This Is How Long-Term Calorie Restriction Affects the Body
Author: Riley Pearce
Director of Social Media
One of the fastest ways for humans to lose weight is to simply restrict their calories. Some diet plans take you from north american average of about 2000kcals/day to just 600kcals/day. Logging into a popular food tracking app almost always tells you you need to eat just 1200kcals/day to lose weight.
Although short-term calorie restriction has likely worked for many of you in the past, this also comes with a host of psychological struggles, like feeling hangry, or in some extreme cases orthorexia and body dysmorphia. This short term cut-back in calories cause also mean that once your calories return to a “normal” level, that much of the weight comes back, with most of us gaining back more than we lost.
But what if we could stick it out? What if we actually restricted our calories, focused on those calories coming from quality sources, and maintained that restricted calorie diet for many, many years?
This is actually one of the best ideas that doctors and researchers studying aging have to slow down physiological aging.
They first observed species like yeast and mice living longer and healthier lives when put on a calorie restrictive diet that focused on quality calories.
Then there was the Biosphere 2 project, which had a couple of scientists live in an enclosed environment that was supposed to mimic various ecosystems present on earth. Due to early agricultural issues, the 2500kcal/day diet that they had predicted for the participants, was cut down to 750kcals/day. What they observed was greater insulin sensitivity, healthier body composition, and improvements to metabolic functioning.
It is important to note that in all of the studies where calorie restriction was found to be beneficial, the calories were restricted anywhere from 15% – 35%, and the calories that the participants were consuming came from nutrient dense foods like healthy, natural fats, clean animal protein, and fibrous fruits and vegetables (ie. a balanced diet).
So if calorie restriction is the key to a longer and healthier life, why is it so hard?
Living in the developed world we are fortunate to have access to stores like Costco and Walmart, where abundance is the selling point of these business. There’s so much stuff for us to consume, and that abundance and availability is what makes it difficult to truly calorie restrict for a long time.
Does this make it impossible? Absolutely not. It just means that if you want to take advantage of the fountain-of-youth-esque powers of long-term calorie restriction, you’ll have to be meticulous and you’ll have to be thoughtful. First evaluating how many calories you are consuming now, on average, then figuring out what a 15% restriction of those calories would look like. Once you’ve got that sorted, what foods will give you the most nutrient density for the least amount of calories, or what foods provide not only nutrient density, but also increased satiety, therefore resulting in less hunger and fewer meals?
For the final piece, it will likely help with the psychological aspect of calorie restriction if you can see this process as something that is good for long term health, rather than a weight-loss diet. As soon as something become a weight-loss diet, you chances of being successful decrease significantly.