The Minnesota Starvation Study

The Minnesota Starvation Study is a famous research study conducted by primary investigator Ancel Keys. This study revealed much of what we know today about how our body responds to starvation. Taking place at the end of World War II, the current scene involved discovering severely malnourished Jews that had been held captive in the Nazi concentration camps. Thus, the study acted as an American war effort to examine what happened physiologically to these people and how could we help them.

Thirty-six men volunteered for the study as their contribution to the war effort. Calories were restricted to mimic the process of starvation. The men experienced significant drops in body temperature, heart rate, basal metabolism, and sex drive among many other things. Many of them entered into depression and hysteria due to lack of energy. They also found that muscle mass was severely depleted.

How is this relevant to you? Understanding weight loss comes from understanding our bodies. Research has shown us that our bodies are hardwired to protect against weight loss because for the greater part of human existence, starvation has been a dominant issue. (Excess food in developed countries is a relatively new concept in the view of world history.)

Our thoughts about wanting to lose weight do not necessarily connect with the physiological processes that keep our bodies functioning. Thus, when we stop eating breakfast or drastically reduce how much we eat, our physical body does not understand that we are doing it on purpose. As a result, our metabolism slows down in order to preserve the energy we currently have so that we can prolong its use in case no more food comes. In the Minnesota study, the reductions in body temp, heart rate, metabolism, and sex drive are examples of how our body conserves energy. We can tolerate reductions in these areas (although not optimal) to simply keep our hearts beating for the long haul.

Who knew studying the history books could help with weight loss…


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