The Longevity Diet

Photography by: Mark Viker
The Longevity Diet

Imagine enjoying as many years in retirement as you spent working. Think of all you'd be able to see if you could cruise around in a Winnebago well into your 120s. How about sticking around to celebrate the birth of your great-great-great-grandchild? For the approximately 1,700 members of the Calorie Restriction (CR) Society (www.calorierestriction.org)--a nonprofit group that promotes strict calorie control as a means to living longer--this postcentenarian life isn't just a dream, it's a goal.

Mary Robinson, a senior manager at a Virginia-based technology company, shares that goal. When she turned 47, Robinson decided it was time to make some changes. "I was having lots of minor health problems and just felt old," she recalls. "I made a resolution to lose weight and see if I felt better." Robinson put herself on a calorie-restricted diet, using nutritional analysis software to track her every bite. "I went down to 900 calories a day, lost 30 pounds in six months, and felt 100 percent better."

As defined by the society's members, calorie restriction means you consume a specific, limited number of calories while meeting all your nutritional needs. Depending on your height, weight, age, and body type, that could translate to anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day, give or take a couple hundred. "The average calorie intake for people on the CR diet is 1,700 calories per day," says Luigi Fontana, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at Washington University in St. Louis and top researcher on calorie restriction. While this is less than the average American man or woman eats in a day, the CR diet, as practiced by at least some of its followers, is more reasonable than its name might suggest.

The society also encourages slow, steady weight loss, cutting no more than 100 calories a day until you're losing about one or two pounds a week. The long-term goal is to take your weight down by 10 to 25 percent of your "set point," or what you weighed when you were neither overweight nor underweight. Once body mass index hits 20 (for example, at 124 pounds for someone who stands 5'6" tall), the goal switches to weight maintenance. Society president Brian Delaney says these are realistic goals for reaching the level that provides the most benefits.