Q: Dear Joseph,

Reading about you is inspiring. I am 48 years old, live in New Delhi, India, height 5 feet 10 inches and weight around 100 kg. My recommended body weight is around 70 kg and I have started a calories restriction diet of 1600 calories a day, 3 days ago. I wish to pursue this practice and any suggestions or guidance you could give to me on this, would go a long way in helping me.

Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. You are inspiring.

Kind regards
A: Hello Sanjiv,
Welcome aboard. You are launching on an adventure that will bring you great pleasure, excitement, challenges, occasional frustrations, but throughout manifold rewards. Be sure to go slowly. Reach target calories/weight over 6-8 month period. This allows your body to adapt more effectively. It's like the months required to climb Mount Everest; your body's acclimatization takes time. Also upgrade the nutritional quality of your diet; eat lots of vegetables and berries! Enjoy.

Thank you,
Joseph Cordell

Q: I am an attorney who is 44 (soon to be 45) and who just came across your blog.  Currently I am reasonably athletic but quite heavy (6’2” and about 260 pounds).  Considering doing caloric restriction, not because of any immanent issue but just wanting to get this part of my life under control.  I am trying to figure out how to navigate this undertaking given my rather hectic lifestyle of little sleep and lots of crappy food.  Since it looks like you were probably in a similar place, I was curious if you had any advice or tips on how to start – did you get into a routine slowly and ratchet it up over time (I saw your analogy to mountain climbers and oxygen)?  Did you just go “cold turkey” one day?  Things I should look out for?  I’d be grateful for any advice you might have, since I expect your experiences and mine are likely to be similar.

- Bill


A: Great to hear you are considering CR. I moved along quickly in my enthusiasm when I started. But I still lost weight at a pound or less a week. Studied show it's very important to lose slowly Animals/people actually show diminished lifespans with CR that's too precipitously implemented- probably relates to toxins otherwise benignly stored in fat tissues that are released too quickly and copiously for adequate elimination. Furthermore, this is not a sprint; it's the ultimate marathon. Those that endure proceed at the right pace. In fact, it's the best indicator, in my experience, of success.

Regarding a hectic schedule, you have to plan. Buy raw salads at your local grocery store or make at home at the first of the week; carry them with you. Have no inhibition about bringing your raw veggies (with some subtlety) into elegant or other restaurants to add to their likely corrupted or meager salads. Explain to your dinner companions or others concerned that you are confined to a special diet.

Because CR is about less food and less exercise, with planning it should require less time.

Hang in there!

Several studies suggest that eating a low carb diet can keep weight low because it, in effect, restricts calories. The argument goes that people feel fuller at a given volume of calories when the calories are comprised of protein and fat than when comprised of carbohydrates.


This may be true (but I doubt it)...


...which means that the program would meet one of the two elements of healthy CR, i.e. the restriction of calories. But that is only half the plan. CR requires, in addition, that the calories consumed be especially nutritious. As a practical matter, that means that the diet must include copious fruits and vegetables.


This is not something you see on “low-carb” diets. The centerpiece of every low-carb diet that I have seen is animal based, i.e. fats (saturated) and protein. These are not nutrient-dense foods. Furthermore, a plethora of studies exist suggesting, if not clearly establishing, a link between animal-source foods and cancers, heart-disease and diabetes. A good summary of this is found in “The China Study” by Colin Campbell. Also Google the terms under research. 


The safest approach to CR is to stick with calories comprised of plant foods (especially raw) with animal products being no more than an occasional component. You will find that you are eating such a large quantity of food that you should rarely feel hungry. By contrast, animal foods are comparatively calorie-dense and nutrient-sparse.



The weight loss on such programs probably has less to do with calorie restriction than the questionably healthy and little-understood effects of ketosis--a complex process by which the body is forced to consume its fat stores for energy. This is a metabolic survival response normally associated with starvation which, when recommended as a weight loss strategy, should at least raise some intuitive red flags for even the least informed aspirant to health and longevity.

Q: I am currently 2 stone overweight and am a vegetarian. I would like to lose weight, but would also like to start out on adopting a calorie restriction diet, because I am convinced of it's health benefits. Could you give me any advice on where to start?
A: Best to start slow; because this is a marathon, in competition not with others but with your own genes and environment, rather than a sprint, you should develop the habits that will sustain you long-term. I take the hunger out of calorie restriction by eating the things our bodies were designed to function best on: lots of plant foods with occasional lean meat. But all plant foods aren't equal. It's turns out, happily for you and me, that the foods most packed with nutrition are the same one's least packed with calories. This means that these are the ones you can eat in unlimited quantity (without exploding) and still be safely calorie restricted. Of course I'm referring to vegetables and many fruits. (Not so with grains and legumes; with these you must be mindful of the calories.)
If you commit to eating meals dominated, if not monopolized, by these plants you should not have to battle hunger. Though temptations don't go away, at least they're rooted in something other than hunger (habit, mood, etc.) and dealt with accordingly. My personal eating regimen, which is one among several, if not many, used by veteran CR practitioners, is to eat two very large meals each day with no snacking: In the morning I have a huge bowl of many types of berries, apples (primarily peels) and 1-2 ounces of nuts; at noon or dinner I have a magnificent salad with many vegetables (1.5-2 lbs) with sparing application of dressing or generous if not oil-based. Since you are vegetarian, you should have no problem with the plant-centric strategy. I hope these thoughts were helpful.
Incidentally, at the outset spend a week identifying your "set-point", which will become the basis for developing your daily restricted calorie objective. Though 20 years old, I recommend Dr. Roy Walford's instructions in his book "The 120-Year Diet". 
One final point. To finish the marathon (especially with the slowest time possible), you cannot treat CR as a mere diet, this parenthetical thing that is going on in the background of your life while the real important stuff, the stuff in the foreground, gets your real focus and energy. CR requires, and deserves, much more than that. Some things by their nature cannot be parentheticals or incidentals in life; Mt. Everest, mastery of a musical instrument, leadership in your church or synagogue. These, in varying degrees of course, demonstrate passion, commitment, many hours of concentrated attention. Along a spectrum, with these on one end and a "diet" on the other, my point is that your CR practice, to endure, must be closer to the former than the latter.
Like all such things, there are times when you're driven by enthusiasm and times when more effort is required. Personally, I seek out opportunities to talk about CR (as here); I never turn down an opportunity to tell others how great CR is. By being a fervent CR evangelist, I've done more for my health than for that of anyone else (my convert list is not very long). I also stay in touch with other practitioners. Be sure to attend any CR conferences or other events, regardless of travel hassles; though not as frequent as they should be, they are great for getting new ideas and recharging your batteries. I revisit CR books and articles from time to time. I also try to follow new developments in health, which often provide CR insights. All these things serve to remind me why I'm doing CR, what CR offers that so far nothing else on the planet can.
Good luck.
I am often asked with great anticipation to describe the “calorie restriction diet”. Questioners presume that there must be an intricate program with elaborate rules regarding what to eat and when to eat it. I know this because I have had this conversation many times and people are always disappointed with my first reply and therefore will take several runs at the question before abandoning the effort, concluding finally that I am either evasive or obtuse.
My theory is that diets are more credible (and attractive) if they  consist of specific rules and procedures (especially when clothed with a glib scientific idea). The more popular diets come packaged in attractive books and include a generous array of recipes. Better still, some diets are sold as turn-key programs: They provide the meals themselves along with a wide array of supplements. But best-selling diets need more than elaborate programs and attractive packages. They need an “expert” that is winsome, articulate and telegenic (or, failing these, a celebrity). Programs built around points, portions and protein have proven hugely popular. 
Unfortunately, calorie restriction lacks virtually all the elements essential for commercial success or, for that matter, even basic credibility. There are no celebrity promoters, no products to provide. There is not even a detailed program to present to prospects. The only books on the subject tend to lack the packaging and the promoters that produce best-sellers: The diction is not as user-friendly; the fact-filled content dwells heavily on scientific research and technical explanations; the recommendations lack the terse certitude consumers crave; and the authors do little for themselves or their books in the few interviews that come their way.

The unsatisfying fact is that CR practitioners are unanimous on only two things: 1) we must reduce our calorie consumption substantially below our respective set points, 2) we must maximize the nutritional content of the calories we consume. Beyond these fundamentals, strategies and tactics vary. While prong 2 does assure that all practitioners eat generous quantities of fruits and vegetables, strategies vary regarding carbs vs. fats vs. protein percentages in each diet. Practices also vary among us regarding the related issues of bread and dessert permissibility. Positions also vary regarding meat & dairy consumption, though it’s fair to say that most of us minimize or eliminate these. Some of us, but not all, take lots of supplements, consume alcohol and/or caffeine, prefer raw foods, eat only organic, etc.. 

Regarding exercise, prong 1 creates a general consensus that the calorie restriction effect can be nullified by too much exercise. CR is not about being lean, its about restricting calories. That being said, the actual amount of exercise varies greatly among practitioners. Some push the envelope in my humble opinion. People have told me they were doing CR while regularly exercising an hour a day. The problem is that there is no clear guidance on this point. We know that exercise is good since it benefits us in so many ways, not the least of which relates to our functional health (bones, muscles, flexibility, etc.). The key question is how many exercise calories can we expend without the caloric detriment outweighing the caloric benefit. We know, for example, that heavy aerobics activity--which by definition requires heavy calorie consumption-- does not produce exceptional longevity (though it improves average longevity).

Our strategies also vary regarding how we schedule our meals. Some of us eat 3 meals of approximately the same size each day. Some eat only one or two meals; others eat more but eat larger meals early in the day. Some snack. Others eat only on alternate days. The research does not indicate that any of these is clearly the best approach. I suspect each of us chose the pattern that we can live with best, then developed our supporting arguments.

Despite, however, the marketing challenges facing calorie restriction, there still remains the preponderating fact that CR is the most intelligent diet option available to man at this time. No eating strategy has been shown to provide better protection against all major diseases, to preserve physical functionality longer and to provide, potentially at least, dramatically greater longevity. Furthermore, not only are these claims greater than those of 95% of the more popular diets, the documentation supporting these claims dwarfs that of its best-selling counterparts (for which in many cases no such evidence exists). Therefore, my path is clear. Along the way I will continue being one of those voices in the wilderness for which an occasional convert is ample satisfaction.