I am running out of reading material. Please comment if you have any more suggestions for ED books! xxx

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Great Starvation Experiment

Ancel Keys and the men who starved for science, by Todd Tucker.

This book was not about Eating disorders, but due to the results of the experiment, it did touch upon Anorexia.

'The other volunteers began to notice Sam Legg’s strange behaviour before the scientists did. In the barracks, he began collecting cookbooks, reading the recipes, and staring at the pictures of food with almost pornographic fascination.’

‘...For weeks, it had been known that Legg liked to be left alone at meals...’

‘...He had combined all the food on his tray into one pile. He then took his fork and stirred and smashed it together... until it was a homogenous dark gray-greenish paste on his plate...’

‘...He was on the verge of crying... A lifetime spent in clinical environments had honed his instincts, and he deftly shoved himself away from his desk just as Weygandt vomited the forbidden fruit upon it.’

- Obsessing over food, even pictures of food

- Being irritated by any presence while you are eating

- Mushing all your 'meals' into one singular lump

All these things are common symptoms of anorexia nervosa, and all these symptoms were experienced by Legg, a man who had begun the experiment as a mentally and physically healthy individual. The final quote was describing a different participant, who had given in to hunger and eaten the food he was stacking in a shop he was working in. The act felt out of control. He was consequently mortified and panicked, so much so that he acted as a bulimic would and threw up the food.

The point I am trying to make is; put any normal human being in a situation where they are starving, and it is only natural that they start to act like a person who suffers from an eating disorder. In other words; these are instinctual reactions to starvation. Once you have lived it, you realise you were barely aware that you were performing these bizarre rituals, and you could not control them.

Before and after pictures of Sam Legg: Top: Healthy Legg at a Cilivilian Public Service camp before he (the conscientious objector) moved to Minesota to take part in the experiment as an alternative to forestry work. Bottom: A picture of Legg by Wallace Kirkland, which appeared in Life magazine in 1945.

‘Crow was fascinated to find that just like anorexics, the men in the experiment had at time greatly distorted body images...'

Conclusion: ‘Keys noted that the Minnesota experiment actually more closely duplicated anorexia than it did wartime starvation, in that conditions other than food intake, such as cleanliness and accessibility of medical care, were “normal.”’

The result was a 2 volume work created by Keys, A. et al. 1950: The biology of human starvation.


  1. Have you read Wintergirls? Its fiction, but its interesting.

  2. Hello kae! - I have indeed read Wintergirls. I can't say I am a big fan of it though. I felt like there wasn't much to the story and that the author didn't go into enough depth about how an eating disorder affects a person. I have heard a lot of people say they really liked it though, so maybe I was missing something! I think I will read it again sometime.

    I may also be biased because I am more into real life stories that I can draw inspiration from, but I am currently giving fiction another go by reading The Passion of Alice, which someone else recomended. Have you read that? x


About Me

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Durham, County Durham, United Kingdom
(November 2010) > I am taking a year (or two) out of university to recover from an eating disorder; originally diagnosed as restricting anorexia 7 years ago, but has more recently morphed into BN non-purgeing type/ BED/ COE/ EDNOS / whatever you want to call it. I thought I would write a blog to give me a kind of project to work on, mainly giving an insight into the Eating Disorders books that I have read and any interesting articles/videos I find. However, there may be some updates on my life and thoughts once in a while. My quest is to understand these disorders, although I know the best I can do is to keep on researching xxx Update (2012): I have now returned to uni.


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