When the Calorie Restriction Society was formed in 2004, "the perception generated by the news media was that we were a bunch of anorexic whackos pursuing a fool's errand," recalls Bob Cavanaugh, spokesman for the group, which is headquartered in Newport, N.C.
"Since then, the media has done a 180."
The change in attitude is due to scientific research indicating that people who reduce their daily calories by 40% or so possibly enjoy a longer life. The thinking is that eating less causes body functions to perform more optimally, and therefore, slow the rate of aging. Studies have found heart muscles are more elastic and perform better, for instance.
As talk of calorie restriction grows, retailers and staff dietitians shouldn't be surprised to see more scrutiny of nutrition information of food packages by shoppers following this lifestyle.
"We shop pretty much like everyone else," said Cavanaugh, who started restricting his daily intake of calories to just under 2,000 about five years ago. "We shop around the outside of the market, getting produce, meat and dairy. Packaged or canned goods aren't really used by calorie restrictors, although there's no set style to doing this."
Calorie restrictors cringe at the mention of the word "diet," and consider the practice more of a lifestyle maintenance plan. Indeed, calorie restriction emphasizes low-calorie but nutrient-dense foods as a way of protecting one's health and wellness. Still, the plan can attract extreme adherents. Cavanaugh said members of the group watch out for those who might be using the program to disguise eating disorders like anorexia.
Calorie restriction is fairly flexible, and adopters can choose just how many calories they wish to cut. Casual practitioners might eliminate 10% of their daily calories on average, while more determined restrictors might cut 40%.
"It's all about watching how much you eat, and getting the most from foods that you eat," Cavanaugh said.