Reducing Calories Still the Only Fountain of Youth

One objection I sometimes receive to The Morris Plan Diet is that it is too low in calories. During the initial phase of the diet, calorie intake is just 750 to 1200 calories, depending on how aggressive you want to be. But research and reality are both on my side.

Most have seen the dramatic results achieved by the dieters on The Biggest Loser, where they are made to consume probably no more than 20% of their prior caloric intake. Yet, while those diet coaches see the wisdom of dramatic caloric reduction, even they feel that there needs to be some minimum number of calories consumed and would argue against the 750 to 1200 calories I promote.

Fountain of Youth Actually, the calorie consumption I suggest is not only healthy, it is life-extending according to researchers. It has long been know that calorie restriction is the only real “fountain of youth” yet discovered. Recent research has refined this knowledge further, and determined that reducing your caloric intake slows the aging process. In other words, you don’t need to reduce your caloric intake to starvation levels to get the life-extending benefits, you need only to reduce your calories below what you are taking in now. Greater reductions yield greater benefits, but any reduction is beneficial.

So, while people like things to be black and white, here is another example from the field of nutrition and diet where people with seemingly different ideas can both be right. My plan of 750 to 1200 calories is not intended to be a life long plan, but is only an initial phase designed to slim you down as fast as possible. It is not unhealthy at all in that context. On the other hand, the coaches on The Biggest Loser encourage their charges to eat, and within the context of the strenuous exercise program they follow that is also sound advice. The participants still receive the life enhancing benefits of reduced calories because even though they are consuming more than I recommend, the number of calories is a huge reduction from their prior levels.

I constantly preach moderation in all things. There are actually groups that have formed with the goal of working together to restrict their caloric intakes as much as possible. A July 9, 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Two Mammals’ Longevity Boosted contained this quote from the president of one such group. Commenting on the research showing that caloric reduction extends life expectancy, Brian Delaney, president of the North Carolina-based Calorie Restriction Society, stated, “It’s all consistent with what human practitioners of calorie restriction have always believed. Any degree of restriction beyond what you’re currently eating will confer health benefits and will slow the aging process.” The group claims 3000 members, many of whom restrict their eating to near starvation levels.

I’ve seen some of these people interviewed; it’s not a pretty sight. They’ve lost touch with the message of moderation that I call out to my wife every time I go on a motorcycle trip over her objections. “It’s not all about preserving your life.” I’ll trade extending my life by twenty years by being ridiculously skinny and not being able to enjoy eating for extending my life by ten years by just keeping my calories on the low side while still enjoying the occasional pizza and beer nights.

Update — September 24, 2009:  Of course this story is anecdotal, but given the nature of the above posting I had to add a link to a news item I just read.  The world’s oldest man is currently Walter Breuning, age 113.  (I’ve noticed lately that these oldest man stories are a little depressing.  “The oldest man is Joe Dokes at 114.  Oh, wait a minute, now the oldest man is Bill Jones at 113.”)  Seeing Breuning is very uplifting because he is still really sharp — not one of those old timers you see in the news stories staring blankly at a birthday cake.  As they always do with this type of story, the reporter asked Breuning for his secret to long life.  His answer was that he only eats two meals a day.  He is 5′ 8″ and has weighed the same 125 pounds for the past 35 years.  He says that you should push yourself away from the table while you are still hungry. ”You get in the habit of not eating at night, and you realize how good you feel. If you could just tell people not to eat so darn much,” he said.  Again, only anecdotal, but Breunig certainly supports the claim that restricting caloric intake is a means to life extension.

Update — December 28, 2011:  I decided to check in on Walter Breuning, to see how he was holding up.  I am sad to say that Walter made it to 114 years old, but died on April 14, 2011 (right before tax day — way to stick it to the man Walter!).  He was born on September 21, 1896 and remained sharp until the end, even appearing the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and participating in a question and answer article in Men’s Journal magazine.

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July 9, 2009Permalink Leave a comment

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