I Am That Girl Now

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A kind of frightening read

In my post on inside/outside cues, I mentioned a study done back around WWII where a bunch of normal guys had their food intake studied for a few months, then drastically reduced.

Today, I found that study. Apparently this is better known than I thought; in some places (particularly eating-disorder blogs), they toss the name "The Minnesota Semi-Starvation Experiment" around as a descriptive reference.

Personally, I've been reading through this and it's more frightening than the relatively calm and soothing summary they have in Intuitive Eating. It's a LOT more frightening.

Okay, so I mentioned-- because Intuitive Eating mentioned-- the obsession with food, toying with food for hours, binging, and so forth. What I didn't mention, because I didn't see it, is a lot more hair-raising.

Cookbooks, menus, and information bulletins on food production became intensely interesting to many of the men who previously had little or no interest in dietetics or agriculture, (p. 833). ... In addition to cookbooks and collecting recipes, some of the men even began collecting coffeepots, hot plates, and other kitchen utensils. According to the original report, hoarding even extended to non-food-related items such as "old books, unnecessary second-hand clothes, knick knacks, and other 'junk.' Often after making such purchases, which could be afforded only with sacrifice, the men would be puzzled as to why they had bought such more or less useless articles" (p. 837). One man even began rummaging through garbage cans. This general tendency to hoard has been observed in starved anorexic patients (Crisp, Hsu, & Harding, 1980) and even in rats deprived of food (Fantino & Cabanac, 1980).

I'M SORRY, EXCUSE ME, WHAT?? Seriously, I've never heard of this before, and yet the description is perfectly familiar from my WW days, in which I printed out a million recipes, was TiVoing about eight different cooking shows, went to the store several times a week because I felt I must buy such-and-such ingredients, and, oh yeah, the hoarding. Not hoarding food, although there were a bunch of instances (some documented in the early days of this blog) when I would find free food at the office and haul the whole shebang back to my office just for me. And the shopping I did for non-food stuff was just huge. I was trying to keep us to a budget but I kept going insane. This is the first time I've heard that it might have had anything to do with my diet.

The men demanded that their food be served hot, and they made unusual concoctions by mixing foods together, as noted above. There was also a marked increase in the use of salt and spices. The consumption of coffee and tea increased so dramatically that the men had to be limited to 9 cups per day; similarly, gum chewing became excessive and had to be limited after it was discovered that one man was chewing as many as 40 packages of gum a day and "developed a sore mouth from such continuous exercise" (p. 835).

::hair goes up again:: Coffee, check; tea, check; gum, to the point of a sore mouth, CHECK FUCKING CHECK. Oh my God. And yeah, I used a hell of a lot of spices; how the hell else do you make it through without resorting to spiking up the taste factor?

Although the subjects were psychologically healthy prior to the experiment, most experienced significant emotional deterioration as a result of semistarvation. Most of the subjects experienced periods during which their emotional distress was quite severe; almost 20% experienced extreme emotional deterioration that markedly interfered with their functioning. Depression became more severe during the course of the experiment. Elation was observed occasionally, but this was inevitably followed by "low periods." Mood swings were extreme for some of the volunteers ...

You know, I've said for a while that WW was the starting point of me driving myself into depression. I've just never had any kind of back-up. And that was before I read the next paragraphs:

Irritability and frequent outbursts of anger were common, although the men had quite tolerant dispositions prior to starvation. For most subjects, anxiety became more evident. As the experiment progressed, many of the formerly even-tempered men began biting their nails or smoking because they felt nervous. Apathy also became common, and some men who had been quite fastidious neglected various aspects of personal hygiene. During semistarvation, two subjects developed disturbances of "psychotic" proportions. During the refeeding period, emotional disturbance did not vanish immediately but persisted for several weeks, with some men actually becoming more depressed, irritable, argumentative, and negativistic than they had been during semistarvation. After two weeks of refeeding, one man reported his extreme reaction in his diary:

"I have been more depressed than ever in my life ... I thought that there was only one thing that would pull me out of the doldrums, that is release from C.P.S. the experiment I decided to get rid of some fingers. Ten days ago, I jacked up my car and let the car fall on these fingers ... It was premeditated." (pp. 894-895)

Several days later, this man actually did chop off three fingers of one hand in response to the stress.


YIKES. Pretty much all I can say to that. YIKES. Remind me, next time I say that diets can make you crazy, that this is not hyperbole. Holy CROW.

The volunteers reported impaired concentration, alertness, comprehension, and judgment during semistarvation; however, formal intellectual testing revealed no signs of diminished intellectual abilities. As the 6 months of semistarvation progressed, the volunteers exhibited many physical changes, including gastrointestinal discomfort; decreased need for sleep; dizziness; headaches; hypersensitivity to noise and light; reduced strength; poor motor control; edema (an excess of fluid causing swelling); hair loss; decreased tolerance for cold temperatures (cold hands and feet); visual disturbances (i.e., inability to focus, eye aches, "spots" in the visual fields); auditory disturbances (i.e., ringing noise in the ears); and paresthesias (i.e., abnormal tingling or prickling sensations, especially in the hands or feet).

Okay, I had the decreased need for sleep, the dizziness, the headaches, the hypersensitivity to noise and light, the poor motor control, the decreased tolerance for cold temperatures, and the tingly feet.

Looking back, I had one friend-- hilariously enough, the one who is now on the Soup Diet-- who, when I reported dizziness and sensitivity to cold (I didn't feel the rest of it was worth mentioning, I guess) put that together with my increasingly weird behavior and pretty much flat-out said that I needed to eat more and that this was looking a lot like an eating disorder. At the time, I was so angry with her that I couldn't see straight. I ranted about that comment to my husband for hours. Bless his heart, he assured everyone that I was fine, thanks, that he was around me all the time and would know if I had an eating disorder...

...which, well, he didn't. He knew from anorexia and he knew from binging & purging, but he had absolutely no knowledge of my bouts of compulsive eating, and my behavior was otherwise (or perhaps entirely) a model of woman-on-a-diet behavior. He was worried about my mental health, sure-- the time that I sat in a bubble bath for an hour waiting for relaxation to kick in, after which I broke down weeping all over the place, was kind of a clue-- but he had no reason to connect it to my diet.

Speaking of which:

At the end of semistarvation, the men's BMRs had dropped by about 40% from normal levels. This drop, as well as other physical changes, reflects the body's extraordinary ability to adapt to low caloric intake by reducing its need for energy. More recent recent research has shown that metabolic rate is markedly reduced even among dieters who do not have a history of dramatic weight loss (Platte, Wurmser, Wade, Mecheril & Pirke, 1996). During refeeding, Keys et al. found that metabolism speeded up, with those consuming the greatest number of calories experiencing the largest rise in BMR. The group of volunteers who received a relatively small increment in calories during refeeding (400 calories more than during semistarvation) had no rise in BMR for the first 3 weeks. Consuming larger amounts of food caused a sharp increase in the energy burned through metabolic processes.

This explains so much about why the "maintenance" portion of WW broke my will to live, I can't even start. I was, in fact, up about 400 calories a day (8 Points, OMG, such riches!) from my dieting levels, but considering I was coming off of a 1200 calorie/day diet, and that my basic metabolic calorie needs at that age and weight were at least 1900 calories/day, my body probably looked at that and laughed and laughed.

I will say this for Body For Life, which I tried after I finally dumped WW: I ate. That program is probably responsible, via sheer amount of food, consumed every three or four hours, plus a splurge day, for giving my metabolic rate a chance to revive. (At the time, I was horrified at the sheer amount of food I would eat on my splurge days. In retrospect, that was my body recouperating from its metabolic winter, and it did me no harm-- didn't even really cause me to gain weight.) True, the sheer amount of planning and work I had to do just to eat proper food all the time was prohibitive over the long run, and my plunge into crazy was in full swing by that point so that behavior didn't help, but as for my metabolism? It helped a LOT.

I've got less compulsive, disordered behavior re: food than I did in 2005. That said, I've been spending a little time mentally glancing back over the past twenty years. My first battles with my dad over my weight started right when I hit adolescence, and I cannot remember any time after that where I wasn't self-conscious about what I ate. I can't remember any time after that when I wasn't self-conscious about my body. I've been doing this for twenty years, folks. The long and the short of it is that I don't know what my natural weight is. I'm pretty sure that my natural weight is not what I was when I started WW, just because I know I had to work really really hard to get up there. Based on the fact that I have a history of lurking around this weight, even when binging and engaging in no nutrition whatsoever (a long period in college, a long period after college, and now this past year, although frankly I've been doing pretty well regarding nutrition this past year as such things go), I suspect it might be around where I am right now, maybe within ten pounds lower due to my continuing mental issues about food. I guess we'll see, if I get this stuff kicked to the curb.

In short: someday I want to grow up to be Shauna. SOMEDAY. ::shakes fist at sky::

In the meantime, I'm making some notes on this study. Just YIKES, people. Next time I start exhibiting any of these symptoms, PLEASE come and sit on me [/Tracy Jordan].

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