You have been watching your diet for years by now, and you feel pretty confident that you’re eating very well for your own health.  But what I can tell you, that as soon as you think you know something, life laughs in your face and all of a sudden new information comes in that makes you doubt everything.  Don’t be distressed!  If we learned everything we need by age 20, there would not much for us to be doing for the next 80 or so years.  So please pay attention to the surprise, the anomalies, the new information – that’s how paradigm shifts happen, and fortunately none of us are immune to them.

Here is probably some new information for you.  The research that this is based on was carried out in the 1950’s.  It would not be approved today, for obvious reasons.  That doesn’t make it any less interesting, especially for all of us foodies.  If you are on a diet or restrictive eating regime, for any reason, please review the following list of symptoms and check those that apply to you.

Then see the rest of the article for explanations.  it is important that you check this list first, before you read the rest.
*2008 by Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., CHES

  1. A)   Relationship with food

__ Dramatic increase in food preoccupation

__ Incessant thoughts of food and eating

__ Food is main topic of conversation, reading, daydreams

__ Enhanced interest in cookbooks, menus, and information on food

__ Collecting recipes

__ Collecting kitchen equipment


  1. B)  Behavioral

__ Decreased need for sleep

__ Decreased interest in sex

__ Toying with food

__ Unusual food combinations

__ Smuggling food out of public eating places

__ Dawdling after meals

__ Hoarding old books, clothes, knickknacks, and junk

__ Binge eating

__ Pleasure in watching others eat


  1. C)  Psychological

__ Concentration on usual activities increasingly difficult

__ Impaired concentration and alertness

__ Impaired comprehension

__ Emotional distress

__ Negativity

__ Depression

__ Irritability, outbursts of anger

__ Anxiety, nervousness

__ Tendency to withdrawal and isolation

__ Increased nail biting

__ Increased smoking

__ Increased neglect of personal hygiene

__ Decreased sense of humor

__ Increased sense of social inadequacy

__ Decreased social contact with opposite sex


  1. D)  Physiological

__ Psychotic episodes

__ Self-inflicted bodily damage

__ Gastrointestinal discomfort

__ Dizziness

__ Headaches

__ Hypersensitivity to noise and light

__ Reduced strength

__ Poor motor control

__ Swelling of feet, hands, stomach

__ Hair loss

__ Cold extremities

__ Eye trouble (inability to focus, spots)

__ Ringing in the ears

__ Tingling in hands and feet

The foregoing are all symptoms recorded during a study of semi-starvation by Ancel Keys1.  The study placed 36 robust, healthy young men on a diet of about 1500 calories daily, half their normal intake (which was about 3700 calories), for 6 months.  Four of the subjects withdrew before the end of the study.  The subjects in aggregate developed all of the above symptoms, all of which were new to them.  After the experiment stopped, it took between five and eight months for the symptoms to recede.  The intense preoccupation with food was so marked that three of the subjects changed their careers and became chefs.

Not all the subjects developed all the symptoms.  A number of these symptoms are also associated with anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  In addition to the symptoms, tests showed that the subjects experienced decreases in body temperature, heart rate, breathing, and basal metabolic rate (BMR).  The metabolic rate dropped by close to 40% from normal by the end of the study, and speeded back up once the men started eating freely again.  Those who consumed the most calories had the greatest rise in BMR.  This shows that the body will adapt to decreased caloric intake by decreasing its metabolic rate to hold on to its desired weight.

All the information in this article is based on “The effects of starvation on behavior:  implications for dieting and eating disorders,” by David M.  Garner, Ph.D.2


This is an evaluation that I designed, going by the above symptoms.  See if it applies to you, and pay attention!

Mostly A)  Anxious relationship with food:  mild – evaluate diet

Mostly B)  Behavioral disturbances: intermediate – adjust diet

Mostly C)  Psychological disturbances:  serious – consult a health professional

Mostly D)  Physiological disturbances:  extremely serious – consult a health professional without delay




*2008 by Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., CHES

1Keys, A., Brazek J, Henschel A, et al.  The Biology of Human Starvation.  Vols.  1 and 2.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1950.

2Healthy Weight Journal, September-October 1998.