Experts have long known that calorie restriction is great at helping people lose weight, improve their overall health, and even live longer. What they weren’t so sure of? How it might affect quality of life, overall. Like, whether cutting way back on your portions will leave you foggy and tired all the time. Or if life becomes pretty miserable when you can only have dessert, like, once a month.
And while the answers to those questions might seem fairly obvious, researchers decided it was high time to conduct an experiment to find out for sure. So, they divided 220 non-obese men and women into two groups: The first group was assigned to restrict their daily calorie intake by 25% for 2 years. (So, someone normally eating a 2,000-calorie diet would eat 500 fewer calories per day). The second group was told to continue eating however much they wanted.
At this point, you might expect that it was only a matter of time before the calorie-restricted group formed an angry mutiny against the researchers. Or perhaps gave up completely and spent their days listlessly sitting in the corner, drawing pictures of cheesy pizza and frosted doughnuts.
Except, that’s not what happened at all. After using questionnaires to measure each subject’s mood, quality of life, sleep, and sexual function, researchers found that the subjects in the calorie-restricted group were basically doing awesome. Better, in fact, than the subjects who were allowed to chow down on unlimited amounts of food. Compared to the free-for-all eaters, those in the calorie-restricted group had significantly improved moods, were less tense, got better sleep, and even reportedbetter sex.
The folks in the calorie-restricted group also lost an average of nearly 17 pounds, compared to just 1 pound for the people in the other group. And while that part is less surprising, the study authors suspect that the change on the scale could have a lot to do with why calorie restrictors reaped all those other benefits. After all, it’s no secret that losing weight often leads to an increase in energy, as well as an easier time sleeping. And if you wanted to lose weight, watching the pounds come off is a pretty big mood booster in itself. Trading in processed foods high in refined carbs for clean ones might also make you less suspect to theemotional highs and lows that tend to come with eating lots of sugar—so you’re even-keeled instead of all over the place.
Does that mean you’ll have an overall more amazing life if you cut your calories by 25%? Hard to say. While the results of the study are interesting, there are still mountains of evidence suggesting that diets can mess with your head and make it harder to lose weight in the long run.
But ultimately, it’s about what’s right for you. Weight loss methods work best when they’re something that you can sustain for life, not just a few weeks or months. So if you want to try calorie restriction, take some time to seriously think about whether it’s something you’ll be able to do for the long-term. If the answer is no, it might not be the right choice. And if the answer is yes? It may be worth trying. But before you get started, talk with your doctor and a dietician. It’s important to make sure that you’ll still be able to hit all of your nutritional bases while eating significantly less food.