Monday, April 30, 2012

The Great Starvation Experiment

The Great Starvation Experiment
by Todd Tucker


My body is (was) used to running 10 miles a day.  Ten miles a day at roughly 100 calories a mile (give or take) is 1000 calories a day (again, give or take.)  To fuel those 10 miles/1000 calories, I've been putting 1000 extra calories of yummy food in my yap each and every day.

Here's what happens when you tell Megan about it on the Staten Island Ferry (November 2010):


Allow me to paraphrase the conversation.

Rabid: "I prolly eat around 2500 to 3500 a day.  Depends on the training." This was said while Tina (on the left) nodded her head.

Megan: "You eat how much?"  Notice the face, then added, "Why doesn't everyone run?"

Here's the strange part about that extra 1000 calories a day business: when you quit running, your body still wants, still feels like it needs, those extra 1000 calories a day.  True story.  And that's why none of my clothes fit right now.  Even though I'm trying to keep the food intake to a minimum, and even though I feel like I'm STARVING all the time, I'm still gaining some extra cushion.  Bonus!

So, what do you do when you feel like you're starving all the time, even though you're sitting on your rump 24, nearly 7?  You read a book about starvation.  Totally puts things in perspective.

Cause, like, food is fuel and totally necessary, and who cares if I'm cozily plump?  (I do, dang it!)  So I read this book.  And I just now realized that I haven't applied a rating system to any of these books that I read.  Should I be providing a "star rating" when I do a book report?  If so, this one is 4.5 stars.  Super good.  Super interesting.  Super written.  It's a super star book!

The Great Starvation Experiment by Todd Tucker (double TT!) is a non-fiction recap of a starvation experiment that Dr. Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota conducted towards the end of World War II.  Dr. Keys basically enlisted 36 men, locked 'em in a bunker under the football stadium, and controlled their caloric intake for six months.  These 36 men consumed an average of 1500 calories a day.  Which sounds like a lot, doesn't it?  Well it's not.  Man cannot sustain life on 1500 calories a day.  Each of the human guinea pigs would lose an alarming amount of weight on 1500 calories a day.

Sam Legg, after 6 months 
of the Starvation Experiment

It's important to mention how Dr. Keys got these 36 men to starve themselves.  During World War II there were some people called pacifists who refused to fight during the war.  Pacifists believed killing for any reason was against their religious persuasion.  When a pacifist was drafted, they were able to side-step actual combat by doing various tasks.  Some pacifists were sent to work in mental institutions while many others were sent to dig ditches somewhere.  Dr. Keys was given free license to recruit 36 of those pacifists for his starvation experiment. Dr. Keys distributed a flyer to all enlisted pacifists, asking for volunteers.  Believe it or not, more than 36 men were willing and volunteered.  Dr. Keys had his pick.

The point of this exercise was not to study or learn how to starve people, it was to discover efficient ways to rehabilitate those are starving.  As many of you might recall (from your history books, as most of you weren't even alive then) most of Europe was  living day to day with minimal amounts of food.  And if that wasn't tragic enough, there were millions of sick and starving people in concentration camps. The U.S. needed to figure out how to rehabilitate as efficiently as possible.

During the rehabilitation phase, Dr. Keys discovered that fancy additives, like protein and vitamins, do not speed up the recovery process at all.  The only thing that helps recovery is plain, old-fashioned calories.  And lots of them.

I learned a great deal from this book.  I learned a lot about pacifists and the laws that allowed them to escape combat.  I learned a great deal about World War II.  I learned about food supply as a weapon of war, and how cutting off this food supply is a great way to fight a war.  Hitler was able to accomplish much by controlling the supply of food to a particular area.

Finally, I learned that cutting calories makes people crazy.  Before I read this book, I thought it was just my deal... that cutting calories made me crazy.  Turns out everyone needs food to function.

Imagine that.


marci said...

Looks like sitting on your butt, getting cushy is a great way to get an education. Really interesting stuff girl! Thinking of you & understanding this to my crazy core.

tom lindsey said...

Hmm. I have read (somewhere) that experimenters fed mice 30% fewer calories that required and that the life expectancy was nearly doubled. [I cannot find the original article but wikipedia has some high level details]

tom lindsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rabidrunner said...

Marci, oh how I know you know this to the core! You are totally my inspiration.

And Tom, interesting that you should bring this up. All of the guys in the experiment lived long and healthy lives. Most are still alive, even. Also, there was a chapter on how all of them went on to live very successful and productive lives (ie, multiple degrees, wealth, businesses, political leaders, etc.) Granted, most were chosen for the experiment because of their higher than average ambition, but it's an interesting observation nonetheless.

Spouse said...

I am going to decree that to be Megan's signature look.