My Starvation Diet

I’ve cut back to 1,500 calories a day. Will I live to be 120 years old?

  1. By my sixth day following the calorie restriction with optimum nutrition plan, a way of eating—or not eating—in order to live to the horrifying-to-contemplate age of 120, I found myself having hostile conversations about chocolate with a dead man. The man was Dr. Roy Walford, a UCLA pathologist who is largely responsible for creating the modern science of life extension through food reduction. In his experiments, he found that laboratory mice fed about half of a normal diet lived about twice as long as their better-fed counterparts—the mousy equivalent of about 160 human years.

    The underfed mice also retained their sleek coats and ability to zip through mazes into old age, while normally fed mice ended up scruffy and lost. Subsequent investigations in animals ranging from fruit flies to dogs to primates have confirmed the benefits of going through life hungry. Walford became his own lab animal, putting himself on a severe diet in his 50s with the idea that it would allow him to continue to do research and chase women when he reached triple digits.

    This plan was interrupted by his death at the un-biblical age of 79, due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. (Walford wrote that following his diet means “you are holding something like four aces in the poker game with Death.” But Death apparently is a pit boss who makes his own rules.) The failure of Walford’s personal experiment, however, has not dampened public interest in the possible benefits of calor...

Originally published in Slate, February 2007