"A Duty to Starve"

I found this interesting video via Twitter (thanks, Jane!), from an American RadioWorks documentary on belief systems during World War II. One of the belief systems that were examined were the conscientious objectors, and the subsequent Minnesota Starvation Study. In the video, one of the study participants views old silent film from the time of the study and narrates his memories and feelings.

My Mad Google Skillz dug up the actual documentary website, which you can find here: A Duty to Starve. I find the quotes from the study participants to be especially intriguing and revealing about the personal experiences of starvation. It's a profound experience, and it tends to mark you for life. You don't just forget about it after it's over.

What I think one of the most eye-opening aspects of the Minnesota study was how much starvation affects the mind. People knew starvation affected the body- it was fairly obvious. But no one before had tried to study how starvation affected the brain. And your brain is a veritable Hoover for calories; though only 2.5% of your body by weight, it uses 20% of the calories you eat. Without these calories, the brain starts shutting down. All that interests a starving person is food. Not friends, not sex, not that snazzy new pair of peek-toe pumps, just food.

I am incredibly grateful to these men for helping science get such insight on starvation.


Jane said...

You DO have mad google skillz!

Anonymous said...

Read 'The Biology of Human Starvation' (two volumes) to obtain all information. The data are fascinating and will never be repeated due to ethical/legal constraints on human experimentation. An important point is that even though these men developed many obsessive-compulsive, and also self-destructive behaviours during the starvation phase, none developed anorexia nervosa. They were not aversed to gaining weight post-starvation. In fact, many developed bulimic eating behaviours, which helps to explain why some people with anorexia nervosa proceed over time to develop binge eating or bulimia.

I have a long history of restricting anorexia nervosa. Although I can attribute some of my behaviours to the effects of starvation, I also have a form of autism which partly explains my susceptibility to repetitive and obsessive behaviours. Re-feeding has never reversed my obsessions and compulsions - many of which pre-date my anorexia nervosa.



S said...

Such an interesting study. Thanks for the link. I also loved learning that the brain uses 20% of the calories we ingest. No wonder I felt so foggy when I wasn't eating!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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