Is Starvation Mode a Myth?

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A lot of people who are watching what they eat become extremely anxious that they may reach a point of starvation due to their calorie restrictions. Reports suggest that if calorie intake is kept too low and lasts a long duration of time, it could potentially impede the speed at which fat is lost and spoil the metabolism. But is this really the case? What calorie shortage can trigger starvation?

The source of this well-known assertion and the research regarding it are described here.

What is Starvation Mode?

Starvation mode is not a scientific term. The saying “starvation mode” is used to express the idea that drastically cutting calories can cause your body to slow its metabolic rate and reduce its calorie expenditure, thus preventing weight loss.

This concept is rooted in your body’s survival mechanisms. If you ever experienced a lack of food over a long period, your body would not be able to process calories at a regular rate; instead, your metabolism would adjust to reserve energy to keep you alive for longer. Yet, starving yourself and trying to lose weight through dieting are not the same; without food, your body will still lose weight from the wasting away process.

So, is Starvation Mode a Myth?

No such thing as “starvation mode” actually exists. However, metabolic adaption does, which is a well-documented phenomenon. The degree to which it has an effect on your weight loss journey is another matter.

Your body will naturally adjust to a reduction of calories by dropping the metabolic rate by up to 30% due to adaptive thermogenesis. However, adaptive thermogenesis has only temporary effects, and the majority of people will only show a drop of 5% in their basal metabolic rate (BMR). This does not imply that their metabolism has been affected.

Studies in recent times indicate that it is not simply fasting or reducing the amount of calories consumed that influences metabolism. Evidence is mounting that fasting may be beneficial for individuals seeking to lose weight as well as for their health.

Proof #1: Science

It is claimed that starvation mode is the result of a significant decline in metabolic rate. It is suggested that if you don’t eat enough, your metabolism will reduce to such an extent that you will be unable to lose weight.

This is false. Nonetheless, some of it is, in fact, somewhat accurate.

The Truth About Metabolic Slowdown

It is accurate to say that being in a deficit can cause your metabolism to decrease as time goes on. This happens during any drawn-out shortage, and after any degree of weight reduction.

And it happens for two main reasons:

  1. A smaller body burns fewer calories.

The calories you consume are used to sustain the muscles, fat, and organs you possess. The higher your weight, the more calories you will burn on a regular basis. As the pounds come off, the amount of calories burned at rest and during exercise will reduce due to the fact that you are now lighter than before.

2. Adaptive thermogenesis.

Studies and practical knowledge have demonstrated that when an individual sheds weight, their metabolism slows down more than what would be assumed based on the amount of weight lost. This phenomenon of decreased metabolic rate brought about by weight loss is referred to as “adaptive thermogenesis” (or sometimes “metabolic adaptation”), and it is part of the body’s process for preserving its health during periods of reduced caloric intake.

And I know what you’re probably thinking right now.

“HA! There it is! There’s starvation mode! You’re just giving it a fancier label (“adaptive thermogenesis”), but it’s still the same exact thing!! Your body is reducing your metabolic rate in order to preserve its resources, which is what prevents you from losing weight. See, I told you so! I was right all along!!”

That idea, unfortunately, has a major issue: it is not correct.

The Truth About Adaptive Thermogenesis

Yes, adaptive thermogenesis is real.

Yes, it implies that your body’s rate of converting energy into fuel decreases in order to stay alive during the process of shedding pounds.

Yes, the more extreme your approach to slimming down is in terms of the size of the caloric deficiency (which will consist of highly reduced calorie diets in most cases), how much time the deficiency lasts, how much weight you eventually lose and how thin you become, the more significant the adaptive thermoregulation will be.

However, this is still not what one would consider a state of starvation.

Why? Adaptive thermogenesis is not sufficiently large to inhibit weight loss. It is not important enough to result in an increase in weight.

That’s just plain ridiculous.

How Much Does Your Metabolism Actually Slow Down?

So, just how significant is adaptive thermogenesis? Well…

Thermogenesis that changes to suit the environment will make up between 0-20 percent of the entire metabolic slowing process.

Here’s an example of what this means.

Let’s suppose that somebody shed a certain number of pounds in a particular amount of time. We can assume that for them to carry on dropping the same amount of weight, they would need to consume 2000 calories daily.

It may be the case that this individual needs to consume 1800 calories daily in order to accomplish their objective.

And… that’s it.

This is an illustration of how influential adaptive thermogenesis can be.

This can give you a slight setback in regards to your progress and make it more difficult to make progress in weight loss than you would without it. You may need to adjust the amount of calories you intake and/or output as you continue to work towards your goal.

However, this has nothing to do with what is perceived as starvation mode, which suggests that metabolic rates slow down to a degree where losing weight is impossible, or results in weight gain, regardless of how many calories are being cut.

Sorry, but no. That’s not real.

Proof #2: Negative Real-World Events

Is science not really your thing? Do you prefer real-world evidence instead? Okay, fine.

If you want evidence that the belief that consuming too few calories leads to weight gain or prevents weight loss is false, all you have to do is observe the innumerable severe cases of malnourishment in our society.

For example:

  • Anorexics reach deathly skinny levels by starving themselves.
  • Starving children in Africa reach deathly skinny levels due to not having enough food.
  • Holocaust victims reached deathly skinny levels from being starved.

This text is speaking about people who were consuming an exceptionally low amount of food and yet still lost a considerable amount of weight.

But you, an individual who is usually in a healthy state, have determined that you have been consuming so little food that your body is in a famine-like state, thus causing your weight to remain static?

Seriously? Can you even comprehend how silly that thought is?

If that statement really held any value, wouldn’t there have been a lot of people with regular or even overweight bodies in the found in the concentration camps – people who, due to the magic of ‘starvation mode’ did not get any thinner or, in some cases, even gained weight?

Would individuals suffering from anorexia be able to maintain their regular, healthy weight even if they deprived themselves of food?

Why are we trying to fix the problem of world hunger when we can just rest and let the body preserve its fat when the food intake is inadequate?

Because starvation mode isn’t real.

Talking of your body being said to “determine fat” for the purpose of surviving when you are not consuming enough, the fact is that your body actually does the opposite of this.

The main purpose of your body saving fat is in case you don’t have access to any food, and you need a fuel source to keep yourself alive.

Your body accumulates fat with the intent of using it when you don’t consume enough calories (in other words, when you’re in an ongoing energy shortfall).

The body’s survival mechanism is to burn fat while in a state of lack.

Not the other way around.

So what is the verdict?

In all of the studies mentioned to back up the claim of starvation mode, reduced weight was observed. It is important to recognize that losing weight can lead to a decrease in BMR, as it requires less energy to move a smaller body.

Reducing your caloric intake does not reduce your metabolic rate; instead, it is weight loss that has this effect.

Some individuals may not observe a change to their typical resting metabolic rate while trying to slim down, as it can depend on an array of elements like body fat percentage, diet regimen, past dieting experiences, exercise capacity, and gender. On the other hand, others may build muscular tissue mass although their total body weight is lowering, which can lead to a heightened metabolic rate.

Your body typically does not desire to shed a significant amount of weight. It wishes to keep the energy that it has accumulated in the event that a lack of food becomes a possibility. If you decrease the amount of calories you consume, it will usually cause a change in hormones responsible for controlling your appetite, as well as the ways in which your body utilizes fuel.

Why You’re Not Losing Weight and How to Fix it

If you have stalled with your weight loss goals, it does not indicate that you are experiencing a lack of nourishment. Some more common factors are likely at play, including the following:

You’re Not Tracking Your Food Intake

It is very difficult to determine if you are consuming fewer calories than you are burning if you do not record your dietary intake. Prior to concluding that something else is the culprit, creating a precise record of your meals is the best initial action to take.

Examine how committed you have been with this behavior, even if you have been paying attention to it.

  • Are you accurately portioning and weighing out the food you eat?
  • Are you including all foods and drinks, and tracking every day, even cheat days and weekends?
  • Are you including added toppings and ingredients like cooking oil, butter, salad dressings, etc.?

You can keep track of your calorie and macro intakes every week by using a tracking app. This is a great way for you to recognize how well you have been maintaining your diet, as well as which areas you need to improve in. To see your weekly calorie average in the Trifecta app, use the following steps:

  • Step 1 – In the app, open your nutrition tracking and go to the daily summary.
  • Step 2 – Select “calories” from the top and change the summary to “weekly”
  • Step 3 – Locate your weekly calorie average

You’re Not Eating the Right Amount of Calories

Typically, if the numbers on the scale aren’t decreasing, you may be ingesting more calories than you realize. If you have dropped some pounds recently, your new maintenance calorie amount is probably lower and thus, you must consume fewer calories to keep losing weight. Many accepted weight loss plans will break down the cutting process into stages, aiding you to stay in a calorie shortage and keep shedding pounds with small calorie reductions.

Begin by determining the amount of calories you need on a daily basis to keep your weight stable. After that, work out the amount of calories you should be eating in order to reach your weight loss goals.

You’re Always on a Diet

It could be that your body is in need of some rest. It might be beneficial to allow your body the opportunity to get acclimated to consuming the same amount of calories over a period of time if you have been dieting for an extended length of time. Constantly alternating from one diet to another and attempting to reduce caloric intake can have negative results instead of being beneficial. It is much simpler to adhere to a diet plan and keep achieving positive outcomes if you comprehend how to sustain those outcomes initially.

I have been following a very restrictive diet for some time and I am apprehensive about increasing my calorie intake. Increase the amount of calories you eat by several hundred per week until you reach the amount that maintains your current weight. Continue to follow your maintenance routine for no less than a month to give your body proper time to adjust and reset your metabolism.

What are the Minimum Calories for Weight Loss?

Refraining from eating to lose weight is not suggested, even though there is no exact medical definition of ‘starvation mode’. A very restrictive diet may show results at the beginning, but it may not be beneficial to you over an extended period of time. It can pose a risk to some individuals, lead to unhealthy dietary practices, and usually does not produce lasting effects since many persons do not modify their bad dietary habits once they start consuming meals regularly again. Also, strict dieting is unsustainable and can make someone feel ravenously hungry, grumpy, temperamental, lethargic, unable to concentrate, and gradually drain their force of self-control, which adds to the difficulty of following a diet.

Rather than attempting an unrealistic goal, concentrate on a more achievable approach when dieting, decreasing your daily calorie intake by no more than 15-20% of your predicted daily energy requirement. Losing weight gradually, at a rate of 0.5 to 1% of your body weight per week, is easier to maintain and will continue to make you feel better and more accomplished than if you tried to do it all quickly. A more reasonable and sustainable diet plan is the best route to take.


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