Develop healthy food attitudes

Did you see the cover of the Reno News & Review last week?

It featured a man, Brett Schneider, who is into one of these new diets. This one is called calorie restriction, CR. The diet basically involves cutting the amount of food a person consumes to a level below what most nutritionists would call healthy.

Proponents of the CR diet make some pretty tall claims: “Scientists and doctors increasingly believe [CR] can stave off cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease and may possibly lengthen people’s life span.”

Schneider is absolutely entitled to his opinion, and we have no reason to doubt the veracity of the science behind the diet. For example, the National Primate Research Center found that monkeys who had been on CR had lower cholesterol and glucose levels, tended not to suffer from age-related diseases like arthritis and even looked better than their well-fed counterparts. (We saw the pictures, and the monkeys looked more alert, thinner and had better posture. No kidding.)

Anyway, the cornerstone of the diet is eating about 20 to 30 percent fewer calories than most dieticians recommend. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, a 33-year-old active male should eat about 3,000 calories per day. On a calorie-restricted diet, that man would eat little more than 2,000 calories.

But as journalists, we’re skeptics, and we just wanted people to think a little bit harder about the topic.

First, we wanted to explain something. According to the American Obesity Association, today, 64.5 percent of adult Americans (about 127 million) are categorized as being overweight or obese. There is a direct relationship between the amount of calories a person eats, the amount of exercise that person gets and the amount of fat that person carries. In other words, if you eat too much and you exercise too little, you’re going to be fat. True, family history has a huge impact on fat storage, but in our evolution as primates, humanity has become an incredibly efficient, energy-storage machine.

Anyway, on average, most Americans should practice some form of calorie restriction. WeightWatchers calls it portion control. Eat less, and most people will live longer because obesity is the second leading cause of unnecessary deaths.

Severe caloric restriction also goes by two other names: starvation and anorexia. Young people in particular need to learn more healthful eating habits. And many people, particularly young women, might see “caloric restriction” as a good rationalization for starving themselves.

There are differences between a guy like Schneider —who takes a systematic approach to caloric restriction, eating thousands of dollars worth of vitamins and supplements a year—and people who suffer from anorexia nervosa. One is doing it in pursuit of good health and in defiance of conventional standards of beauty. The other does it without regard to negative health impacts (for example, not compensating for lost nutrition) and in pursuit of an unhealthy standard of beauty.

Before you start on any diet, we’d just like to suggest you speak to your doctor. On the other hand, if you’re one of the 127 million obese or overweight Americans, we’d just like to suggest you speak to your doctor. Right after you quit smoking.