Table of Contents
The definition of calorie restriction is when the body does not receive an adequate intake of energy. This can result as a consequence of lack of availability of adequate volumes of food. However, sometimes the failure to consume an adequate calorie intake may be a conscious and deliberate decision, for example, in individuals seeking to lose weight or people who suffer with the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. Calorie restriction can result in malnutrition or a deficiency of one or more nutrients.
The human body requires an adequate amount of energy or calories to enable us to grow, perform daily activities, produce hormones and to minimize the risk of nutrition-related complications. Calorie requirements for individuals vary from one individual to the next and are dependent on variables including gender, age, activity levels, climate and environment and the presence or absence of medical or nutritional complications. Consequently, it is possible that individuals of similar weight and age may have different energy requirements owing to unique individual needs. In addition to the body requiring energy to perform the aforementioned tasks, energy is also required to support activity of the internal organs and to maintain body temperature. This energy is called the basal or resting metabolism. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is determined experimentally when an individual is lying down at complete physical and mental rest under standardized environmental conditions. Research over many years has provided researchers.
(Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale.)
with guidelines on how to assess and determine an individuals BMR using specific calculations.
Individuals require a certain number of calories on a daily basis, which incidentally may vary subject to activity levels and physical status but overall is within a relatively stable range. When dietary intake remains stable weight too remains unchanged. Conversely, increases or decreases in intake can result in weight changes. To clarify,.
- When energy intake equals energy expenditure, weight remains unchanged.
- When energy intake exceeds expenditure, weight increases.
- When energy intake is less than expenditure, weight will decrease.
It is when expenditure exceeds calorie intake that the body experiences a negative energy balance and weight loss ensues.
Physical effects of starvation
Malnutrition occurs when is there is a deficiency of one or more nutrients. It may be mild or severe. Severe Malnutrition is rare in developed countries but sadly remains prevalent in many developing countries. Weight loss is an obvious sign of a diet too low in calories or energy. Protein-energy malnutrition occurs when the diet provides too little energy and protein. Malnutrition is assessed in terms of degrees of weight loss in adults, whilst in children height and weight are used and compared with growth charts. Weight loss in adults and failure to thrive in children are the most obvious signs of insufficient energy intake. In adults, this is usually noticed by a drop in the body mass index (BMI), which is a method used to relate weight to height and is used as part of the process in determining an individuals’ nutritional status. In children, insufficient energy intakes are noticed when children fail to meet expected growth milestones. In the long-term, stunted growth may result as a consequence of insufficient energy requirements and children may not reached an expected height for weight ratio.
It is important to remember that individuals of a healthy body weight could still be classified as malnourished.
if they are lacking in essential nutrients. Therefore, overall nutritional status of individuals cannot be assessed solely on body weight. Consequently, nutritional assessment screening tools are useful to help identify individuals who may be at risk of malnutrition in hospitals, care homes and primary care settings. In summary, malnutrition may develop owing to a number of factors including a decreased dietary intake, increased nutritional requirements or increased losses or an inability to absorb or utilize nutrients.
Below is a list of some of the general effects of starvation.
- poor concentration
- hair loss and sometimes the growth of additional hair on the arms and back. (The growth of additional hair called lanugo hair and is frequently evident on people who suffer with anorexia nervosa.)
- decreased muscle mass and tone
- weight loss
- menstruation may stop if weight loss is serious
- delayed puberty in adolescents
- iron-deficiency anemia
- poor immunity
- decrease in bone mineral density and an increased risk of osteoporosis if weight loss is not reversed
- deficiencies of various vitamins and minerals
- delayed gastric emptying
Cognitive changes associated with starvation
As the body starts to lose weight as a as a result of insufficient energy intake, the ability of the brain to function correctly is impaired. The symptoms associated with changes in the way the brain functions are referred to as cognitive changes.
The cognitive changes associated with starvation include.
- increased risk of depression-related symptoms
- poor decision making skills
- very reactive
- poor concentration
Social and sexual changes associated with starvation
- withdrawal from social activities
- decreased libido
- decreased enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities
As mentioned above, children who have an insufficient energy intakes over prolonged periods of time may not reach expected growth rates. Furthermore, they may lose weight and ultimately experience stunted growth and develop nutrition-related complications. Parents should ensure that a registered doctor monitors growth rates regularly or a suitably qualified professional.
Garrow, J.S., James, W.P.T. and Ralph, A. Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 10th Edition. Churchill Livingstone.
Thomas, B. Manual of Dietetic Practice, 3rd Edition. Blackwell Science Ltd.
Benedict, F.G., Miles, W.R., Roth, P. and Smith, M. “Human vitality and efficiency under prolonged restricted diet.” Cited in Garrow, J.S., James, W.P.T. and Ralph, A. Human Nutrition and Dietetics 10th Edition. Churchill Livingstone.
Keys, A., Brozek, J., Hanschel, A., Mickelson, O. and Taylor, H.L. “The biology of human starvation.”The Journal of Nutrition 135, 1347(6).
Annette Laura Dunne, BSc (Hons) MSc RD