Your Brain on Restriction

We do not talk about what restriction (even a little bit) does to your brain.

Your emotions.

Your psyche.

Your stability.

A dieting brain is not a stable one.

Restriction is not kind to the brain.

The best documented example of this is from The Minnesota Starvation Experiment, an experiment that could never be replicated now because of humane scientific testing standards… but the information from the Minnesota Starvation Experiment SHOULD have prevented all restrictive dieting.

If we took any warning from the results of the experiment, nobody would diet.

Healthy and mentally stable men volunteered to be a part of this experiment near the end of World War II in order to help study the effects of starvation and learn about how to re-feed those who had been in famine.

After a control period of feeding them normally, where they ate over 3000 calories (NORMAL!) they then dropped their calories to 1570 a day.

1570 a day.

1570 a day!

These days, 1570 is a totally “normal” amount of calories to consume on a “healthy” diet. 1200-1800 is what we often read about consuming in Health Magazines for weight loss (and sometimes even “maintenance”. Gag me).

But 1570 calories in the 1940s was considered “semi starvation”. And it was. The men quickly became skeletal, but their mental effects were even worse.

Before I get into the mental effects, just remember, these men were being fed 1570 calories a day. Which is how much you have eaten a day on diets, and maybe even STILL ARE.

They immediately became obsessed with food. Thought about it all day. Started making rituals out of their food. Starting obsessively reading cook books for fun. Started displaying obsessive behaviors around food and other things.

They became anxious, mean, and impatient with one another.

They were extremely irritable if their meals weren’t served on time or if they had to wait too long for food.

Mental apathy took over, they didn’t care about any of the things they used to care about. No politics. No romance or sex. Just food.

They developed addictive behaviors with coffee and gum.

Despite their intense commitment to the study before it began, they began cheating and seeking out food outside the study compound.

One man really lost it, having vivid dreams of cannibalism, then after cheating and indulging off the study compound, he was confronted by the organizer and broke down in tears, threatened his life, and had to be sent to the psychiatric ward of a hospital, where he became fully normal again in weeks once amply fed.

One man chopped off his finger… not clear if it was on purpose or just because of mental fogginess.

The men also started thinking that they looked fat, and that everyone else looked thin.

Restriction alone caused body dysmorphic disorder.

These men who had been totally normal and healthy in every way pre-experiment, were now obsessed with food and their weight.

Restriction alone caused this mental dysfunction. And only feeding themselves again healed it.

(And this is just the mental side!)

Once the men started eating normally again, they were ravenous. Only eating many thousands of calories actually helped them start feeling better.

Many talked about feeling a hunger that was completely insatiable, no matter how stuffed they were.

Many of them said they experienced more anxiety during the re-feeding period than during the restriction period…

All because of restriction.

All because of only eating 1570 calories a day.

SO. What do you think your dieting and restricting is doing to your brain?