What is Caloric Restriction?
Calorie restriction (CR) is a way of eating that limits your daily intake of calories so that you live longer. CR involves restricting the amount of food you eat each day to levels that are lower than what most people would consider “normal”. People who follow CR often do it for health reasons or because they want to lose weight. Some people use CR to extend their life span.
There are many different types of CR. For example, some people restrict themselves from eating any foods containing fat while others limit themselves from eating anything with sugar or refined carbohydrates. There are even people who restrict themselves completely from all food except water and coffee.
The main benefit of doing CR is that it extends your lifespan and increases your quality of life. The main disadvantage is that it takes time to see results. Many people have tried CR and failed. You need to make sure you stick with the program for at least two years before seeing any significant changes in your body composition or health.
How Does Caloric Restriction Work?
When you restrict yourself from eating too much food, you reduce your metabolism and thus your ability to burn calories and gain weight. Since CR lowers your body’s ability to store fat and burn food, it forces your body to use up stored fat and calories. While eating too much will cause you to gain weight and possibly lead to serious health problems, eating too little will also cause problems because your body needs a certain amount of nutrients in order to work properly.
You may have heard about another type of diet called fasting. Fasting is basically the process of only eating certain days of the week or month. Although this can be effective for weight loss, it’s not the same thing as CR and it’s not nearly as effective.
CR vs Fasting
Most people like the simplicity of fasting because all you have to do is stop eating. However, fasting is a lot more complicated than that. One reason why is because if you don’t eat anything for a long enough period of time, chances are you’re going to die. It doesn’t matter what you eat because if you don’t eat anything at all, your body is going to go into starvation mode and shut down all non-vital organs until the day that it decides to stop working altogether.
Fasting can be dangerous when it’s not done properly. Most people assume they can fast by only drinking water and never eating any food at all. However, this isn’t true. There’s a reason why religious groups that practice fasting also require their followers to only drink water.
If you don’t provide your body with any nutrients, it’s going to eventually consume itself and begin breaking down the non-vital organs. This doesn’t mean you can eat a bunch of junk food or anything with high amounts of trans-fats. Your body can only take so much abuse before it begins storing excessive amounts of fat and storing it in places where it shouldn’t be stored.
That’s why CR is preferred over fasting. Not only does CR prevent this from happening, it also reverses it. CR doesn’t involve any sort of deprivation and it allows your body to work properly without the need to consume massive amounts of food. It’s a lot less stressful on your part and allows you to maintain a healthy lifestyle without feeling hungry all the time.
Health Benefits of Caloric Restriction
Many people are drawn to CR because of the numerous health benefits that come with it. CR helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. It can also reduce your chances of getting diabetes. CR can even boost your energy levels and help you lose weight.
There has even been evidence that suggests it can increase your lifespan by as much as 50%.
CR can potentially improve almost every aspect of your life. It prevents or slows down the effects of aging and allows you to live a longer and more fruitful life. CR isn’t even that hard to maintain because it doesn’t require you to purchase any special foods or eat at any specific times. Basically all you have to do is eat less than what the average person eats in a day and you’ll notice positive changes in your body.
While it’s not a magic bullet that will prevent you from ever getting sick, CR can and will improve your life in more ways than you could have ever imagined.
What are the Different Types of Caloric Restriction
There are two different types of caloric restriction and which one you decide to do is completely up to you. The first method is shorter term and involves restricting your calories every day of the week. For example, you could consume between 700 and 1,000 calories every Monday through Friday and then eat whatever you want on the weekend. Another example would be to restrict your calories every day of the month.
This would mean you’d restrict your calories for 30 days and then eat whatever you want for the next two.
The second method involves restricting your calories every other day. On even numbered days you would restrict your calories and on odd numbered days you wouldn’t.
Which one is best for you is going to depend entirely on your preferences, however, most people prefer restricting their calories every day of the week as opposed to restricting them every other day.
How CR Can Help You Lose Weight
CR can help you lose weight in a number of ways. The most obvious way is that it prevents your body from storing excessive amounts of fat. When you don’t give your body as much to work with, it doesn’t store as much away for later. This can sometimes result in quick weight loss over a period of time.
Restricting your calories can also have an impact on your hormones which can result in weight loss as well. While this isn’t a direct result of CR, it can certainly help if you’re looking to lose weight.
Another benefit of CR is that it can prevent you from overeating and binge eating. Overeating can be caused by numerous factors such as social pressure to eat, the taste of the food, habit, and even boredom. By severely restricting your calories, you can eliminate overeating since you won’t have that much room for it.
Restricting your calories can also make you more aware of everything that you eat. When you know that you’re only going to get a certain amount of food each day, you’ll be more selective about what you choose to eat. This can break bad eating habits and help prevent binge eating since you aren’t able to just scarf down everything in sight.
Will You Feel Hungry All The Time?
Some people are under the impression that you’re always going to be hungry all the time when you’re on a CR program. This isn’t necessarily true especially if your diet is well balanced. If your diet is lacking in certain nutrients, then it’s very likely that you’ll feel hungry all the time. However, this is easily rectified by adding more calories and nutrients to your diet.
In fact, it’s very possible that you’ll eat more food than you normally do when you’re on a caloric restriction diet. This is because your hunger levels are going to be much lower and your willpower is going to be stronger since your brain isn’t screaming at you to eat every five minutes.
This doesn’t mean you can go crazy with your food choices either, you still need to keep them healthy since anything else will cause you to gain weight. It’s also important that you don’t eat too much of anything since this will cause your weight loss efforts to be fruitless.
If you want, you could always increase your calories slightly every few weeks or months as well. This may prevent any hunger issues from surfacing while giving your body more food to work with on its journey to get back to a healthy weight.
What Should You Eat?
When you’re on a CR program, it’s recommended that you eat around 1,200 calories every day. It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you don’t go over this amount. Your diet can be comprised of lean proteins, small amounts of complex carbs and plenty of vegetables.
Sugar and starchy foods should be avoided when possible since your body will store any excess as fat once they’re converted into glycogen. Even fruits should be limited to one serving per day since they also contain a lot of sugar.
You can and should drink as much water or any other drink of your choice throughout the day. The more hydrated you are, the better your body will function and that includes working more efficiently when losing weight.
When picking out your food for the day, you’ll need to read the nutrition labels carefully since even foods that seem healthy can have a lot of calories. For instance, a pint of strawberries has around 160 calories while 3/4 cup of edamame has 176 calories. It only takes a little bit of overindulgence in these types of foods to blow your entire calorie count for the day.
Try to eat until you’re full but don’t stuff yourself since this will just cause your body to store any excess as fat. Combine this with regular exercise and you’ll have yourself a successful weight loss routine that’s relatively easy to maintain.
The Bottom Line
Caloric restriction is an effective method for losing weight and keeping it off. It’s not only healthy, but it will also extend your life by several years as long as you don’t overdo it.
There are various CR regimens you can try out such as the 5:2 diet where you eat whatever you want five days a week and fast for two days. Another is alternate day fasting where you fast every other day until noon. There’s also the one-meal-a-day plan where you eat a very large meal in the evening and don’t eat anything the rest of the day.
If you want to get really serious with CR, you can try prolonged fasting where you go for several days without eating any food. Instead of starving yourself, your body enters a state of ketosis which uses fat cells for energy which means that even if you’re not eating, your body is still functioning. This may not be suitable for everyone though so it’s best to consult a physician before trying this out.
Exercise should always accompany any CR program you do since it will speed up your weight loss and make you feel good overall. Just be sure to start out slowly and work your way up since jumping in at the deep end may lead to injury or aggravate an existing one.
Losing weight doesn’t have to be hard as long as you’re conscious of what you eat. Being on a CR program will keep you from feeling tired and weak all the time while also improving the quality of your life. Just remember that no matter what regimen you decide to follow, you need to get regular exercise for it to be effective in the long term!
Sources & references used in this article:
The scientific basis of caloric restriction leading to longer life by L Fontana – Current opinion in gastroenterology, 2009 – journals.lww.com
Of mice and men: the benefits of caloric restriction, exercise, and mimetics by EM Mercken, BA Carboneau, SM Krzysik-Walker… – Ageing research …, 2012 – Elsevier
Attenuation of age-related changes in mouse neuromuscular synapses by caloric restriction and exercise by G Valdez, JC Tapia, H Kang… – Proceedings of the …, 2010 – National Acad Sciences