The Concentration Camp Diet

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I have a few thoughts about the good old low-calorie diet for weight loss if you haven’t noticed. In fact, I’ve gotten plenty of heat (no pun intended) for making allusions between what is recommended as a typical “healthy diet,” and the fare that was provided to residents at Nazi concentration camps (please don’t be offended, it is just simply a fact).

This came to a head on the New York Times Health Well blog recently as they released an article about “main course salads,” each of which contained about 200 calories. I went off, saying that a person would have to eat about 7 of those salads per day to get the number of calories fed to concentration camp victims. I even plugged the recipe for one salad into my nutrition software and created a profile under the name: Anne Orexia, based on Ms. Orexia eating that “main course salad” and nothing else 3 times per day (CLICK HERE to see her nutrition numbers).

This was immediately and hotly contested, probably by a bunch of anorexic New York wannabe-models that believe that their diet of organic salad greens from Whole Foods and an occasional radish is healthy. Unfortunately, when taken on the “whole,” one can comprise a much healthier diet without ever having to eat anything besides burgers and pizza assuming it meets the basic energy requirements. There is no diet with insufficient calories that’s less harmful than fast food as far as I know. Still, they believed that concentration camps were a place where people did not receive much food. By today’s Weight Watcher’s standards, they were creeping up to the top of their Points range, and yes, such diets are capable of creating starvation and metabolic ruin. Concentration camps proved that.

So here I highlight the fact that health authors – nearly all of them, from Barry Sears to Dr. Oz and even Sally Fallon (in her weight loss book she dips below 2,000 calories – although very nutritious and NOT as metabolically destructive due to its high-fat and protein content), recommend caloric guidelines very similar to Auschwitz rations. Many health authorities actually recommend eating far less than Auschwitz prisoners were purported to receive. As offended as you might be that I say that, know that it is the truth. We modern, educated humans of the world, in the name of health, are eating concentration camp rations. And it is sick. And when I say sick, I don’t mean sick like a dude doing a 720 on a snowboard. I mean sick like you know, sick. Ill. Twisted. F’ed up.

Here is a report on the diet of Auschwitz prisoners compared to what a normal hardworking person’s diet should consist of calorie-wise (read more at

“Whereas according to the standards of the Physiological Committee of the Section of Hygiene of the League of Nations a hardworking man ought to receive in 24 hours about 4,800 calories and an average working man more than 3,600 calories, the prisoners at Auschwitz were getting at most from 1302 up to 1744 calories for 24 hours! 1744 calories daily represent a little less than the basic conversion of food into energy of a grown man, or in other words a little less than the amount needed by a man resting in a lying position, covered and motionless. A man who works, nourished in such a way is burning up his own tissues in order to cover the amount of energy expended. This inevitably results in the wasting away of his organism in a manner dangerous to life.

The diet of the prisoners working very hard outside the camp possessed such a calorific value. The prisoners who were working in the camp and whose work was also undoubtedly hard were getting at most 1302 calories for 24 hours, which was much below the amount necessary for the preservation of life when lying in bed.

The above given data explains in full why the prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp were dying in masses after a short period of time, and only those who had the chance of getting stolen food, or were getting parcels of food from their families at home, could preserve their life. All the other prisoners were doomed to destruction”.

Exercise more! Eat less! And you too can die in three months if that food is low in animal protein and key vitamins and minerals found in animal foods!

No wonder there are so many health problems, an epidemic of low body temperature, and so many people gravitating to this site to recover from their attempts to be healthy. The modern ideas about health are absurd and destructive, handed out for one reason and one reason alone – the mainstream thinks that eating the appropriate amount of food to satisfy appetite and the requirements of lean tissues causes obesity followed by type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more. The mainstream is totally wrong about that scenario. Their logic is wrong, the sequence is wrong, and the guidelines for avoiding it are all wrong.

And to think that people are going on calorie-restricted diets, falling off of them, and blaming themselves for lack of willpower! The thought of it could raise my body temperature to 103 F! (we know the diet can’t do it, but could thoughts of Jenny Craig really stimulate metabolic activity I wonder? Nah, probably just a rush of cortisol and norepinephrine).

I’ve always hated the diet idea and the physical and mental demise that accompanies it, but recently seeing that my blood sugar was dramatically shot downwards eating the “worst diet imaginable” in the presumed opinion of every major public health entity in the world, I have no restraint when it comes to unleashing upon it (my pet dander allergies/asthma has shown remarkable improvement within the last 2 months as well).

Nourishing our bodies is one of the most basic, fundamental, satisfying, and uplifting things that humans do. Overweight people have even more of a desperate hunger within that needs satisfaction, and often a lot of self-loathing for eating that holds potential within it for an avalanche of psychological and emotional liberation. The diet, health, nutrition, and medical authorities have tried to take it away with their good intentions, but 180 is gonna continue to bring it back in a big way with intelligence.

We’re going to once again take the advice of a 7-year old:

To read the original NYTimes post that got me all fired up and make fun of my comments, CLICK HERE.

And in other news, 180 Kitchen is going to see a lot of action this week. I recently did a post and video on Tom Ka Gai – Thai coconut soup, and I’ve got posts coming later on Massaman curry and Baby Back Ribs. So heads up!


  1. Matt, this is by far my favourite of your many informative posts. I think you hit the nail on the head and I see great things in your future dude! Thanks =)

  2. Well said, sir.

    The human body is an incredible organism. When you study the evolution of mankind and the obstacles they overcame to become the dominant species on our planet, you really begin to appreciate what we are capable of. Our bodies our strong and persevering, and you are right about one thing, maybe the most important thing, WE MUST BE FED!

    It really bothers me to see that 99.99% of all health and diet advice is along the continuum from kind of metabolically depressing to majorly metabolically depressing. Hopefully we can reverse that trend. I try to share it with others, but the doubt is strong. It's hard to believe that so many people for so long have been doing it wrong.


  3. Thanks homies. I think it's pretty easy to believe everyone is wrong. Take a look around!

    I'll keep spreading the good word around though. Left this on Mercola's site this morning:

    "It seems clear from reviewing the medical and obesity literature that either cortisol or the hormone leptin is the root cause of both insulin resistance and excess fat accumulation. Exercise raises cortisol, which is counterproductive, and cutting calories lowers leptin, which is also counterproductive. It might induce a state of starvation that proves to lower weight in the short-term, but at great cost to the root problem. The following article is a great source of insight on overcoming insulin resistance and determining the root cause of obesity. No it's not carbs, or fats, or anything like that and it's certainly not eating too much and exercising too little."

    Fructose and Leptin

  4. I added back lifting to my routine (after no exercise HED for a couple months) and I've been getting toothaches since. Are these mini infections from sudden high cortisol? I've been eating more than ever though…

  5. Wow, Matt, I am excited for every new post at the moment as each one adds to my knowledge. Though old beliefs die hard :( I am getting maybe just under 2000 cals a day and am always full (5'6) and still gaining weight and find myself often thinking it is just too much food :( I finally got a glucose monitor yesterday and did a post prandial (1 hour later) check and came out at 111. Didn't have time to do a fasting one this morning. I am looking forward to tracking this. For the past five weeks I haven't been exercising at all, just walking, and am wondering if i should continue like this. I am itchy to do more but a lot of this is from fear of the weight gain and I never again want to exercise out of fear. What do you think?

    PS loving the new recipes too… I did a new one this week, an african one (lived in various nations in Africa) meatballs and butternut squash stew, very tasty :)

  6. Kirk –

    You will have a negative response to hard physical exercise-especially weight training if it induces soreness at first. It will pass though. I suggest you ease back into things more slowly. Once your body gets reaccustomed to exercise and over muscle soreness you should fare much better.

    Jedi –
    Women can definitely get away with eating far fewer calories than men, especially if you are exercising lightly.

    I know the antsy feeling. If you are itching to exercise just because you really want to, then I'd hate to hold you back. But you're right. Don't do it out of fear. I'd wait until all weight gain stops before doing much other than walking and stretching.

    That postprandial is pretty good, but I bet it continues to fall as you progress.

  7. Hi there,
    once again great post. I am really so happy that I found this site. Looking back at it, I cannot believe that I kept eating low-carb for such a long time, from my current perspective it just seems kinda silly and seems to have induced more damage than necessary.
    So far, I'm really doing very good on the HED-approach, but it's too early to make any final judgements.

    Oh, and if you haven't noticed, you are one of the "10 notable blogs from 2009" according to Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

  8. madMUHHH glad to see you challenging things alittle on the MDA forums ;)

  9. Great post Matt!

    These posts also help with breaking down mental barriers about consuming mega amounts of non-refined foods.

    I'm on track for 16lbs weight gain in 4 months on HED; 1 pound per week. Its hard not stress out about gaining fat, and not doing any exercise other then walking, so these posts help!

    The weight gain in my face though is a positive, making me look much younger and way healthier.

  10. Great to show this hip salad bunnies a small piece of the truth. But i don't think that you will get any of these hard core rabbits to ever eat a steak and potatos with melted butter on top.
    Believe me, once they are really into it nothing will convince them to change their habbits.

    But they are right about one point. People in concentration camps got nowhere near 1400 calories. 400-800 after 1940 sounds more appropriate.

  11. Jannis –
    We'll never know for sure. I only know what has been written specifically about Auschwitz and that on 1302-1774 calories per day with hard physical labor and a lack of key nutrients and animal protein caused death typically in a few months. Ancel Keys in his starvation study was able to almost get the men in the study to the same wretched point on nearly 2,000 calories per day with no exercise. Barry Sears recommends 1,500. That's all I'm saying.

    And no, I won't convince any bunnies, but that will help our population problem. Humans eating like bunnies do not proliferate themselves like bunnies.

    Thanks Chris and MadMuhh for the heads up.

  12. @Jedi:
    Didn't realize you were around here aswell.
    Yeah, debating at MDA is quite fun for some reason.
    I still believe that a paleo diet probably is "the optimal diet", but at the same time, I think it is naive to just stick to the paleo principles, simply because we do not really know how plaeo man's diet looked like, making the whole paleo thing a very vague subject.

  13. @Jedi: Try some Iodine, preferably Lugol's Solution. It helped me with low stomach acid, i felt also full of small meals. Now i can eat much bigger meals..

  14. yeah, love these posts. i am so tired of talking to people who think it's nuts to eat a lot of food and are constantly berating themselves for eating anything other than green salads and skinless chicken breasts or fish.(although, like many of us, i used to be there.)

    my mother, who i always thought to be a fairly open-minded person when it comes to health, shocked me over Christmas with this: she is constantly constipated and takes all kinds of supplements to deal with it. while visiting our house Thanksgiving, i made our meals with tons of butter, which is something she is not used to. she asked me if it was the distilled water she had at my house that was the reason she was not constipated while visiting, and i challenged her by saying it was probably the butter. (she has this thing with putting all faith in different kinds of water) she immediately said she cannot eat that much butter all the time, that it was just a special occasion. and i asked why. and she said "because i don't want to clog my arteries." what?!!

    suffice it to say, i dropped the subject when she began making up her own theories about how since she refuses to give up her pastries, donuts and boxed carbos like pretzels, crackers and chips, that eating butter will just exacerbate it and definitely clog her arteries. how sad that she is willing to live with health problems and just try to manage them with supplements than to change her diet, esp. since she has witnessed how it can help. she also relies on sudafed or the equivilant drug to manage her allergies and sinus infections she gets quite often.

    and my father, who lives on raw vegetables, nuts, chips, crackers, occasional sardines, peanut butter sandwiches, dry potatoes and other cooked veggies, donuts, could be close to a concentration camp victim. he is skinny as a rail and i have heard him make comments about being afraid of weight. he makes subtle fun of even slightly overweight people and as long as i can remember has never used more than a smidgen of butter on anything. when he saw me putting raw egg yolks in a smoothie a while back he said, "wow, cholesterol!!" and i told him that is what i was going for. he has depression and other health issues that i know could be helped with a change in diet and more calories.

    anyway, sorry for the long comment, but this is the way most people in this country are. and most people won't spend money on good quality food. i am still trying to convince my husband that it is worth it to spend a lot of our money on lots of food. he is constantly trying to figure out how to whittle it down.

  15. Great post!
    The sad thing is that I ate this way for years. 1200 cals or less a day, and then when I started eating more ( like 1800- 2000) which I though was a TON, I was exercising my little behind off at least two hours a day. And guess what? I did almost die when I got pregnant!
    Glad I found this blog or I may still be berating myself for eating enough, the way my sisters still do.
    I may be 20 lbs overweight, but I will happily stay this way rather than restrict calories or overexercise. Never again!

  16. Team Smith –

    Healthy eating isn't for everyone. It's not sad, it's just the way it is. There are advantages to not really giving a flying rats ass about what you eat. You can eat on the go, not obsess over ingredients, and just live life to the fullest – even if it is shortened or requires medication to get by. In fact, I think these people are our greatest motivators. We wouldn't love health so much if so many hadn't squandered theirs. Nah mean?

    Kate –

    Welcome back to food and nourishing yourself with love. Took me years of struggle to get there too, and I've found a lot of pleasant health surprises along the way. I don't think you're going to wind up as a fat old maid. Your health will most likely steadily improve from here.

  17. Like Kate, I've put on weight too, more than I would like, but I feel so much better eating this way than I ever did before. I was quite anorexic looking about 1 1/2 years ago from restricting and not only did I feel lousy but I had low self-esteem. Now even with some extra weight on me I feel great and I don't have that ridiculous hatred for my body that I had when I was skinny. -Sarah

  18. Sarah, I agree. When I was much skinnier I had such low self-esteem and hatred towards my body. that sometimes I even had trouble going out in public. Now I'm a little but self-concious but don't think about my body most of the time.

  19. Same here.
    A few weeks ago, i was thinking that I was pretty much the only one not doing well on the paleo diet, kind of like a freak of nature. But since stumbling upon 180, I know that I'm not alone out there and that paleo, or what pople consider paleo, is not the magic solution for everything.

  20. Hi guys, I'm new here and first need to ask, what is HED? Also, does everyone gain weight when starting this diet, even if you are already fat? Do you really have to stop exercising? If I quit going to the gym and gain lots more weight my husband would probably divorce me.

    I'm eating around 2000 calories a day now and feel satisfied enough, but it is not causing weight gain.

    Thanks, Vida

  21. Hi Vida –
    Welcome. I know from speaking with you before that you've had weight problems for a long time. Like many things, the response that each person has is quite unique. Underweight or average weight people tend to gain weight. Some don't change weight at all. Some overweight people can actually lose weight.

    You have accomplished a lot by improving your diet and being active. Not only have you already lost a ton of weight, you are eating to fullness without gaining weight. These are two huge accomplishments that few can manage. Still, I understand your desire to get all your excess weight off.

    The HED is basically a "high-everything diet" consisting of lots of fat as saturated fat from coconut, butter, and red meat, adequate but not excessive protein (about 3-5 ounces per meal for someone your size) and plenty of starch but little or no sugar (roughly a 2 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein). I encourage you to try it, as I think whatever insulin resistance you have will lessen, your metabolism will rise, and you, in time, will shed much of that weight effortlessly without any rebound.

    If that simply doesn't work for you, you'd be best to follow a very high-fat/moderate carb/protein diet (roughly 25 grams of protein and carbs per meal, 3X per day exactly, and enough fat and non-starchy vegetables to satisfy appetite).

    I've found keeping the protein to carb ratio equal more effective while focusing on fat. This seems to trigger the greatest fat release without sacrificing metabolism or causing muscle loss to the same degree as other approaches.

  22. Thanks again Matt. It is so awesome of you to answer back to everyone's questions.

    BTW, did anyone catch American Idol last night? I think Victoria Beckham is definitely on the salad diet. She scares me.

  23. Daniel Holt

    I'm going to have to disagree that overeating doesn't create obesity. Storing fat is a survival mechanism all mammals have developed in order to survive the winter months for times of when their is lack of food available. Animals will fatten before they go into hibernation.

    What happens when people don't take in enough calories for their lean body mass is that the body will metabolize the lean body mass for energy and thus your bodyfat percentage is greater. On top of that your body goes into survival mode and holds on to bodyfat even though you're not eating that much food. Strange, you'd think you would be skinnier and leaner. But that is not possible because your body metabolized the lean body mass to begin with. It is a good indicator that your body can't carry that lean body mass because you don't take in enough calories. If you do eat a high calorie diet you will be able to pack on lean body mass. You may weigh more but you appear to be leaner.

    Beyond that your body will only carry as much lean body mass as you need. It's based on your activity level and the types of activities that you do. You have adapt the body by doing heavy activity in order to carry a lot of lean body mass. If you are moderately active you will carry a decent level of lean body mass and can meet your aesthetic goals. If you take in a great excess of calories beyond this point you will store a lot of body fat, even if you eat healthy. For many people this is not an issue as their fatty appearance is likely due to an insufficient intake of calories. For others it's because they take in way too many calories and aren't active.

    Men and women's caloric requirements are the same when it comes to lean body mass. Men usually carry more lean body mass so they need to take in more calories. Men are more likely to do heavy activity so that is another reason. It's natural and healthy for women to carry more fat on their body than men. They naturally store more fat in regions like the breasts. J'lo doesn't look as attractive when she leans up. When she carries around more body fat her booty looks hot. Well, her whole body is more appealing too. That's just an example of a famous person.

  24. Daniel Holt

    I also have to add that even if you do a lot of heavy activity and take in an excess of calories you can still store an excess of body fat. A prime example are bodybuilders during their bulking phase. They pack on a lot of body fat as well as muscle. As they get closer to competition they gradually eat less, lose weight, lose body fat, and appear leaner. During his bulking phase if a bodybuilder approached a person that knows nothing about how to prepare as a bodybuilder and told them they are competing the person would think they are out of their mind to compete because they appear very fat.

    From my own personal experience I knew of a Fijian man who played rugby. He would ran 20 minutes a day at the most intense speed. He would lift heavy too. He carried a lot of body fat as well as a lot of muscle mass. At one time he got injured so he didn't exercise or eat that much. He appeared very skinny.

  25. Daniel Holt

    On the other hand if you aren't active but you take in just enough calories for your lifestyle you can go without being obese. If you are obese and take on this choice you will no longer be obese. You may not have that much muscle either. You will look like a non obese person with what people would consider a "normal" build. A lot of people find that ideal. It involves eating less calories for some and eating more calories for others. If you aren't eating enough calories when you do begin to eat more your lean body mass will increase thus your metabolism increase. The body gets out of survival mode and the body fat burns off.

  26. Yes, you have to get out of hibernation mode before you can move forward and make progress healthfully.

  27. I was on a "no sugar" board once where a dietitian lambasted a man because of his diet. He was essentially eating paleo, but with brown rice at each meal. She did a calculation that he was eating around 3000 calories per day. She told him he should eat no more than 1500-1800 calories a day! This is a man that weighed over 350 pounds and was a farmer!(mainly animals, but some crops too)

    I went off the deep end when I criticized the dietitian's post, she went off at me. I noted that a sedentary man of 150 pounds probably needed more calories! This guy probably uses more than 1800 calories just standing, let alone working a farm!

    Others on the group chimed in and agreed with the dietitican….needless to say, I left the group shortly after this.

  28. Hey, I'm a beligerent and unintelligent asshole when I eat a low-calorie diet too. Sounds like that group could use therapy. Nourishment and not being on an anorexic diet is a lonely path these days.

  29. We all know the rat experiments where they have more than doubled a rats lifespan with severe calorie restriction.And IMO this is due to a reduced insulin level.High insulin levels mean short lifespan.

    But can this be used with humans.I dont think so and just looking at the calorie restricted longetivity groups would prove this to be also.They look terribly sick to be honest.

    So maybe one needs to keep carbs and protein on the low end and ramp up the fat.This way one gets the lowered insulin benefits while at same time the high fat which has no effect on insulin actually keeps the metabolism humming along.

    What are your thoughts on this Matt?

  30. In a labratory, you can get away with starving yourself to longevity. In reality, this leads to a low metabolism, low nutrient stores, major mental problems, and an incredible propensity to develop infectious disease. Look at any undernourished country. That is not health. That is not good enough for me. And as almost anyone at this site would agree, it's better to live one day feeling good than a lifetime of feeling deprvied, hungry, neurotic, and sick all the time.

  31. Matt….are you saying that intermittent fasting is not good? Or just chronic, long term calorie deficit?

  32. I am tremendously wary of intermittent fasting. Certainly hardcore IF where you eat one day, fast the next. That is sheer metabolic suicide.

    A fast from time to time can be a great healing tool though. But it must be VERY infrequent I imagine to avoid negative consequence.

  33. It's such a difficult subject matter, the food of the Concentration Camps, but I commend you for writing about it. It doesn't help anyone to try to forget about it, instead we should learn from it. It's frightening to think of all the low calorie diets out there. It makes a good illustration of the dangers we put ourselves in when we under-eat.

    I also love the fact that 180 is a place that we come to in order to:
    "recover from their attempts to be healthy."
    It's so true…..

    Matt writes:
    "Nourishing our bodies is one of the most basic, fundamental, satisfying, and uplifting things that humans do".
    I couldn't agree more! Yay for HED!

    Also, that's so cute that the "eat the food" slogan comes from a 7 year old. Children can be so wise!

  34. It’s recommended to reduce the caloric intake from 2000 to 1300-1500, because the majority of people that come in aren’t doing heavy exercising or manual labor. The concept of diet is to induce a negative caloric intake so your body will burn fat reserves and you lose weight. If you’re in a concentration camp doing heavily intensive work all day every day, you would need a larger intake. If you’re just an office worker that doesn’t take trips to the gym or do something athletic or cardio exorcises, there’s really no need for you to consume more than 1500 calories a day.

  35. There are approximately ONE BILLION people in the world who are starving to death. But hey, let’s all justify our OVEREATING habits while other people are forced to go hungry! I used to be fat, and I know for certain that moderate exercise and a lower calorie intake will definitely turn a fat person into a thin person. I feel better than I ever did when I was fat, and oh yeah, I actually CARE about all those starving people in the world! That’s why I make an ongoing monthly donation to a charity that works to end world suffering. (And my monthly income is only $1,000 a month. Even though I have very little money, there are other people who have it worse.) It’s too bad that you’re trying to make people comfortable with their overeating, but what more can I say? Gluttony is wrong, pure and simple.

    • Oh wow you are such a fucking martyr. Thanks for coming and trying to elevate yourself over others and tell them that doing what is necessary to improve their health and lives in numerous ways – not to mention just enjoy eating instead of feeling guilty about it, is morally wrong and that you are above all that. You should consider committing suicide to make more food available for the starving people of the world, and to lower you environmental impact. If you need help, I would be happy to assist.

  36. How dare you… this post is offensive in the extreme, A Nazi concentration camp diet was 600 calories or more?? How exactly did you come to the conclusion that eating nothing for days at a time averages out to 600 calories a day??

    The very idea that you could compare a 2000 calorie diet to the tortures my father went through in a nazi camp is irrehensible, learn some god damn history you misguided dipshit



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