12 Diets In 12 Months: The Centenarian Challenge

12 Diets In 12 Months: The Centenarian Challenge
The love of my life.

For most of my adulthood, I have eaten conciously — with the goal of living for a really, really long time. At least 100.

Centenarian soup picture from Shutterstock

Living as a “chemical” free, mostly vegetarian/sometime raw vegan/occasional pescatarian taking great pride in never getting sick. Being sufficiently chuffed at having a naturopath tell me my white blood cells were “textbook perfect”. Reading every book, magazine and article I could get my hands on, and incorporating anything to avoid ill health or disease into my life. BMI at a healthy 19.3 and RealAge a full 10 years younger than my biological age. I was definitely on track when.. well, life happened.

A series of challenging personal events culminated in my 9th hour of being stranded in Lima airport during a 42-hour journey home from Peru and I suddenly decided I needed a Big Mac. It was a terrible, delicious slippery slope. In the last two years I’ve gone from raw vegan to eating a 10-pack of chicken nuggets for second breakfast. One day last week I ate nothing but ice cream, cookies and custard and felt no shame. Currently my BMI is 24.7 — half a kilo of deep fried cheese away from falling outside the healthy weight range. My RealAge is 4.5 years older than my biological age. I could be wrong, but I think I’m not looking after myself very well.

Could I still live to 100 eating like this? There has been a lot of research into why people live to be centenarians. The length of the chromatid, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration, is a major (and some would argue, the only real) factor. A positive outlook on life is apparently imperative, with most centenarians stating it as the number one reason they are still around. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence also suggests that sheer anger at the world keeps some of us kicking on well into our 100th year. Some say it’s just down to luck. Other commonalities among members of the “Letter From The Queen” club are regular exercise and keeping the mind active.

So how much does the food we eat really matter? Over the next year, I’m going to adhere to the diets of either communities or individuals who have lived (almost) as long as I wish to. Some of them are a little surprising, like the 123 year old American who has a cigarette every evening with a glass of port wine (as a non-smoker, this will be a challenge). Others are a hark back to eating habits prior to my recent years of indulgence, like the 80% raw food diet of the Hunza people of Pakistan. I’ll keep taking the RealAge test, have my health monitored by medical professionals, log my food using My Fitness Pal, post daily updates on instagram and report back to you here at LifeHacker.

Up first is the traditional diet of the Indigenous people of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands, commonly known as the Okinawan Diet. Lots of dark leafy green and yellow vegetables, purple sweet potato, bitter melon, blueberries, seaweed, tofu and green tea. Miso soup with spinach for breakfast, small amounts of brown rice, fish three times a week, one pork meal a month, and *gulp* no dairy whatsoever. I’ll be exploring if the eating habits of a group of people among the highest life expectancy in the world make an impact on my health over a period of four weeks, and if Okinawan is the way to go if I am to achieve my (wholly reasonable) life long goal of living forever. All whilst suffering cheese withdrawals. Should be fun, right?


  • okay a few points,

    Peoples bodies adapt to diets over time in relation to geological placements. (ie. japanese with rice fish etc okinawan diet)

    introducing foreign foods and diets into your life will not make you live any further unless it’s brought in along with your current diet.

    we’ve seen this when Indigenous people want to start eating westernized food and traditions.

    don’t get me wrong though i’m still super interested in how this goes 🙂

  • You should also do Takeaway Truth for a month: your RealAge will probably balloon by a decade.

    • If you can find me a 100+ year old that attributes Takeaway Truth to their longevity, I’ll do it 🙂

  • If you’re worried about longevity. just go vegan. read the starch solution, that should help. china study if you want a harder read.
    going vegan isn’t what is needed, but it makes it very easy to stick to the diet.
    Are the okinawans healthy because of the pork or in spite of it? The healthy fats in the fish are good for you. but most fish westerners consume is contaminated.

    so do this.
    read the Starch Solution.
    go to nutritionfacts.org and watch some of the videos. he has some interesting articles on ageing.

    enough with the fad diets. just because some people can get away from the majority and live to 100 eating a burger every now and again and smoking for 10 years. doesn’t mean you should.

    but yeah, just eat whole plant foods, if you have to eat meat. follow the okinawan diet,

    • I was vegan for some time, and have read the Starch Solution and the China study, among others. A couple of the diets on my to-do list for this year are vegan by default.

      I’m not focusing on “fad” diets here – rather the opposite! Diets that have stood the test of time, so to speak 🙂

      • Any insight to what sort of diets you’ll be going through @Raejohnston ?

        or are you keeping these secret until you start them each month ?

  • My thoughts:
    1, the methodology of this experiment won’t produce anything close to meaningful results.
    2, I think you have an eating disorder.
    3, I’m hooked. This should be an interesting and lulsy series just through hearing about someone following some eating customs that I’ve never experienced.

    • I hope you find it interesting! It’s definitely a challenge so far, and I’m looking forward to posting my findings at the end of the four weeks.

      I must make it perfectly clear that I absolutely do not, and never have had, an eating disorder. Lack of willpower, yes. Eating disorder, not at all.

  • There’s a show on abc2 iview until 9:30pm 14 jan called “happy”. In that, it assume’s the Okinawan’s have such long lives because of their amazing community and social culture’s.
    In fact the whole show goes to saying being happy will give you a long life and one of the major ways to be happy is social and community living standards. So, you do well at that !!
    I wouldn’t go smoking anything if your adhering to minority diet’s. That is just plain straight out dangerous for you.

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