not much. CR’s traditional goal is to reduce calories by 30%; this was promoted by founder Dr. Roy Walford. US Government RDA is 2,000 calories per day; that means fully-dedicated CRONies nibble through life on 1,400 per diem — I out-eat 2.5 of them! 

I enjoy that, but I’m annoyed by their death warnings. CR implies I should lose 13 pounds to get my BMI down to 19.9. 

GRRRR! I want to snag longevity by saying yes to Endurance Eating and Exercise.

Lisa Walford — daughter of Dr. Roy Walford, wife of Brian Delaney (president of Caloric Restriction Society) and co-author of “The Longevity Diet” — has a BMI of 15 and she described her breakfast as: four walnuts, six almonds, 10 peanuts. GASP! Where’s my hash browns, ketchup, bagels, cream cheese, and huevos rancheros? 

Moderate CRONies exercise gently and restrict 10-20% of their calories. They slightly annoy me because they weigh every portion and often eat the same stuff everyday; that’s boring.

The emaciated extremists? The 30% crowd? The haughty six-footers who weigh under 130 and shirk sweaty workouts? They raise my blood pressure.

Seeking scientific truth, I entered PubMed’s database, armed with an obese bowl of guacamole. I check out CR’s accomplishments first. Here’s the skinny— there’s portly data supporting CR benefits to fruit flies, rats, mice, yeast, and rhesus macaques, but CR does nothing for house flies (except kill them younger). Weird. 

Now, let’s get species centric. Caloric Restriction’s best advertisement is the “human study” conducted at Washington University School of Medicine. CR subjects analyzed here had very low cholesterol, triglyceride, inflammation, plasma insulin, and plasma glucose concentration levels, plus their blood pressure resembled a 10-year-old kid’s and their hearts looked like they belonged to people 17 years younger. Impressive. Astonishing.

My hand wavers above the 950 calories of guacamole. Drooling but hesitating, I recall an email I got from a CRONie in California. He predicts, “I expect to die of the flu but not heart disease, a stroke, liver or lung problems, or cancer.” Flu? Hmm…. 

I quickly find six studies describing CR lab animals that lacked sufficient energy to fight off parasites, bacteria, viruses. That’s why my CRONie sees influenza waving him in with a feverish finger. 

A Drexel University abstract noted that underweight mice were more susceptible to influenza; this correlates with UC Irvine research that indicates being underweight is a dangerous condition in the elderly. Will CRONie health stumble past 80? Very few CR practitioners have entered advanced years yet so we don’t have that answer, but we do know that the longevity champ was a high-calorie junky. The favorite foodstuffs of Jean Calment — 122 year old Frenchwoman — were olive oil (1909 calories per cup), port wine (240 per cup) and chocolate (4,500 calories per kilogram, her weekly intake).

The CR Society is upfront about their diet’s negative side-effects (hunger, reduced energy, menstrual irregularity, infertility, and loss of strength, stamina and testosterone) but what about general bitchiness? I’m a shit when I’m starving. 

Back at PubMed I dig up an abstract from Boston noting that the suicide rate of men goes up when their BMI dips below 21. Yikes! CRON’s desired BMI is 20 or less. UCLA molecular biologist Dr. Jay Phelan admitted to interviewers that the starving rodents in his CR study “didn’t like it… they bit people… and had an unpleasant demeanor.” I’d be one of those rats. Cut me down to 1,400 calories per day and I’d chew everyone’s head off.

Are CR people insane? No, they just gobble whole hog the simplistic maxim “Eat Less, Live Longer.” Everyone knows curbing calories can promote life extension, but CRON’s 30% ideal is extreme. 

Okinawans garner long life spans partly because they push their plates away when their tummy is 80% full. Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman advise a 10-20% reduction on their website’s free health program. An 36-year study of 1,915 male Hawaiians titled “How Much Should We Eat?” determined that a 15% reduction is ideal. 

I believe CRON’s benefits are vastly due to the first 20% caloric reduction; the additional 10% is mostly affectation. 

What about CRON’s taboo against calorie-burning exercise? Glad you asked. CRON’s attitude on this issue is philosophically flabby, and medically wrong. Numerous studies prove that heart-pumping, sweaty oldsters are behaving appropriately. Check out the Danish study “Joggers Live Longer,” or Leiden University’s 32-year research of 2,259 ice-skating Dutchmen, or the Harvard Alumni Health Study of 13,485 men entitled “Associations of light, moderate, and vigorous intensity physical activity with longevity.” 

Extremely active elderly outlive moderate and light workout aged every time. CRON’s approach — avoiding high caloric expenditure because we’ll need to replace the calories — is timid and unjustifiable.

Will CR’s 30% regimen ever become widely popular? A Pied Piper attracting gaunt masses? No, here’s why:

Reason #1: CR’s 30% is not sexy, and Eros trumps Thanatos. Our culture’s lust is aimed at round rumps, succulent curves, and meaty bosoms. Nobody googles to get off on “CR practitioners naked.” There aren’t any thumbnails anyway, or YouTube videos of bikinied CRONies dancing to “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

Reason #2: CR is family-unfriendly. If children were placed on the regimen their growth would be stunted 50% and their parents jailed. (CR Society requires members to be at least 21 years old.) CR kids would rarely be conceived, anyway, because CR women are often infertile and both parents can have weak libidos.

Reason #3: CR doesn’t offer enough gain for the pain. CRONies hope to extend their lives 15-25% from the day they begin, but most scientists view this as wildly optimistic. Dr. Phelan suggests longevity “might increase by 2%.” National Institutes of Health (NIH) admits “we think we will never know for sure.” Transhumanist Aubrey de Grey wrote an essay subtitled “Why Human Caloric Restriction or Its Emulation May Only Extend Life Expectancy by 2-3 years.” I did the math — let’s assume I live 25 more years. Should I avoid dinner parties, gourmand potlucks, and restaurant feasts, to eat at home with a gram scale and CRON-O-Meter as my only dining companions? With the benefit being the possible promise of continuing this excitement for an extra… hmm… 2% of Phelan’s estimate of 25 years… six months?!

Maybe artificial stomachs will be available in a decade. Maybe nanotech or the Singularity will save us. Meanwhile, I’m hungry. Do I want Belgian waffles with whipped cream and blueberries? Chile rellenos drenched in mole sauce? I’ll jog it off later on the waterfront trail to the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Burping, I’ll think about Andre Breton’s quote, “Beauty will be convulsive, or will not be at all.”

Note: In August 2012, Nature published an essay titled, “Calorie Restriction falters in the long run - genetics and healthy diets matter more for longevity.” 

Image # 3 -


Ew guacamole. I never touch the stuff. I’m borderline overweight because I used to eat for the sole goal of getting full because it felt good. Nowadays I have finally started working out before I have real health issues(after spending most of last year on monthly blood tests and various medicines to reduce my obscenely high cholesterol) and today I can no longer eat as much as I used to. A little over a year ago, take me to an all you can eat buffet, I would on average eat 10-15 plates of food. Today I can barely eat 4-6 plates, and even that’s pushing it.

By Brandon King on Mar 07, 2013 at 4:09pm

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