Honor Your Hunger ~ The Power of Deprivation

Let’s begin by reading an excerpt from the book, Intuitive Eating:

The power of food deprivation was keenly demonstrated in a landmark starvation study conducted by Dr. Ancel Keys during World War II, designed to help famine sufferers. The subjects of the study were thirty-two healthy men who were selected because they had superior “psychobiological stamina”— superior mental and physical health.

During the first three months of the study the men ate as they pleased, averaging 3,492 calories. The next six months was the semi-starvation period. The men were required to lose 19– 28 percent of their weight depending on their body composition. Calories were cut nearly in half to an average 1,570 [calories] per day. The effects of the semi-starvation were startling, and strikingly mirrored the symptoms of chronic dieting:

  • Metabolic rate decreased 40 percent.
  • The men were obsessed with food. They had heightened food cravings and talked of food and collecting recipes.
  • Eating style changed— vacillating from ravenously gulping to stalling out the eating experience. Some men played with their food and dawdled over a meal for two hours.
  • The researchers noted that, “Several men failed to adhere to their diets and reported episodes of bulimia.” One man was reported to have suffered a complete loss of “willpower” and ate several cookies, a sack of popcorn, and two bananas. Another subject “flagrantly broke the dietary rules” and ate several sundaes, malted milks, and even stole penny candy.
  • Some men exercised deliberately to obtain increased food rations.
  • Personalities changed, and in many cases there was the onset of apathy, irritability, moodiness, and depression.

During the refeeding period, when the men were once again allowed to eat at will, hunger pangs became more intense, and hunger was insatiable. The men found it difficult to stop eating. Weekend binges added up to eight thousand to ten thousand calories. It took the majority of men an average of five months to normalize their eating.

It’s important to remember that during the era of this classic study, there were no celebrity trainers, the TV Food Network, or fitness and food divas. Nutrition research was just in its infancy. Yet these men experienced a primal obsession with food that was not media driven or society driven; rather it was triggered by a biological survival mechanism. Such behavior was never observed in these men prior to their food deprivation encounter! (Tribole, Evelyn ; Resch, Elyse (2012-08-07). Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition (pp. 59-60). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.)

Have you ever experienced any (or all) of the same things experienced by these men? I know that I have. There are far too many people today who are not even consuming enough calories to fuel their body during the sleeping hours and then they wonder why they are so tired and why the are having emotional, hormonal, biological and physiological challenges. Calories are energy and they drive everything our body does from the heart beating to the lungs breathing and the brain processing thought, etc….it’s simple to discover what your approximate basal metabolic rate is….you just need to do a little math. Here’s the equation:

  • MEN – BMR = 66 + (13.8 x weight in kg.) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in years) EXAMPLE: If you are a 45-yr-old, 6 ft tall man and you weigh 206 pounds, you’re approximate basal metabolic rate works out to be 1963.873 calories. This is the minimum amount of calories to SLEEP and stay alive.
  • WOMEN – BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg.) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in years) EXAMPLE: If you are a 45-yr-old, 5 ft 6 in woman and you weigh 200 pounds, you’re approximate basal metabolic rate works out to be 1616.1496. This is the minimum amount of calories to SLEEP and stay alive.

Attempting to consume less than this amount of calories places the body in an extreme state of deprivation and THAT leads to binging and for good reason. The body is trying to accomplish it’s only goal; to survive. Every movement throughout the day requires ADDITIONAL calories not fewer. We’ve been led to believe that in order to lose weight we must reduce our caloric intake even further but this is actually counter productive and increases the body’s fat hoarding response.

When we fail to give the body the amount of fuel needed it actually knows how to convert the few calories we do consume to fat. Why fat? Fat contains 9 calories per kilogram of weight. By adding fatty tissue the body is actually storing energy for survival. Pretty smart, huh? So how do we stop the fat hoarding? We eat. We give the body all the calories it needs and we do it consistently. Keeping the body biologically well fed means keeping the body satisfied. When the body is biologically satisfied, cravings diminish and eventually disappear and binging desires stop.

We begin to honor our hunger when we acknowledge the fact that the body requires fuel and that fuel comes from the calories found in the foods we eat. Food is not the enemy. Food is required for survival. When the body is getting the food it needs it will naturally release the fat it’s been hoarding.

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