Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Hunger Experiment

Thanks to fjm for pointing to this fascinating account of the Minnesota Starvation study of 1944: conscientious objectors volunteered to endure a restricted diet in order to increase scientific understanding of starvation. This would help to develop suitable relief programmes for starving people in Europe and elsewhere.

Does this also give us understanding of the effects that zealous dieting may have on adult women?

The psychological changes that were brought on by dieting, even among these robust men with only moderate calorie restrictions, were most profound and unexpected. So much so that Dr. Keys called it “semi starvation neurosis.” The men became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical with distorted body images and even feeling overweight, moody, emotional and depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers in stress. They lost their ambition and feelings of adequacy, and their cultural and academic interests narrowed. They neglected their appearance, became loners and their social and family relationships suffered. They lost their senses of humor, love and compassion. Instead, they became obsessed with food, thinking, talking and reading about it constantly; developed weird eating rituals; began hoarding things; consumed vast amounts of coffee and tea; and chewed gum incessantly (as many as 40 packages a day). Binge eating episodes also became a problem as some of the men were unable to continue to restrict their eating in their hunger.

(You may think I am being overly-dramatic, but they maintained an intake of 1,600 calories, and I expect there are plenty of people on diets who aim to eat quite a bit less than that). ETA white_hart points out that this is probably like women going on a diet of 1,000 calories.

I would recommend reading the whole thing for anyone interested in our relationships with food, and the idea of a natural lean body weight. Also the association between different body sizes and moral worth.
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