Brian M. Delaney is a translator, philosopher, rocker, and caloric restriction (CR) practitioner. He is president of the CR Society International, an organization that promotes the CR diet and disseminates information about the CR lifestyle. In several animal models CR results in increased lifespan and health in old age (see our blog post on Caloric Restriction and Aging). The effects of CR in humans are less clear and are currently under investigation by scientists. The Buck Institute and the SAGE blog do not endorse or promote adoption of the CR diet. We present this interview out of sheer curiosity.
Hi Brian. Thanks for talking to us.
What is the CR Society International?
We are a not-for-profit organization trying to spread information about the CR diet. We also want to support further research into the effects of CR in people.
Do you have an estimate of how many intentional CR practitioners there are? A 2010 Telegraph article says the figure is around 7,000 members, and 100,000 practitioners.
A few thousand sounds correct for our membership. 100,000 worldwide practitioners? That sounds a bit high. But there are many people out there who are practicing CR but wouldn’t call it that. Anybody eating a mainly plant-based diet, for example, is effectively calorically reduced relative to someone eating a typical meat–heavy diet.
What is the CR diet?
CR is a diet that is healthy and fulfills all nutritional requirements, with one difference from standard dietary guidelines: it is low on energy. How low? That depends on individual choice. The CR Society International cautions against taking it to an extreme. (And we always stress that any change in your health regimen should be monitored by a doctor.)
What kind of calories do you eat daily? How big a restriction is that?
I eat just under 2000 calories daily, I don’t practice as severe a form as some people who might eat around 1800 calories, shooting for a 25-30% reduction in their daily calories, or even less, for smaller, less physically active people with lower energy needs. I’m not the best example of a typical CR diet though; I’m more interested in the science of it.
What was it like switching yourself onto CR? Did you have cravings?
That was 20 years ago so I don’t really feel that way anymore. Some people talk about having cravings and feeling intense hunger, but I haven’t experienced that, at least not for a long time. If I think back, yeah, I do remember sometimes craving ice cream and a big juicy hamburger.
What’s a typical day of meals for you?
Today for example I had a breakfast of oatmeal, some fruit, and beans. I’ve been leaning more on the beans lately. A lot of vegetables, of course. I don’t eat lunch, and for dinner I had a bigger version of breakfast, but with a large green salad.
Is it annoying to have to constantly count calories?
I don’t really count calories. It’s not necessary. I think the evolutionary development of the CR effect wouldn’t be such that eating say 1916 instead of 1915 calories would ruin the effect. It wouldn’t work that way. Practitioners starting out can use the various nutritional analysis programs that exist to figure out a ballpark figure for what they’re eating and what nutrients they need to watch out for and possibly supplement or get through different food choices.
What nutrients do you have to be especially vigilant for?
For me, I eat mostly vegan so I have to watch out for B12, so I take a B12 supplement. I also have low iodine intake so I supplement iodine as well.
Do you have enough energy to exercise?
Yes, that’s part of why I eat more calories than some more extreme practitioners. I exercise intensely. I do aerobic exercise, cycling or running, most days of the week, and strength-training a few times a week.
Dietary restriction in some animal models produces restlessness. Do you have trouble sleeping?
Actually I’ve heard people say the opposite; that they sleep very well. For me, I have trouble sleeping no matter what I eat, but I’m unusual in that way.
There’s evidence from mouse models that depending on your genetic background CR has variable effects on lifespan, both positive and negative. Do you have anecdotal observations that CR effects vary in different individuals?
Yes, absolutely. Although there is a surprising degree of uniformity in the CR practitioners studied by Luigi Fontana at WUSTL, if you’re familiar with his work [1, 2, & 3]. Something our organization would be interested in is a search for SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that correlate with a CR non-responder genotype. They might be adhering to the diet but getting limited long-term benefit because they have a specific point mutation in their genome.
I suppose the CR non-responders might feel bad on the diet and not stick with it.
Well, the problem would be if they’re actually feeling good on the diet but not realizing they’re not actually getting longevity benefits, and if they knew they had the non-responder genetic background then they might figure “what’s the point? I want to go back to eating more like I was before.” Not necessarily eating excessively, but a standard healthy diet. For me, the biggest problem is being so skinny. I just don’t recognize what I see in the mirror as me. If I found out that I wasn’t getting health benefits then I would stop CR.
For some people is the point to be skinny? Do you worry that involvement in the CR community could legitimize anorexia for some people?
I don’t think that’s plausible. I’ve seen no signs of it on our forums. None of the people I know or know of on CR seem to have any kind of body dysmorphia. Some people start out obese and continue CR because of the change in how they look, sure. But they end up not looking terribly skinny because one can only lose so much weight without being overwhelmed by hunger. I wouldn’t call those people anorexic.
So much of social interaction is built around food. Does it ever feel awkward when you can’t share something at a dinner party?
Yeah, we’ll be out with people, and someone will order cheesecake or a big plate of cheesy nachos. That food just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. (Some good Mexican nachos maybe, but not those cafeteria-style, Cheese-Whiz nachos). Sometimes it comes up, and I have to explain myself or I’ll joke about it. And sometimes you just say, “I don’t want any.” I’m much more interested in having an interesting conversation than those nachos.
For more information about the CR and the CR society international check out the following links:
“The Longevity Diet” published by Brian M. Delaney and Lisa Walford