Tuesday, January 27, 2009

60 Minutes and why Calorie Restriction goes nowhere

...is one of the subject lines on my Calorie Restriction mailing list this week. Alas, if you saw 60 Minutes on CBS Sunday night, you know why.

Not real flattering.

And it was sexist too.

First, the story focused on Resveratrol, the active ingredient in red wine that has so many healthful properties. (And I sell it!--she momentarily preened.) Researchers believe that it can "turn on the longevity gene" and they are currently developing a supplement/pill that will have the higher concentrations necessary to do this.

So far, so good.

And then the story turned to the Calorie Restriction Society and I just gritted my teeth. Oh no, I thought.

I was right.

From the transcript of the show:

Meet the members of CRS - the Calorie Restriction Society - a group that has been severely restricting their calories for years now. They are also part of a Washington University study to see if humans "mimic" the monkeys. Does this kind of self-denial makes them live longer, healthier lives?

60 Minutes joined them for what they call "happy hour," consisting of a cocktail of low-calorie soup for starters, and walnuts, and baby food - green bean puree on flour-free bread to top off this feast fit for a flea.

So far the participants have lowered their blood pressure, reduced body fat, and lessened risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. And what's more, to one husband anyway, starvation has its sexy side. "To be honest, if you saw her without any clothes, you'd see she looks pretty darn good, like a woman like of many, many years younger," the man told 60 Minutes.

Their emissaries travel the world, spreading the faith and the word: hunger turns on the survival gene.

The skinnies may not die young, but given their diet they just might die of boredom. But if the scientists at Sirtris are on the right track, it could mean forget dieting, forget the sweaty business of working out - just pop a pill and you are in guilt-free couch potato paradise.
Yes, we must assure the men, it makes the women LOOK GOOD! Offensive as hell. (Let's hear about how the men look!)

One email-list participant wrote of the experience:
[We hoped "60 Minutes" would share] some of the brilliant comments by Richard Schulman and Don Dowden, both of whom shared insights about the way they practice CR and the significant success they have had.
A woman replies:

This is what I wanted to hear! In fact they cut ALL comments by anyone except Paul describing Meredith without clothes.

It should be obvious to anyone, without having to ask, why CR doesn't go anywhere as a scientifically viable alternative to unproven "miracle drugs."

The fault rests squarely on the MSM (mainstream media) and their treatment of the subject matter.
As one thoroughly disappointed in the coverage, let me add my hearty amen to that. Several people are emailing CBS:

I've also emailed them to tell them what I though of the editing on the show. Very poor representation of CRON* in humans, and hardly mentioning the years of research behind it, the excellent results in humans, completely lying about our experience on the diet... and not even giving a chance for the other CRers in the clip to talk about how they feel. He practically used a voice over for almost all of that section!
Indeed, the focus seemed to be, look at these weird thin people who have made guinea pigs of themselves. Do they say this about any other 'diet' that people find useful? Why are various goofy fad diets (yes, I'm lookin at you, Dr Atkins) treated respectfully by the mainstream media, but CR is not? In fact, CR was presented primarily as a counter-point to the Resveratrol story:

Yup, it really wasn't about CR it was about CR effects in a bottle, pop a pill and live longer! Gee, you don't need self control like these poor CR folks, if revenge is living longer, we win. The story is about living longer in a pill, CR was background.
And besides that, the arrogant nastiness directed at the menu overlooked the main reasons for the food being eaten by the folks on CR, which is that they are exceptionally nutrient-rich, densely packed with vitamins and minerals. This fact wasn't mentioned at all in the story, which focused only on calories, not surprisingly. Another comment:

I wish the CR Society representatives featured on 60 minutes would have chosen different foods. The baby food on bread is probably a big turn off to most viewers, including myself. It makes CR look like a cult. There are many people who practice CR by eating better tasting foods.
Personally, I see no difference between "baby food" on bread, or anything else on bread... but the choice of the word "baby food" was certainly interesting, when the word purée would have been used exclusively if this was some sort of gourmet cooking show. Obviously, it was deliberately used for effect.

One CRS member's response was to write a post titled Media: How Does It Portray CR?:
If I depended on the media, I would think people on a CR diet must:

* Peel their apples, eat the peels and throw away the rest;
* Lick their plates in public to get every last scrap;
* Make oddball, tasteless canapes, perhaps with baby food;
* Make one food only and eat that same food day in and day out.
* Eat horrible looking food, portrayed as unappealingly as possible;

Here's the reality: you can eat absolutely any food you desire, as long as you meet your nutritional needs within your calorie limit. This is not that hard. My wife makes all sort of dishes (most recently, Indian cuisine). There is nothing she makes that I don't eat (except asparagus - yuck - some people will eat anything!). I just make sure I know what the nutritional value is, then eat an appropriate amount.

You can even eat pure, totally adulterated, junk food. But you will have to limit the amount of junk so you have enough remaining calories for the day to get 100% of your nutritional needs.

Reality: You can eat perfectly normal food similar to what you are used to, but you will probably also start eating more nutritious foods.
I don't think that rather undramatic reality would have made "good television" though, now would it? Fuck the facts, we want razzle-dazzle bozo weirdness!

Jerry Springer, call your office.

Whatever happened to real reporting?


*CRON stands for Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition


Cat Mom said...

Don't fret. While the coverage may have been poor and only anecdotal to the main story, it made ME start researching CR again and decide to give it a try this time. I'm sure I'm not alone. A convert is a convert, no matter how s/he got there.

It might interest you to know that Paul & Meredith's book is on order at my little library (2 copies!).

JoJo said...

My smother started restricting my calorie intake when I was a child. 1200 calorie a day diets, measured food, etc. As a result, my dr. told me, last year, that my body has been in permanent starvation mode, which is why my metabolism is so slow and why I can't lose weight.

Ann oDyne said...

oh Cat Mom - that's good.

re the use of 'baby-food' to denigrate: foods packaged for infants have NO CRAP in them.
we choose high nutrition food, then puree it so growing infants can eat it.

re the MEEJA:
in general, world media, print and screen, is criminal in intent, and frequently spreads DISinformation.

chewed-up and spat out poor Anna-Nicole Smith, and most journos are drunks and/or adulterers.

Look, I try to be anodyne, but really.

Serena said...

I tried self-denial once. I didn't like it.

I know it's been a while since June 10th but I finally have you added to my morning coffee reads.

Skinner said...

Sounds sort of like the press was lurking in the shadows of "Beth Ann and Macrobioticism".

Anonymous said...

I absolutely enjoyed this. Really hit the nail here. As the CR Society's main media contact, I do a lot of work finding willing members for these interviews. Always told they are doing a no-shit presentation of CR but they always wind up dishing it out to the public.

Bob Cavanaugh