College-aged students across the country sweat long hours in the gym, experiment with the latest appetite suppressants and devour the latest media bites on health — all in the pursuit of losing a few pounds.
One trend gaining popularity across the country is calorie restriction, which is loosely defined as decreasing one’s calorie intake from one’s current intake. While this may appear to be just another diet at first glance, some health experts are touting calorie restriction as the “fountain of youth.” But for individuals who suffer from eating disorders, this diet serves as the perfect facade to hide behind.
The Calorie Restriction Society International is one of the premier organizations that promotes calorie restriction. The organization’s Web site says the society’s goal is to “help people of all ages live longer and healthier lives simply by eating fewer calories and maintaining adequate nutrition.”
While a warm picture of vibrant 60-somethings with trim waists and oddly absent wrinkles may spring to mind, the actual methods are unhealthy and extreme, and have only been tested in animals and fruit flies.
Categorically, the society says that losing 10-25 percent of one’s current set point body weight — which is identical to a person’s current body weight — is “reasonable.” If I were to adopt this diet, I would weigh between 86 and 103 pounds.
I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall — that’s clearly not reasonable.
The society itself even acknowledges potential risks on its Web site, including decreased bone density, decreased fertility and psychosocial effects on family members.
A review released this past March in “The Aging Male” journal further disproves the Calorie Restriction Society International’s beliefs. The study concluded that there was no viable link between life expectancy and calorie restriction. Researchers have only increased the life expectancy of mice and rats through calorie restriction. But many studies have failed to establish the same association in primates. While losing weight reduces the risk of death from certain diseases, this is an indirect association with calorie restriction. The same reduction in weight can be achieved through other lifestyle modifications, such as exercise.
In short, the authors concluded the current and historical research on this topic shows no viable link between delaying human aging and calorie restriction.
Alas, the quest for eternal youth still evades us. But the calorie restriction fad shows that there are no simple solutions to today’s weight-related issues.
While calorie restriction may address obesity, it also attracts people susceptible to eating disorders. Calorie restriction as a diet can easily be misinterpreted, especially if “society” endorses the message. Cloaking calorie restriction in the verbiage of supporting “longer and healthier lives” gives eating disorders a front to hide behind.
While the Calorie Restriction Society International acknowledges the possible confusion between calorie restriction and eating disorders — the group’s Web site has a section titled “Calorie Restriction or Anorexia?” — it does so in such a light-hearted way that I’m appalled. It’s important to recognize that societies such at the Calorie Restriction Society International do not cause eating disorders, but it is fair to say they encourage eating disorder behavior through the messages they convey.
Kimberly Lauth is a graduate student at the Yale School of Medicine.