I’m a celebrity as The Modern Day Minnesota starvation experiment
Posted on December 17th, 2017
Quite sad how obsessed I was with this years I’m a celeb and anyone as dedicated to the series as moi will know there’s a big emphasis on food, or lack of!
The camp mates are quite literally starved to the point where food becomes the main topic of conversation and two grown men get so desperate they steal a punnet of strawberries and selfishly scoff them when they are meant to share.
I found the behaviours interesting to observe not least because this semester I’ve been studying starvation in my masters course and it’s physical and psychological effects on the body.
So wtf is the Minnesota starvation experiment? It was an experiment conducted between 1944 and 1945 during which subjects were severely starved over a period of 24 weeks in the aim of finding out how best to help those who had been starved during world war II.
During the experiment healthy make subjects were quite severely calorie restricted whilst being made to exercise. Over the course of 24 weeks the men lost 25% of their body weight but at the same time their metabolism decreased and they became gaunt, weak, frail and terribly cold. They lost their motivation, their sex drive and would spend the days lying down due to lack of energy.
Most interesting perhaps is the changes observed in their behaviour around food. It was reported the men became increasingly obsessed with food, dreaming and fantasising about it. They took an interest in recipe books and looking at picture of food. Meal times became very ritualistic whereby the men would play with food, hold it in their mouths to make it last longer or water it down to go further. They also took up drinking vast amounts of water to curb hunger, as well as smoking and chewing gum until these were banned.
When food was introduced during the “recovery” stage of the experiment. The men couldn’t help but engage in extreme overeating and even though their moods and physical health had improved drastically 3 months after the experiment had ended, they agreed their relationship with food was not back to normal. Indeed most would binge to the point of sickness, eat in the night and obsess about food or experience severe anxiety around it.
I know I’m a celeb was only 3 weeks compared to the 24 endured by the subjects in the Minnesota starvation experiment but we can definitely draw some comparisons. The campmates moaned of hunger, lost weight, their energy levels declined and their relationship with food changed. Indeed I have never seen a group of adults so over excited about a handful of salt and vinegar crisps!
And I can bet you one thing for sure. Those celebrities might be on the high of having lost a couple of pounds but I’m certain they may be feeling the after effects of having their intake so severely limited. Just like a classic fad diet, given back the reins it is likely they will over eat and obsess about food at least for the coming month or two, before their weight readjusts and their metabolism gets back to a normal level.
So when the quote above appeared on my instagram feed it just quite frankly pissed me off about how ignorant people really are about what happens during semi starvation / a diet / restriction and deprivation. Our body’s don’t know the difference between a famine and a 3 week detox cleanse, but they are intricately hardwired to combat starvation with the same response. Resting energy expenditure and heart rate slows, you feel tired, moody and irritable. But actually it’s the long term psychological impacts that can be much more difficult to overcome and to which nothing healthy can be attributed.