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Why I'm Not OK With Study Advocating Calorie Restriction Among Non-Obese People

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If you're at a healthy weight and about to snack on some crackers, carrots or -- gasp! -- cheesecake while reading this, you better think twice. Tonight's bedroom romp, how grumpy you become when Monday morning reality sets in, your quality of life, and your overall health could depend on it.

At least that's what researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana are saying. To further test the oft-speculated notion that calorie restriction (CR) even among the non-obese provides some of the aforementioned benefits, the experts assessed two groups of people, each primarily women (70%) with BMIs in the 22 to 28 range, over the course of two years.

One group engaged in 25 percent CR while the other group chowed down on whatever they chose.

Now for the um, breaking news: Compared to the control group, the one that cut back on their calories was found to lose 16.7 pounds at the end of the two years. The ones who ate whatever the heck delighted their palate only lost less than a pound during this same period.

Well, you don't say. This blinding glimpse of the obvious was published online in the May 2, 2016 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Had I read this back in 2007 when I lost 70 pounds, I would be cheering the finding along. My world was all about cutting calories; after all, that and exercise is what led to my much-needed weight loss.

However, my CR spun out of control. Within a couple of years, I became obsessed with the scale and mastered the ability to mentally tally calorie consumption throughout the day, no pen or fitness app needed.

Thankfully, I'm back on track and have been for a while now.

Still, reading studies like this one where CR is advocated -- even among those who are already considered to be at a either a healthy weight or overweight (as suggested by the BMI of 28 of some involved in the study) -- is bothersome. It begs the question: isn't this CR suggestion an eating disorder in the making? You're a perfectly good weight, so hey, eat even less.

Been there, done that.

Whatever happened to healthy body weight maintenance or healthy weight loss? You know: sensible choices, clean eating, less sugar consumption -- and tossing a slice or two of pizza and ice cream into the mix? Now, according to this finding anyway, we should try our hand at eating less even if we're within the healthy BMI spectrum. It might have the potential to add years to our lives, the study suggests.

I'm not so sure. If calorie restriction becomes extreme -- and I'm here to tell you that it's entirely possible -- it can wreak havoc on the years in your life.

Having been wrapped up in anxiety over what the day's meals would entail and damning myself for having more low-fat yogurt than I "should" have back in the day, I fear that a study suggesting that calorie restriction among those who are already at a healthy weight is sending the wrong message:

You're a good weight. But... you could still stand to shed some pounds.

You can afford to have a cookie, but don't.

You can always be thinner.

Eat less and watch things heat up in the bedroom!

One day, we're thrilled at I-don't -care-what-you-think-about-my-body confidence. The next day, well... studies like this.

The study also found that in addition to weight loss, that those who consumed fewer calories also experienced improvements in mood, sleep quality, stress levels and yes, boosts in their libido. The study's authors maintain that such findings serve to debunk commonly-held notions that CR does just the opposite.

In fact, the author's state that "Calorie restriction among primarily overweight and obese persons has been found to improve QOL [quality of life], sleep and sexual function, and the results of the present study indicate that two years of CR [calorie restriction] is unlikely to negatively affect these factors in healthy adults; rather, CR is likely to provide some improvement."

Yeah. Well. With all due respect, I'm not feeling it.

Is it all interesting? Yes.

Potentially damaging for those of a healthy weight (or slightly overweight) who are on the brink of unhealthy eating tendencies? Absolutely.

I, for one, am taking this finding with a grain of salt.


If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.