Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Great Starvation Experiment by Todd Tucker

Whenever my son Ron comes for a visit as he did this past July 4th, we have an official exchange of the books routine within about the first 5 minutes he is here. Of the 4 books he brought me this time, I started reading with this one, The Great Starvation Experiment: The heroic Men Who Starved so that Millions Could Live by Todd Tucker.

The Great Starvation Experiment was intended to see what is the best way to help war-torn starving refugees or any large group of people that have had their food sources stopped for so long due to natural disasters, etc. that they are literally starving. The experiment itself was started during World War II but didn’t finish in time for the end of the war, obviously you don’t keep a war going just for the sake of experimentation. During the draft of World War II the powers that be tried to keep Conscientious Objectors out of sight and busy on conservation projects or helping out places like mental hospitals. But for some pacifists, it was not enough that they could do for the cause of peace. Then Dr. Keys, the inventor of the K rations, came up with the plan for the starvations experiment. He found close to 40 conscientious objectors who were willing, at great personal sacrifice, to become part of an experiment on starvation and how to restore starving people to health.

After finding his initial young, physically fit men, Dr. Keys spent the first three months of the experiment, gathering health data on their general fitness and how many calories it took for them to maintain their normal weight. The men on average were 5’ 10” tall and weight on average 165 pounds. The had to walk 22 miles a week on top of the walking involved to get to the dining room and the exercises on the fitness machines that measured them. At this point the men were consuming around 3000 calories a day depending on the man as each diet was structured individually to the man’s size.

The next six months was the starvation part of the experiment. From the very first day of the this part of the experiment the men were cut down to around 1500 calories a day plus all the water and coffee they wanted to drink. They had to maintain their physical exercise including the 22 miles of walking a week. The exercise to simulate the activities of people having to rebuild their lives following war or natural disasters. The men dropped on average 25% of their body weight during the six months. As the men got hungrier and hungrier, a buddy system had to be instituted to be sure that no one was cheating on the diet. If they dropped a pea while eating, they grabbed it up off the floor and ate it. Any food given to them was not wasted and the men literally licked their plates clean. As the weeks and months moved along, they began to care less and less about world events and the only things they could focus on was food and looking forward to the end of the 6 month starvation phase and getting to recovery phase.

However the recovery phase wasn’t what they were expecting. This was actually the most important part of the experiment as Dr. Keys needed to see how many calories it took for a starving person to regain their strength and interest in life so the men were divided into groups and only got intermittent increases in their diets of a set amount of calories. Although the men slowly began to gain strength back, they were still focused on food, especially those who were only getting an extra 400 calories a day. The war was winding down and so was the experiment time when Dr. Keys realized that what the men needed to recover fully was food and as much as they wanted. When given back their full diets, the men quickly recovered their strength and interest in usual activities.

Space does not allow me to tell more about the book. It is fascinating reading and I urge you to read it. This was an experiment that due to the special circumstances of it, can never be repeated again. The data and book published from this study is still the authoritative guide to starvation and eating. These were immensely brave men who went through this experiment. In its way it does answer many things about diets for me. No wonder when someone tries to go on a 1000-1500 calorie diet that have trouble succeeding, as they are literally trying to starve their body to death and the body will refuse to cooperate. All the person will do is think about food and will do whatever it takes to eat food.

While this book deals with medical problems and issues, it is discussed in layman's words and is very understandable. You will find the individual stories of the men fascinating and enjoy hearing the updates on them as most lived to old age.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Let me know your thoughts and ideas!