CR "How To"
By Steve Chambers <steve@lifeco.DIALix.oz.au>
(C) Copyright 1996
It´s worth getting a medical checkup before you embark upon a calorie
restriction programme. Tell your doctor what you´re planning. It´s
unlikely that he´ll know anything about CR as an anti-aging tool so
don´t expect too much support. He will, however, be able to make sure
you don´t have some condition that will prevent you practising CR.
And for your own reference, you´ll want the results from these tests:
If you really want to convince your doctor about the benefits of calorie
restriction, get these tests again after you´ve been doing it a year.
Let him compare them.
- Body fat %
- Blood pressure
- Blood lipids - particularly cholesterol and HDL
- Fasting blood sugar
- White cell count
The next step is to estimate your daily calorie requirements. I say estimate,
because everyone is different and only trial and error will tell you how
much food you need. Take what you believe to be your ideal weight (most
people have such a figure in mind), convert it to kilograms, and multiply
it by 25. This is your estimate for daily calories under the CR regimen.
If you really have no idea what your "ideal weight" should be,
use your newly discovered body fat % to guide you. Calculate what your weight
would be if you had 10% fat (men) or 15% fat (women).
I recommend starting with a three to five day "Get to know your stomach"
fast. This isn´t a fast in the true sense of the word as you´ll
be eating a piece of fruit and a tablespoon of fish or flax oil twice a
day to assist the absorption of your supplements. You´ll also be drinking
diluted fruit or vegetable juices to combat energy lows. These can be heated
if necessary to help keep you warm.
During this fast you´ll learn how little you can eat and still function.
You´ll discover that hunger pangs don´t mean that you need food
- you may even come to like the feeling that you used to call hunger. You´ll
feel how sharp and alert you can be when your stomach is empty. Towards
the end of your fast you´ll feel the signs that *really* mean you need
some food. Your signs may be weakness, difficulty in concentrating, or perhaps
a lethargy that diluted juice won´t fix. The fast will also help you
in to your new lifestyle by shrinking your stomach.
Carry on with your normal routine while you fast. You´ll be able to
engage in most activities as if you were eating normally. Strenuous exertion,
however, will tire you more quickly and you´ll need to limit it.
You may find the first few days of your first fast quite difficult. Your
body will initially behave much like a spoiled brat who´s had his toys
taken away. But you´ll feel much better when your stomach has learned
that your head is the boss. If you ever fast again you´ll find it much
easier. Some practitioners prefer to do their calorie restriction by fasting
in this way for two days every week and eating more than their daily calorie
allowance on the other five days.
To allow your body to readapt, you should finish your fast with a small
quantity of nutritious food and take two days to build back up to your full
Fine Tuning Your New Lifestyle
Test out your estimated daily calorie allowance. Don´t try too hard
to stick to it during the first two months. Even with a relaxed attitude
to compliance you´ll probably find yourself losing weight quite quickly.
By the fourth month you should have a good feel for whether your calorie
allowance is appropriate. If it seems too extreme for you, relax it a little.
Monitor the effects. Weigh yourself once a week at the same time of the
morning. Don´t lose weight too quickly - from the third month on you
should aim to lose no more than 1% of your body weight per month. Your body
needs time to adapt or it won´t get the life-extending benefits. If
you´re losing too fast, eat a little more until the loss rate is less
than 1% per month.
Eventually your weight will stabilise. For some it will be as little as
10% below where they started, for others much more. At that point you may
wish to consider further reducing your calorie intake. How far? Within reason,
the less calories you eat the better - and it´s quite possible to get
by indefinitely with less than 20 calories for every kg of body weight.
Down to this level, the less you eat the longer you´ll live - so long
as you don´t malnourish yourself.
It´s likely that you´ll become quite thin, but if not don´t
be tempted to reduce your calorie intake any lower than this. Rodent studies
show that it´s not how thin you are that matters - it´s how much
you eat. Genetically "fat" mice on a calorie-restricted diet are
as big as some other fully fed mice - but they live 50% longer.
What to Eat
Low calorie, nutrient dense foods are the secret to a calorie restricted
lifestyle. This means avoiding high calorie "empty" foods like
sugar, honey, sweets, chocolate, white flour bread, buns and cakes. Fats
are the most concentrated calorie source - nine calories per gram compared
with four calories for carbohydrates and protein. Animal fat (especially
the visible stuff), butter, cheese, nuts, oils and oil-based dressings and
whole milk products should be kept to an absolute minimum. Alcohol is another
source of empty calories - seven calories for every gram.
Many foods promoted as being healthy can be poor choices for a CR lifestyle.
A glass of juice, for example, can contain 100-200 calories. Dilute the
juice - or even better, eat the whole fruit or vegetable and drink water
instead. Most processed foods are unnecessarily high in sugar and fat. If
you must choose a packaged food, read the label. Pick products made from
whole foods and check for added sugars, fats and oils.
The label will also tell you how many calories the product contains. Use
this figure to help you choose between similar products. Don´t let
terms like KJ (kilojoule) and Kcal (kilocalorie) put you off. When discussing
food, a kilocalorie is the same as a calorie and you can just divide kilojoules
by 4.2 to get calories.
It´s important to get enough protein, but most of us get way too much.
Protein is a "dirty" fuel - try to discourage the body from using
it for energy. You´ll achieve this if you only eat around a gram of
protein for each kilogram of body weight. The protein needs to be "complete",
however - its amino acids balanced so your body can build its own proteins
with them. Skim milk products, soy products, lean meats and fish are good
sources. A good mix of grains and vegetables (especially beans) will also
give you the right amino acid balance.
Use the food pyramid to guide your food choices - but try to chop the top
In today´s fast food, instant gratification society it´s difficult
for CR practitioners to stay "on-track". Here are a few tips:
Monitor your calorie intake regularly, but not obsessively. You´ll
want to count your day´s calories quite often in the early stages,
but after a few months you won´t find it so necessary. With a little
experience you´ll quite quickly be able to estimate the calories in
what you´re eating. You´ll find too, that you´ll (almost
subconsciously) tend to eat close to the amount you should.
Try to eat foods that suppress rather than stimulate your appetite. Stomach
"fullness" is an important hunger cue - so eat bulky, high fibre
foods. Surprisingly, foods that the body quickly turns to sugar can increase
your hunger. That´s why it´s so popular to serve bread before
a meal. By avoiding these "high glycemic index" foods you can
reduce food cravings.
If you have a sweet tooth, try to re-educate it. You can use aspartame in
teas and coffee but you should avoid the large amounts in diet soft drinks
(sodas) - we just don´t know its long-term effects.
Don´t eat when you´re not hungry. Treat "meal-times"
as an arbitrary construct that you no longer have use for. And don´t
feel you have to eat just because everyone else is. Much of what most of
us call hunger is a Pavlovian response to the clock, the smell of food or
the sound of plates clanging.
If you´re not enjoying what you´re eating, don´t finish it
just because you´ve bought it or because your host has served it. Don´t
feel guilty, there´s no such thing as wasting food - nature is getting
it back whether you eat it or not. And people are starving in the third
world for reasons of politics - not because you´ve got their food.
Make an effort to condition for yourself some *new* eating-related feelings.
Learn to hate feeling full. Dwell on your guilty feelings if you´ve
overeaten or eaten wrongly. And when you feel hungry, just imagine how much
good it´s doing you.
Avoid temptation. Don´t bring undesirable foods into your house and
don´t shop for food when you´re hungry. Avoid buffet or smorgasbord
restaurants, you always feel like you want to get your money´s worth.
Don´t sit near snack bowls at parties. Don´t even think about
food unless you´re preparing it or eating it. If you think about it,
you´ll want it.
Take the time to enjoy your food. Eat it slowly, savour ever mouthful, every
unique taste. Notice how good it tastes when you´re left wanting just
a little more. Eating is a great pleasure, and there´s no reason why
you can´t extract even more pleasure from it than you did before.
It´s important to remember that CR has been thoroughly tested on laboratory
rodents but not on humans. Although there´s a wealth of evidence to
show that it works for humans and that it´s safe, we still can´t
be totally sure. Watch, and listen to your body as it goes through its changes.
See your physician for *anything* that you think might be out of the ordinary.
Any testing your physician does should show you to be in the peak of health.
One exception, however, is your blood leukocyte count - it may be below
the normal range. This is quite normal for CR practitioners and should not
be cause for concern by itself.
Among the changes you´ll experience is a reduction in your average
metabolic rate. So-called weight-loss experts will draw parallels with yoyo
dieting and suggest that this is detrimental. Not so - it´s a key part
of the CR effect and it simply means that your body is using it´s food
more efficiently. The result is fewer damaging by-products and less wasted
heat - factors that may contribute a life-extending effect. A reduced metabolism
will, however, make you gain weight more easily should you return to your
old eating habits.
You´ll also notice a greater sensitivity to cold, partly the result
of reduced resting metabolism and partly because you´ll have less fat
for insulation. Hot beverages and hot diluted juices can help. To compensate,
you´ll find that you have an increased tolerance for heat.
There´s uncertainty about the effects CR might have on osteoporosis
in later years. For this reason young women should be particularly careful
when practising CR. If it leads to irregular periods you can be sure that
it´s compromising your bone density - not to mention your chances for
conception. And CR is not-at-all appropriate during pregnancy. It´s
probably best that women undertake only mild restriction until thirty. During
the post-menopausal years, less body fat will mean less of the extra-ovarian
oestrogens that minimise bone loss. Despite this, CR will probably *strengthen*
middle-aged bone - by delaying menopause. Bone density scans at thirty,
forty and at least twice during the climacteric will tell you whether you
need to take any action.