Calorie Restriction diet has been given much public attention lately, but for the wrong reasons. It is not the weight loss diet – it is a lifestyle, adopted by many for longevity and better health in aging.
It has been researched for decades as an anti-aging therapy, and it has been practiced for religious/cultural reasons in certain countries for centuries – and so it happens, that people in those countries do tend to live longer and almost never have the same age-related ailments we tend to have here, in the west.
Being interested in health and longevity, I too have tried CR. Not as hardcore as most would – I did not weigh my food, but then again, I didn’t have to – I consume fewer calories during the day than any person on a regular diet would, and when I do go on detox/raw/CR diet I eat even lighter foods, so I am convinced that I do not consume more than 1200 calories a day during this time.
I have been featured in Marie Claire magazine and in Evening Standard – both articles were butchered – Marie Claire actually had to apologize to some of the people interviewed – and the whole point of this diet was taken out of context. This is what I wanted to write about. Most people seem to completely miss some major point of CR:
- it is not about counting calories – it is about making every calorie count.
- it is not about just extending your life – it is about enjoying longer life while being healthy and able. This makes the point above even more important.
- it will not extend your life drastically, not even to 100 years. People who practice the CR diet do tend to live slightly longer than those who eat sensibly, and those who eat sensibly tend to live longer than those who don’t. CR is better than nothing, but when it comes to extending lifespan by any serious measure – CR is not as good as gene or stem cell therapy. However, people who practice the CR diet do look younger and stay sharper and healthier with age. If there is grace in aging – CR followers would age gracefully.
These are some very important points that are usually ignored by publishers and what you are left with is the article about some crazy people counting calories and holding on to their miserable lives – because you must be miserable, practicing this lifestyle.
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CR has been proven scientifically to extend lifespan in fruit flies, larva, and rodents. It is very difficult to perform studies on CR life extension in humans – we live longer than fruit flies or rats. However, it has been scientifically proven that restricting calorie intake slows down metabolism and forces the cells to go onto “defensive mode” and regenerate more efficiently. This is what makes CR followers look younger and stay healthier.
If not longevity, it is definitely a good anti-aging therapy. Everyone who does CR properly (and this is the keyword here), tend to live slightly longer while staying younger (or looking younger if you wish) and remain healthier. Apart from the obvious benefit of losing weight, the CR diet slashes the number of free radicals we produce due to slow metabolism, thus reducing oxidative damage.
This helps to prevent inflammation and deterioration caused by free radicals. It does not, however, help to repair already-existing, irreversible damage, i. e. when skin is already aged and there are deep-set wrinkles, going on a CR diet will not rejuvenate it. Though, there are some conditions that are reversible with CR, e. g. metabolic syndrome and even diabetes, certain liver diseases, etc., but CR is most efficient as a prevention therapy and works better if started earlier in life.
If CR is not followed properly – it is actually detrimental to health in many ways. Let me extrapolate on this. If you are a monk, meditating in Tibet, you might get away with planning meals accordingly and getting all the nutrients you need for that lifestyle from food. If you are living in any developed country and earn your living by working 9 to 5 – there is absolutely no chance that you will get all the nutrients you need from 1200 calories a day.
As simple as that. And it is no secret that those who follow CR do take supplements. They talk about it openly and supplement regimens are recommended as an addition to the diet. Do not imagine a carrot and a lettuce leaf on a typical CR plate though. I find typical CR-associated images, featuring a young lady chewing on parsley, very annoying and misinformative.
A typical, good CR meal, would consist of at least a dozen of ingredients. A little bit of everything. You’d have to include good protein, various vegetables and some good oils in every meal. Think about Japanese cuisine, where they eat small, but very complex meals – this is very similar.
I personally, do not eat meat and I wouldn’t recommend red meat on the CR diet due to the inflammation it can cause, but it is possible to eat chicken, turkey, eggs or egg whites, and fish. So no, CR is not all about lettuce.
Remember, this is not a diet per se – it is a way of life. This is why it is also necessary to do weight-bearing exercises while following CR. This is important, as, without it, there is a risk of muscle deterioration or reduced muscle strength, and consequently, a heightened risk of fracture due to reduced bone mineral density.
Overall, the CR diet reduces the risk of many age-related diseases, retarding the aging process and stimulating cell regeneration. Research is required in order to follow it correctly, as well as time and dedication. For this reason, it might not be for everyone.
The good news is that there is plenty of research going on in the field of rejuvenation biotechnologies. SENS foundation does a lot in this field and their research is very promising. It is the world’s leading charity, dedicated to advancing the development of rejuvenation biotechnologies, so if you can, please donate here.
Another good news is that there are certain supplements that imitate CR, i. e. they mimic the way CR affects cell regeneration, without affecting metabolism. This is called CR mimetic. One such supplement is Resveratrol, but there are other good nutrient combinations that provide similar results. Some if these supplements can be found at Life Extension Foundation.