Ep. 21 – Dedication to Education

This week we’re going back in time with more of a narrative than actual recommendations. But, for a very good reason as we’re looking at some invaluable history of dieting from one landmark study that answered so many questions; They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: The Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

During World War II, 36 willing men of a healthy bodyweight participated in a study to gain insight into the physiological and psychological effects of starvation and the implications of refeeding to better help those who had been starved during the war.

Knowing that they were making a huge contribution and laying down potential recommendations for many starved civilians during their postwar rehabilitation, they got cracking. Once given the go ahead, the 12 month study was broken down into 3 phases;

  •  3 month standardisation at ~3500kcal.
  • 6 months semi starvation at ~1570kcal.
  • 3 month refeed split into 4 groups; 400, 800, 1200, 1600 extra calories/day.
During the starvation phase, they had to walk 22 miles/week and expend over 3,000kcal per day – so, the deficit is pretty huge. This daily deficit was used to induce ~1.1kg loss/week, every week to reach a total of 25% loss of bodyweight by the end of the 6 months.

I.e. fully grown healthy men were weighing in at 45-55kg to resemble the famine victims. Pretty small! During this period, they experienced;

  • Extreme weakness and tiredness.
  •  Extremely poor concentration.
  • Neurological deficits/personality changes/depression.
  • Anemia and dizziness.
  • Muscle soreness, hair loss and no sex drive.
  • Food obsession and a constant desire to eat.
  • Reduced coordination, apathy and Irritability.
In addition to this, 2 participants struggled to the extent of needing to steal food and eating from garbage cans. This stress bordered on psychoses; violence and hysteria.

They also saw that their; BMR reduced by ~40%., heart rate reducing from 55-35 BPM with a reduction in cardiac output.

3 months after recovery, participants felt like they still hadn’t recovered even when consuming up to 4,158kcal/day. Fat gain was rapid where muscle gain was far slower with a large and continued desire to eat when stuffed.

After the 3 month period, they were finally allowed to freely eat, meaning that their average calorie intake shot up further to 5,212kcal/day. After 8 solid weeks following an eat-sleep-eat cycle, they returned to ‘normal’. Albeit much fatter than when they first started.

And this my friends, is not how you diet.

The end.

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