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Are you starving?

As ‘bikini season’ approaches and diets get into full swing I thought this post would be appropriate to make you perhaps question what really is healthy…

It’s really interesting but also quite scary the effects starvation and deprivation can have on both the body and mind without even realising it.

When I was inpatient being treated for an Eating Disorder we were taught about the Minnesota Study which was an experiment lasting for 12 months using 36 young men at the end of the Second World War. Its main purpose was to show the effects of famine due to the many people suffering as a result of the conflicts of the war.

The study ran in four phases which involved first feeding the men up to an ‘ideal weight’,  a ‘semi-starvation’ period which meant cutting their calories back to just 1570 a day, a restricted rehabilitation period which meant their calories and diet were controlled and then a unrestricted rehabilitation period where they could eat what they liked but with supervision.

Some of the interesting things I found out from this study are the behaviours the men display even after the experiment ended and it just shows how long the mind can take to heal after the body has been deprived for so long.

Some of the obvious physical symptoms reported  included:
-Reduced sex drive
-Low body temperature
-Water retention
-Reduced bowel movements

The Psychological symptoms are more interesting to me and maybe not so obvious. These are what I wanted to emphasise on the most as you may even recognise some of these in yourself when dieting or just in day to day life…

-Decreased motivation / interest in activities

-Irrational irritability – The men would become annoyed with each other at meal times and they would prefer quietness over conversation when eating to focus their attention on the food

-Unusual behaviours developed such as eating very slowly (to extend the eating experience) or very fast (because of hunger or to get out of the dining room)

Other unusual behaviours reported included diluting food with water to make the quantity seem bigger and drinking more water to feel ‘fuller’

Obsessions over food developed with some of the men reportedly staying awake until 5am reading cook books

-Daydreams / thoughts were reported with little interest of lack of concentration on anything else

-Body dysmorphia – as they lost weight they didn’t actually report to see themselves as being too thin at all.

-Reduced socialisation and resignation
“In a store, when shopping, they were easily pushed around by the crowd” the research team reported.
They would admit defeat easily and result in doing things alone rather than with people.


-Irrational mood swings – Even after the study had ended one man cut of his own finger and another man ended up in hospital after binging on food and needing to have his stomach pumped

There are many other interesting findings from the study and I recommend reading this blog if you are interested>

I guess I just wanted to emphasise some of the effects starvation can have on the mind and body and also  make you think about your own behaviours and if you can relate to some of these (as I can) – maybe ask yourself if you are actually starving and is it worth it?

Take care,

Sarah Richelle X

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