Dismissing the Nonsense Calorie Restriction / Eating Disorder Link

The responsible practice of calorie restriction with optimal nutrition (CR) has nothing whatsoever to do with eating disorders like anorexia. The former is engaged methodically in order to meaningfully and measurably improve your health and longevity, while the latter is engaged carelessly and relentlessly in order to damage oneself, slaved to an impossible ideal.

There is a world of difference between those extremes. That is self-evident to anyone who's taken a serious shot at practicing CR for the health benefits, as well as anyone who's spent any time in the online or offline CR communities. But you'll always find some idiot - and some academic idiots in past years - who can't see eating in a more planned fashion as anything other than a mental illness, no matter how many facts to the contrary are right under their noses. CR practitioners need no help to send idiots packing, but it's nice to see that some of the folk involved in the ongoing CALERIE study of human CR recently published a more scholarly refutation than the idiots deserve.

Is caloric restriction associated with development of eating-disorder symptoms? Results from the CALERIE trial:

This study tested a secondary hypothesis of the CALERIE trial (Heilbronn et al., 2006) that a 12-month period of intentional dietary restriction would be associated with an increase in eating disorder symptoms.


All three dietary restriction arms were associated with increased dietary restraint and negative energy balance, but not with increased ED symptoms or other harmful psychological effects. Participants in the three calorie restriction arms lost significant amounts of body weight. The psychological and behavioral effects were maintained during a 6-month follow-up period. ... These results did not support the hypothesis that caloric restriction causes increased eating disorder symptoms in overweight adults. In general, caloric restriction had either benign or beneficial psychological and behavioral effects.

So hopefully we'll be hearing less of the anorexia association nonsense in the years ahead. People who exercise in a planned fashion so as to be healthy don't have to put up with nonsensical accusations of mental illness, so why should people who eat in a planned fashion so as to be healthy?


True, CR isn't an eating disorder and isn't physically or psychologically unhealthy.

There is a connection, and it is that human CR attracts people with eating disorders. I was on the CR mailing list for a while. Most of the people were healthy CR'ers, but there were a few sick people. You can imagine the attraction--they were looking for people to normalize their illness and egg them on. The healthy folks on the list gradually recognized and tried to help the sick ones, as much as you can by email.

While it's important to make it clear that human CR is not an eating disorder, it is also useful to be realistic. It would be good to educate doctors and mental health workers on what CR is, but part of that has to be acknowledging the that eating disorders exist and providing info on criteria for differential diagnosis.

Posted by: Jim Lund at March 18th, 2008 9:07 AM
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