Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition
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CRONing: a personal journey (page 3)

Above: Video segment from 1999 Scientific American Frontiers with Walford and Weindruch

Then, one February evening in 2000, PBS was airing its outstanding series Scientific American Frontiers, hosted by Alan Alda. The title for this program was the "Stealing Time: The New Science of Aging". The very first segment of the program was on calorie restriction and featured this guy named Dr Roy Walford--a name new to me. There was another guy featured in the same segment whose name I remembered from that Scientific American article, four years earlier: Richard Weindruch. And that's when the second kiloton of bricks hit me! They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed! The part of the segment that I could not get out of my head was the part featuring Weindruch's mice: on separate cage racks there were two types--those who had been fed a normal (ad lib) diet and those whose calories were restricted. The difference between them was not subtle -- it was day and night! For those who missed the show, the CR mice were active, playing happily in their cages -- they looked and acted young. The ad lib mice were lackluster, inactive -- they looked and acted like senior citizen mice. The point being, all the mice shown were the same age.

In the same program, Walford and Alda both created meals in what they each believed had good nutrition. What was striking was the size of Walford's Salad Supreme compared to Alda's tiny turkey sandwich and pretzels. Further, Alda, a tall, skinny, healthy-looking individual to begin with, thought he had constructed a decent, nutritious meal. However, when Walford analyzed it in his proprietary software program DWIDP, it was found to be quite poor in nutrients.

For me, this was the point of no return! Immediately, after the program, I went online and started digging up info on calorie restriction. Lo and behold, one of the first links I came upon was Here, I found entire books on the subject of calorie restriction and anti-aging. More importantly, the books not only had the scientific info--in a popularized, general-audience format--but also included meal plans. There was also the DWIDP software Walford played with on the show. The books and software were just what I needed to bring my diet under control, so I placed an order and I was soon in the game!

Of the books I received from, the one I used most frequently was The Anti-Aging Plan. DWIDP had many of the same recipes included in its database as the book so it was easy to count calories and gauge daily nutrition. The only thing I did not enjoy was the enormous amount of time spent in the kitchen devoted to cooking and preparing meals. The recipes were made in huge qualities and, then, divided into smaller portions, put in Tupperware containers and then frozen for later use. The taste took some time to get used to. There is no denying the fact that most CRON foods do not taste as good as what the average Earthling eats. This is something you just have to get used to. I find that the hunger CRONing invariably causes in an individual can "remedy" this situation. Quite simply, if you are hungry, anything tastes good.

The first mistake I made after going fully CRON was in losing weight too fast. The consequences of which are stated in Walford's books. As soon as I became proficient in using DWIDP, I cut my calorie intake to 1600. This is considered to be "CR50" (or a cutback of roughly 1/2 of the 3200 calories the USDA/RDA recommends for a person of my height or frame). Truthfully, I have no idea just how many calories I was previously consuming. Going cold turkey into a severe CR regimen was not a wise decision on my part . For about a week after officially begining CRONing, the low-calorie intake caused some fatigue and dizziness, despite the fact that the nutrition of the foods I was consuming was very high. The haste in rushing into CR was fueled by an enthusiasm in implementing a anti-aging lifestyle … and lowering my cholesterol.

Walford's site had a link to the CR Society mailing list. This group is (currently) comprised of about 600 members. Upon subscribing, my mailbox was chock-full of invaluable information from many other people doing CR. A lot of the info coming in from these folks was overwhelming (much still is!); many of the discussions were quite technical in nature. I remained a lurker on the list for a while, becoming somewhat frustrated. People were throwing around terms such as "Zone", "Glycemic Index", "Eicosonoids", etc. -- what did they mean? Further, list members all seem to have different ways of doing CRON. The wealth of experience and knowledge on the list was enormous…but there was no way to "get at" the data on a generic, random level.

In late May of 2000, I decided to poll the list with a questionnaire I made up. I was hoping to find patterns the list members had in common and, also, just get to know the folks with whom I shared a kindred spirit! By late June, about 10% of the list's population had responded. Because I was a newbie, much of the info that came in from the responses was nothing short of revelation! In the "Negative side-effects of CR" category, several responders reported "irritability". This is something I had noticed in myself but, because it was not severe, and because my nutrition and exercise routines were "so good", I did not think that it could be diet-related. Many responders said they felt better after switching to the Zone diet. There was that word again!…and it was mentioned in several responses:

Which CR method/plan do you follow (Walford's books or DWIDP, etc.)? many responded Zone.

Any CR or health books that you consider fundamental? many responded Barry Sears' Zone books.

I decided to look into the Zone diet further so I ordered a couple of Sears' books from Amazon. Sears' style of writing, unlike Walford, was more market-oriented -- like he was trying to sell you a product. The Zone had been a bestseller on the NY Times list and there were pre-packaged Zone food products, such as the Zone 40-30-30 bars. Despite this hype, many on the CR list said that the science behind the Zone was valid. Further, the Zone is a calorie-restricted diet.

The first thing the Zone books told me that I was not eating enough protein and fat. Second, the Zone diet states that every meal or snack should have carbs, protein and fat (i.e., the macronutrients); the calorie ratio should be around 40:30:30. In other words, 40% of your meal's calories should come from carbs, then 30% from protein and the last 30% fat. The Walford plan is based on the USDA/RDA guidelines: high-carb, low fat. Sears's claims that the Zone approach will keep your hormones in check--something the RDA can't do. I concur.

Within days of switching over to a Zone-based CRON diet, I started feeling better. I also started looking better. Friends and family had been concerned that I looked like I had been ill since starting CR… that my face and eyes had lost their color. The color returned a few weeks after "entering the Zone".

The poll data was an enormous help to me. Persuaded by many on the list, I decided to compile the info and present it to the society in a variety of formats. This site presents the results of that poll.

Further research and the information that poured in daily from the mailing list helped to further tweak my diet. For a while, I was consuming a lot of soy to make sure I was getting plenty of protein -- until someone on the list posted a study linking the consumption of soy to dementia. This prompted me to switch to whey protein, which remains my protein staple to this day. I also went through my "Zone bar period" -- using them as snacks. They were put out by Sears' ZonePerfect company and I had assumed were a good product… they were also very convenient. But I abandoned most packaged/processed foods, like Zone bars, despite their health claims. Again, this decision was primarily based on input from the list.

Starting in June of 2000, I went back to University to obtain an information technology degree. Because I also work 45+ hours/wk, this meant my time would be precious and I would have to prepare my meals with much greater efficiency. I, therefore, abandoned the laborious recipes in Walford's books in favor of more basic, low-maintenance meals. This included: raw or lightly steamed veggies, yogurt, whey protein, skim milk, canned tuna, salmon, fresh fruit, avocados, olive oil, and raw nuts and seeds. My diet remains similar today with a few modifications I will mention shortly.

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