Calorie Restriction (CR) Diet

Media: How Does It Portray CR?

July 26, 2009

I have watched and read many media accounts of the Calorie Restriction (CR) diet and the people who follow it. Some accounts are quite reasonable and very supportive. One of the very best, and probably the most influential, shows was Oprah Winfrey's "The Benefits of Calorie Restriction" aired on Tuesday, March 24, 2009. I highly recommend it.

However, all too many portray a way of living that seems bizarre.

I adopted CR five years ago and know how inaccurate this coverage is. (For a factual summary of the diet read the Basics of CR.)

Following are some media portrayals of CR.

People on CR Are Starving, Always Hungry

A typical trite phrase is: "You may not live longer on CR, but it will sure feel that way."

Being abnormally hungry all the time has not been my experience. People on CR are hungry some of the time, as is anyone. When you first start CR and cut your calories significantly, you will feel hungrier than usual. When you reach your chosen CR weight, you will have adjusted your calorie intake for that level. You will not feel any hungrier than when you were at a higher weight and needed more calories.

Reality: You will not always feel hungry.

People On CR Eat Weird Stuff

If I depended on the media, I would think people on a CR diet must:

  • Peel their apples, eat the peels and throw away the rest;
  • Lick their plates in public to get every last scrap;
  • Make oddball, tasteless canapes, perhaps with baby food;
  • Make one food only and eat that same food day in and day out.
  • Eat horrible looking food, portrayed as unappealingly as possible;

Even Oprah Winfrey's show could not resist starting out one segment by focusing on the guy cutting off the peel on his apple and throwing away the rest. On the other hand, Oprah's doctor Oz said this guy might live to 150, which is hyperbole going in the other direction and I guess balances the wierdness focus.

Here's the reality: you can eat absolutely any food you desire, as long as you meet your nutritional needs within your calorie limit. This is not that hard. And it does not require throwing away most the apple. My wife makes all sort of dishes (most recently, Indian cuisine). There is nothing she makes that I don't eat (except asparagus - yuck - some people will eat anything!). I just make sure I know what the nutritional value is, then eat an appropriate amount.

You can even eat pure, totally adulterated, junk food. But you will have to limit the amount of junk so you have enough remaining calories for the day to get 100% of your nutritional needs.

Reality: You can eat perfectly normal food similar to what you are used to, but you will probably also start eating more nutritious foods.

People On CR Have No Energy, Do Not Keep In Shape

I exercise often and, after having lost and kept off over 20 lbs in the last 5 years, now in my 60's even compete in 5K races and backpack in the Sierras. If there is one thing that seems common on a CR diet, it is that you have as much or more energy than you ever did before.

On the other hand, there are some people on CR who limit their exercise because it burns calories and hence would require them to eat more calories. I think of that as counter productive, but there are all sort of approaches to life different than my own.

Reality: You will not be less energetic on CR, and may well be more energetic.

People On CR Are Gaunt. They Look Underweight

Actually, there is some truth to this. But I think the problem is that in much of the developed world (certainly here in the Kansas City area, USA), most people are overweight. I believe we have gotten so used to a norm of overweight people, that a healthy weight appears abnormally thin.

When my Body Mass Index (BMI) dropped from 25 (just overweight) to 20 (NIH guidelines say BMI should be from 18.5 to 24.9), my doctor said I was getting too thin. Apparently, she knew something the NIH did not, although she did not justify her opinion.

Reality: You will look slimmer. How slim is up to you.


All sorts of people on all sorts of diets (Atkins, Ornish, Mediterranean, etc) have adopted Calorie Restriction as the way they eat. I wish the media would not focus primarily on those who have taken it so far (or portray them as having done so) and would get across the message that normal people eating normal food can follow this diet.

However, in terms of media coverage, when all is said and done, there is no such thing as bad publicity. (See graph of effect of coverage on visits to this website)

Because of this coverage, even if negative, more people will look for themselves into the science behind CR and other diets, and come to the same conclusion I did over 5 years ago when I adopted the CR diet:

No other diet comes even close to having the science behind it that CR has. For a quick summary of the diet itself read the Basics of CR.

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