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Food Rationing: It Will Break You Down Mentally

Scenario: It’s been two weeks since the cyber attack left your city without power. The grocery stores are empty and supply trucks haven’t been able to re-supply. You’re hungry but can’t go outside because of the roaming mobs attacking people foraging for food. Living off of your last remaining canned soup and survival bars isn’t giving your body what it needs. You’re lethargic, achy, you’re having problems staying mentally alert and have had a headache for days. You just don’t know how much longer you can live like this.

[1]If the foods you store are not able to provide you with adequate nutrition, or you do not have enough variety of foods to carry you through, then you are setting yourself up for caloric deficiencies and even malnutrition [2] which can have long lasting effects on your health.

Food Rationing in Emergencies

The following are examples of regular caloric diets and calorie restricted diets. Any diet under 1,000 calories is very unhealthy and steps should be taken to prevent this.

  • 2,000 calories – the daily caloric amount you should normally be eating
  • 1,500 calories – a reduced diet where high calorie foods, sugars, and some fats are removed
  • 1,200 calories – the most basic diet where most fats, carbohydrates and fats are removed

The Experiment

There are certain factors you should consider when living through an extended emergency. It is common for your physical, mental and emotional state to be affected following a disaster. On top of that, you are hungry due to rationing food portions and still have to continue daily activities, physical labor, parenting, etc. If you haven’t put thought into the right types of food and the amounts needed to see you through the ordeal, then you could be setting yourself up for deficiencies in your diet.

Repeatedly, I have told readers interested in leading a self reliant lifestyle to simulate a disaster at home so that your family can practice living through it using the supplies you have. This creates a safe environment to prepare and train family members for what they might expect and help you learn what you may need for the future. Using the contents of your emergency pantry is no different. In fact, you should be using your pantries regularly to ensure the food you store is as fresh as possible. In my cookbook, The Prepper’s Cookbook [3], I list 25 must have foods [4] for your pantries and also touched on what to expect in an emergency situation when you are rationing your supplies.

I decided to make myself a guinea pig and experiment on how well I could perform my daily activities on a low calorie diet. Here’s what I did:

Are you wondering how I did? Well, good and bad. The good news is, I’m still alive – so it is possible to drastically cut your caloric intake. Even though I was eating very “clean” and giving my body whole grains, lean proteins and nutrients, I still felt the starvation effects and, at times, felt desperate to eat something – anything. I’ll be honest, the word “hangry” came up a few times. From my experience, drastic food rationing can be done (provided you have the right foods to eat), but it would be extremely difficult to go to a 1,200 calorie diet for long term and still try to maintain a household and perform physically demanding tasks. Some of the effects I had while on a 1,300 calorie diet were:

Ironically, these are very similar to the feelings we experience following a disaster or other stressful life event that causes post traumatic stress disorder:

  • Feeling physically and mentally drained
  • Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics
  • Becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis
  • Arguing more with family and friends
  • Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns

So, imagine going through all of these same reactions listed above and being nutrient deficient at the same time. You will feel the effects in one way or another, and all the feelings will be heightened because you are “hangry.” In a Rawlesian event, where you find yourself in a long term disaster, living off the grid and essentially on your own to patrol your property, maintain a  garden, livestock, etc., it would be very difficult to do all of these tasks with a limited caloric intake.

Let me add that what I did not test was if a gradual caloric decline would be easier to adjust to and still continue with physical labor (maybe an experiment for another time).

Create a Complete Pantry

Those of you who are creating food pantries should be taking detailed inventory [5] of the foods you are storing, how you plan to use them [6], and know beforehand an average of how many people you plan to feed using these foods. If you are planning on a disaster or emergency lasting longer term, then you should take this a step further and account for other measures – food rationing. How many calories a day do you plan to consume where food rationing is concerned? Do you plan on participating in large scale physical activity? How long do you plan to ration your food?

Many preppers underestimate how much food they will need to maintain optimum nutrition levels. In fact, calorie intake is the #1 rule to consider when starting a pantry [7]. You simply cannot live off of survival bars will provide them with adequate nutrition as well keep their energy source going – this just isn’t so.

Stock foods that are energy efficient and high in complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber as they will keep you feeling “fuller” longer. Some food sources to consider are:


For a hands on resource about creating an energy efficient food pantry, Daisy Luther created a detailed resource called The Pantry Primer [10] for how to get your pantry in order in a frugal manner and lists many of these healthy foods.

To conclude, the foods we will carry will make all the difference in the world in terms of maintaining energy levels, and nutrition. Food rationing is an inevitable issue if you are planning for long term or extended events. Plans should be put in place to ensure the rationing we do is healthy and will still enable us to carry on.