#1 Landmark study on the effects of dieting

This #1 landmark study on the effects of dieting dates back to 1944/45, a post-war period when much of the world had a limited food supply and many countries still had food rationing

In reading this, I think you might recognize yourself or the behaviors of others.  I must stress this was just ONE diet, imagine the effects of the chronic dieter or the figure/bikini/fitness/physique competitor.


A brutal experiment was conducted, from 19 November 1944 to 20 December 1945, in which 36 men were “starved” for months and observed carefully throughout. The results of this experiment – which can never be repeated – speak volumes about our human behavior, our bodies and our relationship with food.

The men were all conscientious objectors who volunteered for the experiment which was carried out in Minnesota. (Even at the time, what became known as the Minnesota semi-starvation study was thought by many to be unethical.) The full results were only made public in 1950, it a two-volume tome consisting of 1,385 pages.

However, hard facts were well-known by 1946 when the US was already helping millions around the world recover from starvation. In essence, the results contradict all the baloney about diets that has been forced on an unsuspecting public during the decades since that global upheaval.

Although the Minnesota semi-starvation study was intended for a grand and meaningful purpose, it is instructive in today’s world, at least to anyone who has struggled not just with involuntary starvation but with the pressure to attain a certain physical look.

The Minnesota study was not about showing that starvation is bad for you – everyone, from the cavemen on, knew that – but about precisely how we relate to food, both mentally and physically. For anyone who has ever been on a diet or been around somebody on a diet I believe much of the following will hit home.

We all know that we cannot fully rely on studies, especially studies over 70 years old, yet this is that rarity; research which stands the test of time.

In the Minnesota study, run by Prof. Ancel Keyes, the 36 men of healthy mind and body spent the first three months eating normally, while their behavior, personality and eating patterns were noted in great detail. This was followed by six months during which the men were restricted to approximately half of their daily intake, which was about 1500 calories (a pretty conservative intake by today’s standards). During the six months, the men lost about 25% of their body weight.

This was followed by three months of revocation, during which various rehabilitative diets were tried to re-nourish the volunteers. A number of the volunteers continued to be studied for almost nine months following the six months of restrictions.

The men experienced dramatic changes which, in many cases, lasted well into the rehabilitation phase. (When contemplating this, it might be instructive to consider your own behavior and the behavior of others while on a diet, bearing in mind that these were healthy men without a history of restriction. We can shudder while thinking of the cumulative effects on those who do one diet after another)

There was a dramatic increase in the men’s interest in food. They thought about food continually and dreamt about food. They talked non-stop about food. They read about food. They collected cookbooks and stared at photographs of food. This increased interest correlated with a decline in the interest in all other activities and aspects of life.

The men toyed with the food they smuggled out of the dining room to eat alone when, in long, drawn-out rituals, they would make meals last two hours; these were meals that should have taken minutes. They studied food production processes, and they researched menus. They grew interested in nutrition and even in agriculture. They gained pleasure from watching other people eat, and some of the men began collecting food paraphernalia like kitchen utensils and plates. They started by hoarding these items, and then they just began hoarding in general; this included purchases that were completely meaningless.  Following the study, this behavior totally puzzled the men involved/

When asked about what they would do after the experiment 40% of the men said that cooking was one of their future plans. Interestingly, after the study, a few of the men did indeed become chefs or went on to work in agriculture.

They started to drink a lot of coffee and tea, which got out of hand and had to be limited to nine cups a day. Chewing gum also got out of hand, with one man chewing through 40 packs of gum a day.

Not surprisingly, all of the men experienced hunger. Some did okay with this, and yet some experienced a total loss of control. Many of the men binged.  One man working in a grocery store completely lost it and binged on cookies and popcorn, and developed severe self-loathing. Another man had to leave the study as he would eat an enormous amount of food, become sick, go back to eating an enormous amount of food, become sick and just go through the cycle endlessly.

Most of the men could not control their appetite. During the three months of rehabilitation, many basically ate continuously. Even after the three months of refeeding some men still felt hungry after a meal. The refeeding phase was not paltry; it was not uncommon for the men to be eating 8 to 10,000 calories a day.

What is clear from all this is the regulatory systems – which have since been more fully discovered and defined – that govern hunger and fullness, were obviously thrown into disarray by the six months of restriction. Steady eating habits keep the body and mind happy. Punishing diets are just maddening, albeit less maddening if they are less punishing; but the regulatory systems are still going doolally to some extent.

Men would eat until they were bursting. Some had to separate themselves from food altogether as they felt they had no control whatsoever. Those who had happily eaten three meals a day now ate six. And some ate until they could no longer swallow.

It took more than eight months after the refeeding phase of the study for most of the men to return to normal eating patterns. Remember: the 36 men were selected because they were both physically and psychologically healthy.

Most experienced great emotional distress during the study. At least 20% of the men suffered such emotional distress that they were not able to function properly. Many suffered extreme depression, some experienced extreme mood swings with extreme highs and extreme lows. Symptoms include irritability, anger, negativity, argumentativeness, nail-biting, smoking and neglect when it came to personal hygiene.

After two weeks of refeeding, this is one man’s report: “I have been more depressed than ever in my life…. I thought that there was only one thing that would pull me out of the doldrums, that is re¬lease from C.P.S. [the experiment] I decided to get rid of some fingers. Ten days ago, I jacked up my car and let the car fall on these fingers…. It was premeditated.”

This man did indeed cut off three of his fingers. Another man suffered such extreme personality disturbances that he had to leave the study in week ten. And he had only lost ten pounds of his original body weight.

The men became withdrawn and isolated. They lost their sense of humor. They lost the sense of friendship with each other and felt increasingly inadequate. They became less interested in women and those with relationships found them very strained. One man reported it was just too much trouble to see his girlfriend. And if they went to see a show the most interesting part for him was always when there were scenes of people eating.

The men’s interest in sex plummeted, with one man stating he had ”no more sexual feeling than a sick oyster”. You might think that this interest would be the first to return after the experiment, yet even after three months, the men judged themselves to be far from normal in this area.

The men reported difficulty in concentrating, in alertness and comprehension. They experienced intestinal discomfort, less need for sleep, headaches, and sensitivity to noise and light. They reported the loss of physical strength as well as bloating and water retention, hair loss, vision problems and intolerance to cold temperatures.

BMR stands for basal metabolic rate, and this is the amount of energy calories the body needs at rest. We want our BMR to be high as this means we are using a lot of energy. In the Minnesota semi-starvation study, the men’s BMR’s dropped by about 40%, showing their bodies had adapted to the restricted calories. Interestingly during the refeeding phase, those men who gradually increased their calorific intake had no BMR increase for three weeks, whereas those men who ate large amounts of food asap increased their metabolic rate.

I am sure that some readers can relate very personally to (hopefully much less extreme!) versions of what these men experienced. Having spent 13 years of my life competing, and dieting for maybe half of that time, I can certainly relate to it. As I scroll through social media how many times do I see a photograph of somebody’s meal? As a trainer, how many clients have brought me food that they would never eat themselves? As we restrict our food, our fascination with it increases and becomes obsessional.

I watch fitness competitors isolate themselves before an upcoming show, unable to deal with anything other than meal prep and the next workout. I see many of them desperately unhappy; I see how they became intolerant to certain foods and used the word “bloat” many times in every conversation.

Post diet, many suffer a huge rebound in weight which does not help with their depressed state. The real sadness is that this is expected and accepted, and before the body has even had the chance to recover they embark on the next diet.

The Minnesota semi-starvation study was 36 healthy men without a history of food restriction. It is a study that is very unlikely ever to be repeated. We can only surmise about what occurs with years or decades of repeated diets.

The body and the mind have an incredible capacity to adapt to energy deprivation, and when we lose weight the body doesn’t automatically stay at this low weight. Regulatory systems have a bias for weight gain and, as the study shows, the mind and body work against rapid weight loss.

To conclude the men’s journey: following the experiment, the men regained the weight they had lost plus, on average, another 10%. Over the following six months they slowly returned to their original body weight.

Watch this video where I discuss this #1 landmark study on the effect of dieting.

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Know your Metabolic Rate (BMR)

A recent report just came out on the winners of the very popular TV show “The Biggest Loser”.
It’s that train wreck show we cannot help but watch. Vastly overweight people are put through grueling workouts, separated from their families and underfed for months on end until the last one standing (literally and figuratively) that has lost the most weight claims their prize and is thrown back into normal life.

A study followed 14 contestants and reports that over 6 years 13 of them regained all the weight back.
Can you even imagine what this must do mentally to a person? It must have taken a huge leap to even enter the show, then to be filmed looking their worst whilst exercising off some 14000 calories a day and eating very little. The glory of returning the normal life a semi-celebrity only to be right back where you started.

One of the main reasons that nearly every contestant put the weight back on is due to the body’s ability to adapt to an extreme environment and it is the same reason most people that do their own or a commercial diet can pretty much expect the same result.

BMR or RMR stands for Basal Metabolic Rate or Resting Metabolic Rate. Used interchangeably BMR/RMR represent how much energy your body needs just to exist at rest. Just lying in your bed exerting no energy there is an absolute amount of energy that needs to exist. Your organs and systems all have an energy requirement that tick away even when you are at rest.

If for example, your RMR is 2000 calories per day, that means you need 2000 calories just to exist. Your activity, lifestyle, and exercise are then additional energy requirements.

If you go onto a VLCD (very low-calorie diet) that were very popular in the 70’s and 80’s and eat 1000 calories per day you will most certainly lose weight …. At first.
For 4-6 weeks your body might indulge you and burn off stored energy (not always body fat) to make up for the lack of food intake. After a point your metabolism will simply adjust to less food and your RMR will reduce so that now what you used to need 2000 calories to do you now need only 1400 calories a day to do.

The diet ends (as all VLCD do) and now you burn few calories. You go back to eating normal way (because the diet didn’t teach you how to maintain your weight loss) and now the weight comes back plus a few extra pounds to boot.

What to do ?? Go back on the diet of course (urghhh) now you RMR is 1400 calories per day drops to 1000 calories per day. You have also at this point lost muscle which itself is metabolically active and burns calories even at rest.

You can see the issue. A study followed women who had been on at least 10 low-calorie diets and on average they were all 20 lb heavier.

It does not have to be this way and at The Shrink Shop, one of the very first things we do is test your Resting Metabolic Rate. It only takes 10 minutes to know how many calories you use at rest. Your nutrition program and exercise routine is based around protecting and even promoting your RMR so that the weight loss you achieve can be maintained long-term.

There was a landmark study done after World War 2 called The Minnesota Starvation Study which proved this very thing. We have known that the body can and will adapt to severe deprivation in as little as just a few weeks and we have known this information since the 1940’s !!

The Biggest Loser is indeed a testament to the contestant’s determination and willpower but they did indeed lose but not in the way the name suggests

Just sad and unnecessary.

We have the Metabolic machine in Eagle, Idaho and in Santa Monica, CA.  Let me know where you live and I will try to locate a similar device in your area.

Let’s get this party started! Who, What, Why

Ladies and Gents born after say 1985, this blog is for you.  Once we get into our mid 30’s things start to change.

What worked before isn’t working anymore, taking your shirt off or wearing a bikini becomes more uncomfortable and it seems like your body is working against you.  Before you resign yourself to “middle age” please start reading and watching this blog.


Everything that is happening to you can be explained and its really quite fascinating once you start to figure out what is going on and what you can do about it.  I will tell you right now that counting calories and adding minutes to your cardio will do very little to help.  Intake and expenditure are important but its a little like focusing on what color to paint a room when the house is built on sand.

Who am I?  Joanne Lee Cornish, you can read full bio in the sidebar.  I was a pro bodybuilder and although I hate to dig up old photos I probably will just to show you I know what I am talking about 🙂  I am 50 and I was an Independent trainer in Gold Gym Venice, CA for 24 years.  I think few will dispute that I made my mark there and was classed as one of the top trainers in the most famous gym in the world.  Outside of Golds I had (and still have), a nutrition business called  The Shrink Shop (hence the name of this blog) Although the name suggests weight loss, my niche is really conditioning and that may be adding muscle and/or losing fat.

I’ve been designing meal plans for over 20 years but about 10 years ago I wrote a seminar series called “If Diets Worked We’d All Be Skinny” it was a 6 part series where I explained everything from childhood obesity to bloating, hormonal weight gain, alcohol, sleep, stress and of course nutrition.  Well, seminar #1 I presented to about 6 of my friends who were kind enough to turn up to support me.  By seminar #6 we were at capacity with people standing in the hallway taking notes.  I was asked to repeat the whole series which I did but we had to move to a larger location.

Does that mean I’m so great?  not really.  What was obvious was that people were really interested in understanding what was going on with their bodies, behaviors and were looking for solutions they could implement with confidence.  This was a game changer for me, as i really find all this stuff totally fascinating but I hadn’t realized so many people felt the same way.

This blog is intended to be informative and fun.  If you have any questions or ideas please let me know

The Shrink Shop was founded on the belief that given clear, valid information, people will make better choices all by themselves.

So let’s get started!

Please note we have live chat on this blog and also video conferencing – so many ways to stay connected.  Please subscribe so that you never miss a post