April's CR Diary

A diary of a 30 year old woman following CRON, or Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition, for health and life extension.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Doesn't Matter What I Lose

That's a line from "Consume Me" by DC Talk, a Christian rock band. It's the first song on the first mix tape I made in my CR era, back in July, when I was playing with calorie levels that caused too rapid weight loss but induced some pretty serious euphoria. I don't usually listen to Christian rock (except Amy Grant, of course), but you try dropping your calories to 800 and see if you don't start listening to some odd stuff.

Wow, yesterday's entry got great responses! Thanks for your message, Black Moth. And as always, thanks for your comments, Mary! Pumpkin custard sounds delicious too!

I have to agree with one of my CR sister Mary's comments, and respectfully disagree with the other.

First, the one I agree with:

Mary's been telling me for ages that it's easier to stick to the same calorie level every day rather than cycling between high and low. I'm starting to think she is absolutely right, and in a minute I'll tell the story of my day yesterday to illustrate the point. Especially from the standpoint of my anxiety, which can be kicked off by just one feast, it might make sense for these feast days go away. But oh how I would miss going out and eating lots of yummy food! This is why it always cracks me up when people wonder if I'm anorexic... I love food! Anyone who has ever seen me attack a really good bread basket would have no worries.

I'm going to experiment with keeping my calorie level very steady this week, until Friday when I have dinner plans and we'll have all week to figure that out. I'm going to stick as close as possible to my April's Diet Day One, the low of the two days I sent MR as representative days. It's a very good day nutritionally, and I find it very satisfying. Travel is minimal this week, so I should be able to do that. I finally think I figure out how to print my nutritional info off DWIDP onto the blog, so I'll do that and you can see how good it is! I'm very proud of myself on this one.

The part with which I respectfully disagree: "How low is too low?"

This question was asked often at the conference, and I noticed that it was asked primarily by people who either just started to practice CR, or people who don't practice it very seriously. Now before anyone gets mad that I'm saying others are not serious, let me outline what I consider some basics of being serious.

First and foremost, using nutritional software to monitor your ON. While those who are very experienced may no longer need to do this (I don't think I would ever feel comfortable without my DWIDP, but I respect those who have been doing CR for years and basically have their ON figured out), those who are just starting out absolutely must monitor their nutrition. Our society's ideas of what is healthy are so silly that people who think they're eating well usually aren't. For evidence, just go back to June/July and read what I was eating before my DWIDP finally arrived in the mail. If someone says they're starting CR, but they're not using the software, I get very concerned. It's silly to worry about how low to go, if you're one of those people, because if you're not getting the right nutrition, nothing you're doing is right. Of course it's bad to eat too little of the right nutrients, whether you're malnourished on a 3000 calorie a day diet or a 1000 calorie a day diet. Get your ON, then drop your calories a little, then fine tune your ON, and it'll probably be years before you're even thinking about going "too low."

Category two of people who I don't consider "serious" about CR: people who are thin because they eat a tiny bit less crap than normal people and they exercise heavily, like distance runners. They are not doing CR, no matter how skinny they look. That's great if that's how you want to live, and I bet it feels fabulous. Some of my best friends live this way, and I support them all the way. However, there's lots of evidence that it's calories, calories, calories that cause the CR effect, not BMI, skinniness, exercise, etc. That great Michael Rae article in the AOR magazine that I linked awhile back, and will link again once I go back in the blog and copy it, gives an overview of this evidence. So if you claim to be doing CR, but this is what you're actually doing, and you're worried about how low is too low to go, I'm confused. If you were really trying to do CR, you'd drop your calories instead of over-exercising. Some of the serious CR brothers (hello Black Moth -- you're definitely serious!) who really enjoy exercise as a QOL issue struggle with this, in an effort to get their cals as low as possible while still doing the activities they enjoy. Keep in mind that I'm not talking about moderate exercise like weight lifting three times a week, (hello, Blockade Runner... look, you got a name!)... I'm talking about serious, intense, calorie burning exercise, like running (which as everyone knows, I will only do if a large wild animal is chasing me.)

That being said, most of the "How low is too low?" "How do you know when you've gone too far?" questions were coming from, to my memory, the not quite so serious group. I respect their right to ask these questions, and the question is important, but it seems to me that they are in no personal danger of going too far any time soon.

As to those who went down what they considered too far -- that seems to me to be a very individual decision, and one that people know when they get there. To my mind, if your blood tests are coming back good and you like the way you feel, you are obviously not "going too far." That decision can only be made by the individual, and while it's a good argument for regular monitoring of everything important, it's not an argument for one particular BMI or another. It sounds like Mary has reached a BMI, calorie leve, and quality of life that's working for her. Great! She sure looks good... so what she's doing is working from the standpoint of my favorite motivation to do CR: looking fabulous as long as possible!

However, I'd be interested in what scientific evidence exists for a specific BMI. To my reading, it seems that calories, calories, calories are what's deciding how fast we age. While BMI can be a QOL issue, I don't see why dipping below 18.5 would by itself by a safety issue. (My BMI, btw, is 19.2 -- I'm shorter. I just wear heels, that's why I look taller.) If your blood tests are good, your bone density is good, etc. etc. etc., then why not go lower if you want to?

Luigi Fontana, who is obviously brilliant and also gorgeous, was asked the "How far is too far?" question, and as much as I adore him, I'd have to say that I found his answer unsatisfactory. "It is not good to go too far," I think was his answer. But he seemed to have no answer to "Why?"

"Moderation for the sake of moderation" makes no sense to me, any more than extremism for the sake of extremism makes any sense. One person's extreme is another's regular day. To some people, it's extreme to weigh every piece of food you eat. Okay, but if your goal is to carefully monitor and control your intake, wouldn't it seem silly to do anything else? (No, I do not do this yet, for blog readers who have not seen me lately. That's something that really seems to push people's buttons... which strikes me as odd because it's such a logical thing to do. It's rather illogical to monitor your food intake with guesses, though for most of us it's a significant enough hassle to weigh anything when away from home that we don't bother.)

Another thing that bothered me about the scientists who insisted on "moderation." They're not actually doing CR themselves! Without going into detail which they may not wish to have shared, it became clear that most of the scientists who presented, who live with the evidence that CR works, are not practicing CR themselves (with one possible exception who looked pretty good, but even he said he didn't not carefully monitor his calories.) Several of them were definitely "normal people eating a healthy diet," and that's great, but that's not CR. Some of them actually ignored their own evidence to the point of developing the very diseases of aging that CR seems to prevent. While I deeply respect their work... heaven knows I could never do the things they do! ... I hesitate take advice about my own personal health from people who don't do what the evidence supports. I can take clues as to what I should do from their research, but when it comes to speculating about "How low is too low?" I am more inclined to follow the example of those who believe in what they are doing so strongly that they're testing it on their own bodies.

[Side note: several readers at the conference told me that I'm not the same in person as I am in the blog. I believe one direct quote was "You're not the little girl of the blog." It was noticed that I am more sarcastic, sharper, just less nice in person that I appear to be in the blog. So I'm trying to address this, and I may go too far in the other direction! I hope you all still love me!]

One of the brothers mentioned that he couldn't get any skinnier or else he would no longer be able to open the jam jar. I think this is a good example of an individual decision as to how far is too far. When you're not feeling good anymore, stop. Till then, it's calories, calories, calories, and how far you're willing to push to cheat death.

I can not, however, decide anything based on whether or not I can open jam jars, and there's a moderately amusing reason for this. When I was in my early teens, I read quite a lot of Cosmopolitian and other such "women's" magazines. They're silly but actually rather educational when you know absolutely nothing. I swear that one of these magazines, which I digested at a tender age, said that a woman should never open a jar herself. Rather, she should pass it to a man to open so that he could feel strong and powerful. Somehow this got into my head and even though I no longer care much if the men around me feel strong and powerful, I have asked men to open jars for so long that I really can't open them myself. At home, I use a bottle opener to loosen them. Or I get my mother, who obviously did not read Cosmo in her teens, to open them. She's pretty good at it.

All that being said:

When people ask me how far I'm going to go, my answer is always the same. I'm going to keep pushing my calories as low as I can, while maintaining ON and without losing weight too fast, until I no longer feel good. I'm not measuring my progress by my weight or my BMI. It's about time to get some into-CR bloodtests, and I already know my blood pressure is better than it was when I started (remember when I went to the ER a few months back and they said, "You're a very thin, healthy young woman."). I'm eating more calcium than at any other point in my life, more iron, more protein... I will be shocked, shocked, if I am not healthier by objective measurements than I was before. I promise I'll keep a close watch on how I'm doing.

I also think that with so many experienced CR sisters and brothers reading the blog, I am likely to find out sooner rather than later if I am doing something stupid. Almost all the changes I've made in my diet and lifestyle since I started CR have started with a comment from a brother or sister who knew more than I did. I can't thank you enough, all of you. Someday I'll figure out a way to pay you back.

Which brings us neatly to the topic I've been meaning to blog about since the conference... what's the best way to find the real cure for aging? (or, How do we raise the $10 million to DTGDRS, for the three of you who were there and remember how I said we should really stop calling it that.)


  • At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    did you miss Black Moth at CRS III? His fly on the wall disguise was soo predictable.

    On the big Q "how low should I go" staving off further weight loss may be ill-advised: (1) when one begins feeling "like crap" as April indicates; or (2) when biomarkers begin to indicate unreasonably high risk factors as opined by Luigi.

    Regarding (1), I had recently been feeling quite weak but am ecstatic to report that energy levels have risen dramatically as food constituents and intake timing have been modified. Regarding (2), Luigi told me last week in Saint Louis that, based upon my low WBC of 1.4 (ref. 3.8 - 9.8), low percent body fat of 0.9% (as measured with Luigi's whole body scan QDR), and low neutrophils of 0.5 (ref. 1.8 - 6.6), IF I want to potentiate my chances of living a long life, I should immediately cease losing weight and gain 3-5 pounds to thereby increase immunity system capacity and fat stores.

    Heck, using Luigi’s advise, I would have stopped losing weight over a year ago. No thanks. Being convinced that the above indicators can be rectified with careful & concerted efforts, I'm continuing to cautiously drop weight. Hey, it ain't over 'till the fat lady sings or, as here, one’s self-determined target weight or "CRON realization" is reached. For me, I plan to lose weight to a point 1 pound below my target weight & then to refeed enough to gain a bit of fat back, which fat, according to several CR-knowledgeable physicians, should vitiate many/most of the above concerns. It’s a slightly risky approach to be implemented for a brief period, but so is dying young with a relatively high BMI. I hope to complete the remainder of this weight-loss phase with extra TLC to hopefully avoid system-compromising injury and disease…
    and so we roll the dice. Wish me luck.


  • At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    let's play a game. Can you spot the double negative in the above comment?

    sot black moth

  • At 4:58 PM, Blogger Mary Robinson said…

    Your comments on "too low" are all true. Some of the questioners ask it to justify their own more timid approaches. And, I think those that have already gone too low and backed off know how to tell. CRON makes you so exquisitely attuned to optimal health, it's not hard to notice when it's compromised. And the exercisers are really CRON pretenders, I agree.

    Like you, I am also disturbed by researchers that are not willing to do CRON when they know it's best for them. My doctor buddy at work wants to do it, but just can't pull it off.

    One or two more comments on "too low" and the hunger issue. Kenton's comments illustrate this well. I had not met Luigi before the conference. When he saw me, he said that I must have lost a lot more weight. I weighed 119 when I was at WUSTL and 116 at the conference! He remembered that my measured percentage of body fat at WUSTL was 31%. I think he was assuming a fatter person. I am sure my body fat percentage is still something like 29%. Tanita says 26%. This is a lot of reserves. I can go a lot lower - at least 10 pounds, maybe 15. Even then, I will have a lot more reserves than Kenton. But, then, I think of the old mice who didn't do as well on CR and think maybe I should not push it TOO hard. My numbers at WUSTL were very good. I want to see what the gene expression tests say. If my CRON state is somehow less, I will take it down lower. Part of why I stick at 1150-1200 calories is that it allows me to eat quasi-ad-lib. Dropping 100 calories would restrict me more and make it harder. Though this kind of challenge actually is interesting to me and I would do it, if it seemed like a good idea.

    I think CRON is a different experience for women than men in several important ways. I think hunger is less of a problem because of the higher body fat. And, as you have illustrated, the loss of strength doesn't really bother women. And - looking thin is mostly a good thing for women. Liza May has a theory about this, the thinner you are as a woman, the higher your social status - you become "alpha female". This causes some friction, which you've talked about several times.

    So, much as you treasure the advices of our male CRON friends - and I treasure it very much, too - don't assume that it all applies to you without modification.

  • At 6:02 PM, Blogger Mary Robinson said…

    Since you did such a long and excellent post, I am doing another comment! I also totally agree with you about ON. I've said this before on the list, CR is dangerous without ON. I don't see how anyone can do CR at lower levels - say below 1500 - and not use nutritional analysis software. It would be like learning tightrope walking without a net. I was really malnourished at 1800 calories a day, pre-CRON. I got about 1/2 the RDA of B vitamins a day and 25 g of protein! CRON really improved my health a lot, perhaps mostly because I was getting adequate nutrients.

    I was actually very worried about the Plastic Surgeons and their "up day, down day" thing at the conference. This is CR without ON. The one guy claimed that people magically ate better on this diet. Yikes! Fred, my doctor friend, thinks like this. They are brainwashed to think nutrition is not that important. I actually had an argument with Fred the other day about whether CRON was a treatment. I said it was living, not a treatment. Treatments are things that people do to you when you are sick. CRON is living - eating well every day. I actually don't trust doctors to teach CRON in general. They just are stuck on drugs as the answer. The doctors generally are hoping to discover the mimetic and become famous. Teaching people to eat better is just not their thing.

    By the way, I thought you looked great and, by no means too thin. You have a healthy glow and a nice figure. Although 104 sounds really thin, you are right - you could go lower.

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