count calories, live longer?

July 17, 2009

A few months ago I went to a talk about caloric restriction (CR) at the Science Museum.  The focus of attention that evening was a very skinny man who looked visibly uncomfortable.  You can’t blame him.  Aside from eating around 1500 calories a day, he had an audience slinging questions at him, from the expected, “What do you eat in a typical day?” to the more confrontational, “What are you afraid of?”

The most striking thing to me was that the man was 52 years old.  He looked about 38.  And that’s exactly the basis for CR: eat less, live longer.

He explained that he followed a mostly paleolithic diet consisting of vegetables and lean meats.  He also said he began CR because he didn’t want to get illnesses associated with ageing.

As I sat there, a million thoughts swirled through my mind.  I agree that eating too much is a drain on the digestive system, and this in turn can accelerate ageing.  But I also believe that the benefits of CR are actually derived from what people are NOT eating than from what they are.  This man said that the first thing he did when he changed his diet was to cut out all the junk and processed food.  Well, there you have it.

While I respect everyone’s dietary choices, I can’t help notice the negativity and deprivation CR seems to be couched in.  The word “restriction” sums it up.  Isn’t it better to focus on what we CAN have than what we can’t?  That’s my focus on Green Appetite:  joy, not restriction. This is the approach I also use with my clients:  focus on adding, not subtracting. Thankfully, we’re blessed with an enormous bounty of food from the plant kingdom. And guess what?  A lot of it happens to be quite low in calories.

Actually, consuming fewer calories happens naturally as a result of eating a diet based on whole, plant foods as close to their natural state as possible.  Why?  These foods are nutrient dense, which means our bodies are satisfied on a lot less.  Over time, the body also becomes more efficient at utilizing this nutrition since it’s not bogged down dealing with unnecessary fats, toxins, hormones and all the other unsavoury stuff that’s not on the ingredients lists of many processed foods.

Going back to our man at the Science Museum, it’s also interesting that he was afraid of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Yet we all know that these diseases are claiming more and more children every day.  These aren’t diseases of old age; these are diseases of affluence and the lifestyle that goes with it.

In case you’re wondering what a person on CR normally eats, check out this article about Paul McGlothin who had been practicing caloric restriction for 10 years at the time it went to press.  Interestingly, the story appeared in Fortune Magazine.

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  1. Jess July 18, 2009 at 15:53

    I agree, EM. I can’t remember the last time I weighed anything — be it food or myself!

  2. earthmother July 18, 2009 at 04:48

    I’ve read quite a bit by Dr. Norman Walker and Dr. Fred Bisci, two longtime raw foodists who also advocate CR. However, like you mentioned, both Dr. Walker and Dr. Bisci talk about the importance of what is left out of the diet (refined, processed food) being more important than what is added in (raw, living food).

    As a lifelong dieter, the freedom of eating GREEN for me has been not counting points, calories, fat grams, carbs, etc. There’s been no sense of deprivation or restriction. And that has been incredibly healing for me.

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