The approaching Yom Kippur fast and the accompanying feelings of hunger are an opportunity for us to write about the “Half Hunger” study, also known as the “Minnesota Hunger Study.” Meets the rules of ethics accepted today.The reason the study is intriguing and thought-provoking among researchers and therapists even today is the conclusion that emerges from it, which reinforces further research that suggests that “weed diets” harm both body and mind.
The “Half Hunger of Minnesota” study was conducted in 1944-1945 at the University of Minnesota under the leadership of Dr. Ansel Keys, an American researcher who was a nutritionist, biologist and physiologist. Keys is best known for his other study, The Seven Countries Study, which although not without its problems, is considered a leader in understanding the link between nutrition and cardiovascular disease.
The aim of the “Half Hunger” study was to collect data that would be the basis for building a nutrition strategy at the end of World War II, after tens of millions – civilians and soldiers – suffered from continuous hunger during the war years. That is, not a full fast but a continuous reduction of about half of the daily calories.
Participants in the trial, 36 volunteer men, conscientious objectors in World War II, 25 years old on average, in normal physiological and mental condition. The study itself is divided into three parts. For the first three months, participants consumed a standard diet that included about 3,500 calories a day. In the second phase, the menu was limited to about half of the daily calories, 1,570. This part of the experiment lasted half a year. The goal was to shed 25% of the participants’ weight. Meals were based on large amounts of cabbage, potatoes and a minimal amount of meat and cheese products – foods available and accepted in those times of war.
The third part of the experiment, which lasted three months, was the nutritional rehabilitation phase after the starvation period with 3,000-2,000 calories a day. At the end of this period, all dietary restrictions were removed from the participants, but follow-up continued for another two months.
Participants were closely monitored throughout the study year and underwent physiological and psychological tests. During the study the participants suffered from hunger and a varied diet. Such a study could not take place today for ethical reasons, even though all the volunteer participants were aware of what was going on and gave their consent. Despite the ethical problem, researchers find this study interesting because of its results. Decreased libido and personality changes such as depression and nervousness were observed. An increased and disturbing interest in food was also observed, which included thoughts and dreams about food and an obsessive preoccupation with changing recipes.
From questioning of the subjects, who described their feelings, they felt that the thoughts about food took over them, even though they had an active life that included social life and studies beyond research. It has been found that there is a correlation between a limited amount of calories and depression. After a period of “half hunger” participants who consumed a higher total of calories improved in the depression index compared to those who consumed fewer calories.
And what happened when the subjects returned to eating? Surprisingly, at a time when subjects were instructed to eat spontaneously and without caloric restriction, they did not return to their initial state. Neither physiological nor behavioral. They gained weight beyond their initial weight, which indicated changes in appetite and eating habits. Some testified to strong eating urges that led to eating attacks, some to increased appetite resulting in large amounts of food on the menu, two of the subjects even vomited after the offensive eating.
57 years later, in 2002, a second study was conducted, also led by researchers from the University of Minnesota. The researchers located 19 of the 36 participants in the Minnesota “half-hunger” study, who were approximately 80 years old, and the researchers sought to trace their behaviors over the years.
They were asked in interviews about their memories from that period, and some testified that returning to normal eating habits was not easy. For some, it lasted several months beyond the months of the study and even years.
The “half-hunger” study is a glimpse into the physiological and emotional processes that go on in extreme situations of food reduction, but beyond that it is a basis for understanding the development of unwanted eating behaviors and even eating disorders.
Towards next year
In these days of soul-searching and setting goals for the new year there are those who aim for weight loss. Sometimes there is a desire for a significant decrease, one that will lead to quick results. There are many and varied diets on the market that offer weed diets, even under “healthy” marketing names such as “detoxification”, or a diet based on nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits and legumes but are low in calories. One that is widely accepted today, can have both short-term and long-term negative effects.
In the worst case such a diet can lead to obesity and in the worst case provide fertile ground for the development of problematic eating behaviors and even eating disorders. And as in any field, it is better to go in a balanced and slow way over an extreme and fast way. This is why it is advisable to consult the right professional who will examine this or that diet. Be aware of extreme dietary changes and also the thoughts and habits that can accompany them.
It is important to emphasize that except in cases of eating disorders there is no prevention of fasting one day, but over time fasting, even if it is partial and incomplete, can be a danger to body and mind.
Source: Maariv.co.il – סגנון-לייף סטייל by www.maariv.co.il.
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