Damn Interesting on Calorie Restriction

The folk at Damn Interesting interviewed biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and some of the Methuselah Foundation volunteers last year - on the topic of healthy life extension, naturally. In their latest piece, Cynthia Wood paints a skeptical and somewhat incomplete summary view of the practice and science of calorie restriction (CR), concluding:

At least some in the nutrition field seem to regard CR as little more than anorexia with medical sweetening to make it more acceptable.

While the practice of CR is still very controversial, the level of hostility towards its practice seems quite odd. There are hundreds of diets on the market in America, many of them vastly unhealthy, and most intended for no more worthy goal than the loss of a few pounds. CR remains unproven thus far, but ultimately the only way to definitively prove or disprove its effects is to do exactly what the CR Society is currently doing - to give it a try.

If you know folk in the calorie restriction community, or at least the normal go-to contacts for media, you'll recognize some individual quirks writ large as the practice of many people, as well as transient community concerns taken as firm history for all time. It's annoying, but such is the way media goes. The community contains some real characters, and in any case isn't large enough or uniform enough to be able to extrapolate much of the way in which CR is practiced from any small sample. Finding your way to a style of CR that suits you is something of a journey in and of itself. These thoughts are probably worth repeating to the next interviewer or journalist you happen to be talking to on the topic.

In general, I thought the article to be appropriately skeptical on calorie restriction for increased maximum human longevity, but far too dismissive of health benefits resulting from the practice of calorie restriction. The studies performed to date are pretty conclusive on that count, and something on the order of $100 million or more is presently invested in attempts to replicate the biochemical effects of calorie restriction to treat or prevent some age-related conditions. I don't see it as in any way controversial at this point to say that CR is very good for you - up there with moderate exercise as quite possibly the most important thing you could be doing for your long term health if you are an average, healthy adult.

Any uncertainty in whether you, a healthy person, should practice calorie restriction (for which read "whether you should stop damaging your long-term health and longevity by eating too much and having too much body fat") stems from the lack of the sort of large-scale studies needed to ferret out those subpopulations for whom CR isn't a good idea. But outside of medical conditions with Latin and Greek names, it's all pretty much the same common sense as you apply to any dietary choice - you can't support an athelete's lifestyle on a CR diet, the obese should seek recommendations from a physician before any diet change, and so forth.

So ask your physician if there is any objection to cutting back the calories - while maintaining correct nutrition - and losing some fat as a result; in most cases, and unless you suffer from a small range of specific medical conditions, you'll be told to go right on ahead.

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