Healthy Eating

The Longevity Diet

Nutrient-dense foods like broccoli are key to cutting calories.

The Longevity Diet
Pin it Mark Viker

In short, what seems like a healthful, calorie-controlled diet to one might be an eating disorder to another. So just where does calorie restriction leave off and anorectic behavior begin? Members of the CRS see clear differences, in both goals and attitude. While anorectics focus on physical appearance, CR practitioners focus on health and longevity. Someone with anorexia sees food as a negative thing and eating as something to be done secretly. CR practitioners generally enjoy eating and are happy to share their thoughts about food with others. And while the primary goal of someone with anorexia is to be thin, the objective of someone who follows a CR diet is to live a long time. Practitioners of CR routinely experience the gnawing hunger that comes with any low-calorie diet. "Calorie-restriction guides put a lot of emphasis on supporting people as they overcome hunger," points out Malena Perdomo, R.D., Denver-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "But hunger is a natural, physiological response that we should listen to, not try to ignore or be talked out of." Even CR practitioners admit that handling hunger is tough. "One of the benefits of joining the group is to be in touch with people who share the challenges of what can sometimes be a difficult experience," says society member Bob Cavanaugh.

A commitment to healthy eating
If calorie restriction in and of itself promoted longevity, we could all live on coffee and cigarettes. Or we could eat half a hamburger, half an order of fries, and half an ice cream cone, wash it down with half a can of soda, and call it a reduced-calorie meal. But that's not how it works. "The key is to replace nutritionally poor foods with nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and legumes," according to Fontana. "This naturally promotes a decrease in calories and an increase in the nutrients essential for longevity."

Five years later, Mary Robinson has kept off her excess weight by continuing to monitor every meal. She insists it's easier than it looks. "I get a lot of pleasure from eating good foods," says Robinson, whose staples include steamed vegetables, high-fiber cereal, grilled salmon, nuts, and fresh berries. "I visualize how the food makes my body feel, and that makes healthful eating feel more like a spa treatment than deprivation." The biggest downside? Socializing when relatives and friends try to sabotage her efforts. "I try not to be too inflexible, but I can tell you that I don't share the joy when someone shows up with a batch of brownies." Despite the uncertain outcome of following a CR diet, Robinson plans to keep at it. "I still have a lot of things to accomplish in my life, and I hope this diet will help me stay mentally sharp and physically capable for as long as possible."