Stay Hungry, Live Longer: the Science Behind the Calorie Restriction Diet

An SMU biologist thinks the secret to the fountain of youth may be found by putting fruit flies on a diet.

Eating only uncooked, organic (as much as possible) plants and "super-foods" is the next step beyond simple calorie restriction. Pure raw foodists are vegans, eating no animal products at all, including dairy and eggs. Also no alcohol or caffeine. A raw foodist menu is made up mainly of uncooked vegetables and fruits, raw nuts and fresh juices. They too restrict their daily calorie count—sometimes to half that of a non-vegan's—because of the amount of leafy greens and other low-cal veggies they fill up on.

Miranda Martinez, a Dallas actress who also does theater production and PR, has been attending raw food get-togethers since converting to an all-raw vegan diet in 2007. A native of Panama, Martinez, now 36, had been a yoyo dieter and admitted "bread-aholic" for much of her life. She'd tried all the major fad and commercial weight-loss plans: Atkins, The Zone, Cybergenics, Weight Watchers, low-carb, high-protein and the Master Cleanse (a liquid fast involving lemonade, cayenne pepper and maple syrup). With most, she'd lose weight and then gain it all back and more, she recalls.

In December 2007, after hitting 205 pounds, the 5-foot-2-inch Martinez did a 30-day Master Cleanse fast, which knocked off 21 pounds, then started eating only organic raw fruits and vegetables, totaling about 1,500 calories a day. She lost eight pounds the first week on the raw foods and also lost her craving for sweets. Within a few months, her cholesterol levels dropped into healthy numbers. She began supplementing with so-called super-foods—spirulina, bee pollen, chia seeds, nutritional yeast and nori seaweed—and signed up for Bikram yoga classes three times a week.

MARK GRAHAM
“Calorie restriction works in the lower
organisms, we know,” Bauer says.
“But with humans it’s anybody’s guess so far.”
MARK GRAHAM
“Calorie restriction works in the lower organisms, we know,” Bauer says. “But with humans it’s anybody’s guess so far.”

By July 2008, Martinez had pared off 66 pounds, going from a size 20 to a size 4. She said it wasn't a struggle, and she is now such a believer in raw foods, she's started working as a "coach" to help those who want to try the raw way of life. She's also written an e-book full of tips and recipes, available on her Web site, VivaRaw.com.

"Before going raw, I felt a physical pull toward food," Martinez says. "I wanted the bread, the chips, the desserts. I had an emotional connection to food. For me, eating raw food has meant finding freedom. As long as my food is raw, I can eat and be satisfied. Now if I get hungry, I eat another apple. It's the best I've ever felt in my life. I don't get colds anymore. My allergies went away. This is my way of life now."

The raw foodists are energetic evangelists, touting the benefits they've reaped from giving up cooked and processed food. But there is no scientific basis, says UT-Southwestern nutrition expert Jo Ann Carson, for a raw food diet being healthier than one that includes cooked food, dairy and meats. "There is a science basis for calorie restriction," Carson says. "But raw foodists are an extreme."

Carson warns that an all-raw diet could lack adequate protein. "They're also losing some muscle, which makes them look thin," she says. "But when they get older, they're not going to have the muscle strength to support themselves easily. They could be more likely to fall over, break bones and die. [Going on raw foods] might keep them from getting cancer at 50, but if they live to be 80, their musculature is not going to be as good."

Isaac Clay, 28, is a stringbean at 6-foot-1-inch and 160 pounds. He met his girlfriend Courtney Taylor, 27, at a Dallas raw foodists' eat-and-greet last year. She started eating only raw vegan foods at age 20; he did at 23, after a period of depression and soul-searching following the sudden death of his mother contributed to his weight topping at 220. He credits going raw with his weight loss, his acne clearing and his chronic backaches going away. It also lifted him out of depression.

"Shock and grief derailed me," Clay recalls. "I stuffed myself with fast food two or three times a day. I would eat fried chicken feet at a Chinese restaurant. When I first got into raw foods, it was new and huge to me. Now it's second nature. Raw food makes the most sense." His two favorite items: a super-food supplement made of blue-green algae and a drink powder called Chocolate Bliss that can be blended with raw fruits or vegetables as a meal replacement.

Clay estimates there are about 600 hard-core raw foodists among the various Meetup groups in the Dallas area. Almost every weekend, there's a free buffet at somebody's house, where people share recipes and give testimonials about which foods are "supporting" them.

Being part of a community of like-minded eaters is as beneficial as the food itself, says Clay. "Getting together physically is a powerful thing. You can't just do it through the Internet. Life is all about relationships."

And his relationship with calorie-restricted raw foods has a higher goal: Living longer. "I just don't plan on dying," he says. "And as long as we're nourishing our cells properly, we're basically immortal."

On a diet of salads and seaweed, however, it might just feel like forever.

While working on this story, writer Elaine Liner started taking resveratrol daily and eating raw foods. She has lost 9 pounds.

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16 comments
Singleton_78
Singleton_78

I am 33 yrs old, why does it seem like eating less was easier when I was in my 20's? Is thier a biological or metabolic reason for this? This totally perplexes me. I get 1 hour of cardiovasucular excercise 3 to 4 times per week but it is not having the same effect on my figure as it did when I was just 2 years younger. What should I do about this?

Stephan
Stephan

Dr. J - I thought you where taller then me and I didn't know you weighed less then me - Stephan G

At 5-foot-7-inches, 140 pounds, the German-born scientist (who looks about 19) never exercises, doesn't take resveratrol and has never been on a diet. "Humans evolved as omnivores. They ate everything in their path," he says.

Rick
Rick

Obesity and overweight pose a major risk for chronic diseases. That's about 2/3 of the population yet no doubt the same group that banned public smoking (due to health concerns ha ha)

When will fat and obese people be taxed for driving up health care costs for the good people who don't eat eat eat? They drive up health care costs more then smokers did plus they cause accidents... Have you ever seen an overeater try to drive? They can hardly back a car up because they can not turn around to look behind them... overweight people should be given a restricted license as well.

Quit eating so much and try this restricted diet.

Lukka
Lukka

This is really great article about losing weight on healthy way...

Jill
Jill

Just to correct a bit of misinformation in the article:

Eating vegan or raw is NOT a variation on the calorie restriction diet. The vast majority of vegans and raw foodists have chosen their diets for health, environmental and animal abuse reasons and do not purposely eat fewer calories than is currently deemed necessary.

Jill
Jill

Just to correct a bit of misinformation in the article:

Eating vegan or raw is NOT a variation on the calorie restriction diet. The vast majority of vegans and raw foodists have chosen their diets for health, environmental and animal abuse reasons and do not purposely eat fewer calories than is currently deemed necessary.

Stevemle
Stevemle

To Tim's comment:"I would rather die middle-aged and happy than be old and miserable."

I say: "Don't knock it, until you try it. You might surprise your self."

SS
SS

"Vyff now eats once a day, usually a lean chicken breast poached in water, some steamed broccoli or squash and maybe a glass of fresh orange juice. She eats red meat once every two weeks and prefers it cooked rare. Her daily calorie count hovers around 1,200 if she's not exercising"

This is complete BS. If she eats ONCE a day and that once a day is a lean chicken breast poached in water w/ veggies and MAYBE a glass of OJ she isn't coming anywhere NEAR 1,200 calories per day. That is probably a max of 300 calories. The math here doesn't add up in the least.

George
George

So SMU professor wants us to eat 6 walnut halves (3 walnuts) and 3 chocolate chips.

Some of the SMU students already do this, so it shouldn't be too hard. Except that THIS IS AN EATING DISORDER, NOT A HEALTH BENEFIT.

Harris
Harris

Well we certainly shouldn't be publishing information intended to help people make nutritional choices on the basis of fruit fly studies and children's book authors.

Quack medical advice like this is hurting people for a few quick bucks.

Express your distaste for such dangerous nonsense by not buying the Observer.

izz
izz

"Vyff now eats once a day, usually a lean chicken breast poached in water, some steamed broccoli or squash and maybe a glass of fresh orange juice. Her daily calorie count hovers around 1,200"

One meal a day does NOT come to 1,200 calories, even at McDonalds. One serving of veggies, oj & chicken has less than half that amount.

This woman needs to see a nutritionist. Calorie restriction is defined as getting your dietary needs met with vegies, fruits, beans & wholegrains. Living on three chocolate chips is the definition of anorexia.

S. Gupta
S. Gupta

The red wine extract resveratrol is a calorie restriction mimetic, in other words it mimics the effects of calorie restriction without the need to reduce calorie consumption.

Since the Harvard resveratrol study on aging by Dr. Sinclair was published in the journal Nature a flood of dubious companies have sprung up selling resveratrol. Many have no scientists, no labs, no quality control and no experience. Both I and Dr. Mehmet Oz have recommended Biotivia Bioforte and Transmax. They are made by a company with 18 years of experience, and Biotivia supplies many of the university medical schools, health ministries and researchers.

Consumer Lab, an independent testing authority, evaluated the major brands and found many lacking in content and quality. The highest potency products that passed their evaluation were Biotivia, Transmax and Bioforte. A product by Life Extension Co. failed badly with only 26% of the claimed resveratrol. This is clearly a case of buyer beware. Look for a reputable company with the resources necessary to product this compound.

tina
tina

"Vyff now eats once a day, usually a lean chicken breast poached in water, some steamed broccoli or squash and maybe a glass of fresh orange juice. ... Her daily calorie count hovers around 1,200 if she's not exercising; 1,600 to 1,800 if she runs 5 or 10 miles on the treadmill."

This doesn't compute at all. One chicken breast, some broccoli, and a glass of orange juice is nowhere near 1200 calories. (Unless it's a whole jug of orange juice and some mutant chicken breast.) I personally also eat approximately 1000-1200 calories on a daily basis, and I eat lots more than that - Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and at least one or two snacks.

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

I would rather die middle-aged and happy than be old and miserable.

Diana Ivette
Diana Ivette

That´s true. People often tell me they are envious of how much food I eat without gaining weight. But I think it's not about how much you eat but what you eat and the variety in your diet.

For example while most people drink a glass of orange, i eat the whole fruit, which is more satisfying and has less calories. I eat vegetables of all colors before eating the main course, whatever it is, I try to adapt. If i eat a hamburger i don't put dressing on it, and change the fries for salad, and that doesn't make it less appetizing. For dessert I choose a fruit or have some ice cream. I have no problem with it. I enjoy what i eat. In fact I've never liked dressings and fatty food too much.

By the other side, I can see that most of the people who are dieting eat little plates of lettuce with lots of dressing to have a less terrifying experience, and end up with the feeling of being miserable and hungry asking themselves why if they eat so little, they still stay fat.

The point is that my daily count is low and I eat much more than a piece of chicken and steamed broccoli. That's miserable and unnecessary. I love food and love to be healthy too.

 
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