Studies routinely suggest that more exercise and lower calorie intake can reduce risk for chronic disease, but some people take that notion much further. They believe that we could live a lot longer if we ate a lot less. For nearly 20 years, a growing number of individuals have been severely restricting their caloric intake with the goal of significantly lengthening their lives. In fact, the Calorie Restriction (CR) Society website mentions age 120 as a target. Members of the society refer to themselves as CRONies (Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition). They aren’t, they say, promoting anorexia. Rather, they work diligently to get all of the vitamins and nutrients they need without consuming calories they don’t. Whereas a healthy man might normally eat about 2,500 calories per day, practitioners of CR shoot for 1,800. Instead of 2,000 calories, women consume 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day.
Calorie Restriction Joseph Cordell
Attorney and fitness aficionado Joseph Cordell has practiced calorie restriction since 2002. He eats a typical lunch topped by an apple peel — just the peel. Many basic health practices — such as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise — can reduce the risk of premature death. But that’s not the same thing as living to be 120 years old. It is working for Joseph Cordell though experts are skeptical about recommending the regime to others. It’s important to note, however, that most of the scientific studies on calorie restriction have been done in animals; it’s not yet known whether CR extends life in people. Researchers at the School of Medicine are looking for answers. “Some of our original findings were almost accidental,” says John O. Holloszy, MD, professor of medicine. “We were studying rats to look at the effects of diet and exercise and, as expected, we found that sedentary rats that ate a standard diet had the shortest average life spans. Meanwhile, the rats that exercised by running on a wheel lived longer, but the animals on calorie restriction lived even longer still.” And it wasn’t just a little longer. Some animal studies have shown life span increases of 50 percent or more. “But a key difference between those animal studies and what we’re likely to find in humans is that the animals spend their entire lives on a calorie-restricted diet,” says Holloszy. “Most of the people who take up calorie restriction eat a standard diet for the first several decades of their lives and don’t begin restricting calories until much later. We don’t know yet whether they start too late to provide the dramatic effects on longevity that we’ve seen in animals.”
Joseph Cordell on Calorie Reduction Experience
For 10 years, Joe Cordell has been living a life diametrically opposed to that of most Americans: Instead of eating too much, he’s deliberately been eating too little. The 54-year-old St. Louis lawyer was inspired by the science that suggests that serious calorie restriction (CR) could significantly lengthen a creature’s life span, as well as ward off diseases of old age. We spoke with Cordell about his diet of about 1,900 calories a day. He says he felt “mildly disappointed” but not dissuaded by a recent study that showed calorie restriction didn’t prolong the life of monkeys — although it did seem to help ward off cancer.
How did you get into calorie restriction?
I had previously been interested in health and fitness and had a pretty traditional approach. Then I was visiting my parents in Florida and was in a bookstore when I came across a book called “The 120 Year Diet” by [pioneering calorie restriction scientist] Roy Walford. I read the blurb on the back and saw the guy’s credentials, that he was on faculty at UCLA. Then he started quoting these animal studies in which animals had lived beyond the maximum life span of their species and it wasn’t a controversial thing, it was a well-settled fact. I saw enough to intrigue me. I bought the book. I was converted. Not only that, I was an evangelical convert. I naively thought others would be as excited to hear the information as I was — I probably was a bit of an annoying dinner guest over the next few years. But I’ll tell you, I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve converted in 10 years.
How do you watch your weight in calorie reduction process?
My weight has stayed the same for 10 years at 129-130 pounds. When I get out of bed I go straight to the scales. It’s very important to me that I do not vary. The diet doesn’t require a machine-like consistency in number calories taken in every day, happily — animal studies show that what really counts is the average. So if I have a holiday coming up or big family event with lots of gourmet food there, if I want to splurge, that’s OK — but you have to compensate. At times, my weight will go up to 131 pounds. And on New Year’s Day I often will weigh 132 pounds, because New Year’s Eve is a day I allow myself to eat whatever I want.
Any strategies for calorie reduction regime?
You learn to like salads without lots of dressing. There are other things you can use, like balsamic vinegar. Mustard is delicious in a salad; most people think mustard only goes on lettuce in a hamburger. I use a rich variety of vegetables, just a really, really varied salad. You can eat a tremendous amount of food, as you can see from pictures and whatnot that are out there of me. I walk away from lunch much fuller than anybody else at a table. They’ve eaten much less food and I’ve eaten 2 pounds of salad and taken in maybe 400 calories and feel completely satisfied. If I ate what they ate for lunch, I would be hungry. Peels — that’s another tip. With an apple, you can decide to cut off a little thicker peel and get a bit of the taste of apple. Eating predominantly the peel eradicates 80% of the calories. You have a ton of fiber in peel plus you get rid of all the sugar and it tastes wonderful, and it’s just a load of phytochemicals, plant chemicals.
How does your family feel about calorie reduction diet?
My wife loves to cook. It’s an irony that my wife’s favorite hobby is to make food and mine is to not eat it. We have come up with reconciliations. In recent times, I’ve reduced or eliminated what I eat at lunch. It allows me to be more productive during the day, and then in the evening I’ll have some of my budget left. But I would be less than completely frank if I didn’t say it can be frustrating to her. For everyone who does CR, it’s always a little inconvenient to the chef in the family and others who are eating with them.
What do you hope to get out of this calorie reduction food?
First and foremost, I would like to live to the outer limits of what human beings normally live. I would be delighted to take 90 to 95 years without cancer, without heart disease, without diabetes or other chronic illnesses. To me, that would have warranted this. My brother and I are about the same age, 14 months apart. He’s about an inch shorter than I am [Joe is 5 feet, 9 inches] and weighs 120 pounds more than I do. His approach to life in many ways is the opposite of mine: He enjoys eating what he wants when he wants it. He’ll often joke with me around the Thanksgiving table that wouldn’t it be funny if he lives longer than I do. All this suffering would be for nothing. He gets a kick out of that. But people do lots of things that are strenuous but very enjoyable: They climb mountains and run marathons. And I can tell you without batting an eye that my life has been richer, fuller, more enjoyable with calorie restriction than it would have been without it even if I were run over by a truck today.
Joseph Cordell Calorie Diet Chart