Starvation mode to lose weight: is it real or is it just a myth?

Starvation mode is a common dilemma of people who wanted to lose weight today. We experience it when we are eating less, exercising more but not even shedding a single pound at all.

But why do people nowadays wanted to lose weight extremely fast?  These can be linked to people’s adherence to beauty standards.

The society has constructed a ‘standard of beauty’ which started 3,000 years ago. It evolved throughout the years but women and men still believe to such norms because of the desire to fit in the society. Some of the characteristics for women must have fair skin, long hair, and skinny figure. Meanwhile, for men, they must have muscular bodies.

Mass media has been the key role player in the dissemination of beauty standards in the world. The media has inculcated in the minds of the children the image of beautiful men and women in fairy tales. Even books, toys, and artworks portray beauty standards.

They have incorporated such images in literature, entertainment, and businesses. The mass media made people become unhappy of their appearances.  Thus, the pressure to achieve these standards caused several effects to many women and men. Eventually, they resorted to overexercising, plastic surgeries, and even starving themselves to lose weight.

But what is starvation mode? Is it real or is it just a myth?

Understanding ‘Starvation Mode’

Starvation mode or also called as ‘adaptive thermogenesis’ is the body’s natural response to a sudden decrease of calorie level in our desire to lose weight. This is the body’s survival technique to protect you from the bad times, which evolved for many years.

It is when we restrict our energy intake, our body responds by burning stored fats to provide nutrients in the brain and continue several functions. During prolonged starvation, our body also results in burning tissues and muscles.

Starvation mode doesn’t happen when you cut calories for a short period of time only. This phenomenon will happen if you are on a strict diet, low-calorie intake for a longer period such as for a couple of days, weeks, months, or years.

The popular myth is that starving yourself will make you lose weight. Losing weight requires reducing total calorie intake to what your body can burn. Thus, it totally makes sense if you totally cut out your calories to lose weight permanently. However, permanent weight loss through starving is not always the best solution.

Three stages of starvation mode

The starvation mode has three stages. Avid diet fans can experience the first stage when you go to a diet plan which requires you to eat less and exercise more. On the start of the diet, you’ll definitely lose some weight and you’ll feel delighted about it. But as your body compensates, you’ll feel hungrier and you’ll have changing energy levels. In addition, your metabolism decreases as a response to your drastic weight loss plan. Gradually, your weight reverses and your metabolic rate drops down.

But since you don’t want to stop from achieving your goal to shed some pound, you work harder than your first attempt. Thus, you eat lesser and exercises harder. At first, you might see an improvement but few days after, you feel something is wrong with your body. This is now the second stage of starvation mode.

In this stage, you’ll feel sick, your menstruation might delay (for women), and you’ll feel anxious. You’ll also see changes in your body such as dry skin, swelling in legs, and being too weak. This will eventually lead you to the third stage, that enables you to gain weight or double the weight you have when you started dieting.

Starvation mode is common whether you’re a superstar athlete, average gym goer, or just a beginner. Trainers and coaches advise those gym goers to eat more and exercise less to counter the effects of starvation mode. But since you’ve gained weight, you don’t have any choice but to continue the cycle you think is best for you since you have tried it once. This routine will ultimately damage your body.

This phenomenon was studied exhaustively way back in the 1940s. The study is called as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

Minnesota Starvation Experiment

During World War II, Europe experienced widespread famine that made millions of people suffer. Dr. Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota wanted to take part in solving the nutrition problem in Europe. He conducted the Minnesota Starvation Experiment to better understand the effects of hunger in the body and how they must address it once the war is over.

36 well-educated and healthy men volunteered for the said study because they wanted to take part too in solving the problem. This study was highly controlled and it lasted for 20 weeks. Dr. Keys controlled the food that the participants take, but not their active lifestyle.

On the first few weeks of the study, the volunteers are allowed to eat up to 3,500 calories a day. Then, in the next weeks, Dr. Keys decreased abruptly their food intake which totals to 2,000 calories only. They are also asked to walk 3 miles per day.

It has been found out that the volunteers have lost weight yet they have weird bodily reactions such as feeling cold, losing the ability to concentrate, and trouble sleeping. Their relationships with their family and peers were also affected as they tend to become withdrawn and depressed.

As the volunteers were deprived of meals and were asked to do strenuous activities, they become obsessed with food and they develop strange eating habits. They chew gum 40 times a day, they licked their plates, and they don’t swallow their food and let it stay longer in their mouth.

It took the doctors five months to alter the effects of the experiment to the volunteers.They have found out that they need to serve more food to the participants to bring back their normal eating patterns. Moreover, they gain 10% of their original weight and this was mostly fat.

Natural Set point

So how does this study relate to starvation mode dilemma we experience today? This study simply shows us that our bodies will naturally respond to the deprivation of food. It is a defense mechanism to preserve available calories or kick-in and ask for more calories that will continue bodily processes to function.

The Minnesota experiment proved to us that starving will eventually lead to physiological and psychological damage. It can slow down your metabolism and it can also make you regain the weight you’ve lost since you’ll have a tendency to eat more. The effects of starving are opposite of what you have planned in your mind.

Furthermore, our body has a weight range that it tries to maintain for long period of time when we eat normal meals without cutting calories or trying to lose some weight. This natural weight range is determined mostly by our genes and maintained through the help of several factors such as the hormones, neurotransmitters, and neural connections. It is also processed at the hypothalamus. This part of the brain decides if our body has enough energy and it gives signals to the hormones to manage both hunger or energy usage.This is how the body works to maintain it at a set point.

The Minnesota Experiment is the most comprehensive study of hunger and its effects to the physique of humans up to this day. The publication was also used in determining guidelines in proper diet and lose weight techniques of the modern times.

Avoiding Starvation mode

Some people or those extreme dieters would usually try harder to take less food and trick their body signals. They won’t listen to signs their body shows such as hunger and dizziness. They are engrossed with the rules of the fad diet they have sworn. However, it causes damage to their body’s set point and brings them closer to starvation mode.

When you keep on starving your body, your body will automatically react. You’ll end up in a tug-of-war game and become exhausted in the end. You can’t win in this game so you better stop playing now.

Whether you’re in stage one, stage two, or stage three of the metabolic compensation, the steps are just the same. You need to eat less and exercise less or eat more and exercise more. These are the best options that you can have. But to better understand everything, let’s tackle it further.

Eat the right kind of food

The first step to avoid starving mode is to eat just enough. Focus on your intake of nutrients and not on the calorie count. Figure out your body’s needs based on your weight, body composition, age, and gender. To boost your metabolism and end starvation mode, you need to eat sufficient food so your body will feel that it is not in trouble. This way, your body won’t react as if it is experiencing hunger.

Aiming to have the perfect diet can also affect your body physiologically and psychologically. We’re just human and we can have mistakes. Instead of being too hard on yourself, practice instead mindful eating. Accept your body and aim to become healthy not skinny.

One example, eat protein because this will reduce your appetite and boost your metabolism. This will feed your body and supply nutrients to your muscles. Keep in mind that you are just adding protein in your diet, and not restricting any type of food.

starvation mode

Second, balance what you eat and eat unhealthy or processed foods in a given time. Eat 80% healthy foods and 20% mental foods, meaning foods that will satisfy your cravings. Be flexible in your diet so you won’t feel guilty in the end.

If you are experiencing health issues and would love to lose weight, then do it slowly. Losing weight rapidly is not good for it will sabotage your health. Experts recommend shedding one to two pounds per week through proper diet and exercise. Take it slowly but surely.

Don’t overeat

The second tip is not to overeat. If we have enough energy to support basic body functions such as breathing, regulating the temperature, and beating of the heart, then we won’t result to binge eating.

The majority of people believe that they overeat because they are tempted by their peers and they lack the right kind of motivation. However, binge eating is caused by biological processes due to cutting calories and food restriction, and not because of peer pressures. There are various studies conducted that prove that cutting food intake can backfire soon.

Eat three meals a day and make sure to never skip a meal. You can also eat snacks in between. Cut the portion of your food, but never skip the food.

Food restriction can affect brain functions such as making the body crave for more food, an increase of digestive hormones and increase salivation. You might neglect your body’s signals temporarily, but eventually, your body will give up and overeat. In the end, you’ll feel guilty and depressed of the outcome. Thus, you need to eat just enough to avoid overeating.

Don’t stress yourself

The chemicals in our biological composition connect our appetite and activity level. You can’t fool your brain by eating less and doing more exercises. Whenever your body receives less fuel, your everyday functions will also decline. These includes lack of motivation, mood swings, and low energy level.

Make sure not to stress yourself and eat even little food before and after workouts.This will give you energy and pump you up. You could also take a break in dieting for few days. This can boost your hormones, leptin, and thyroid; and make your body function accordingly.

To boost your metabolic rate after a decline due to starvation mode, you can try little by little to lift some weights. This will mitigate the dilemma that you have. But be sure to take a rest in-between workouts so your body can recover too. Getting enough rest will also help prevent starvation mode.

Debunking the myth behind starvation mode

In sum, starvation mode is true and it is inevitable. It is not popular but the phenomenon is happening. Due to low-calorie intake, your body slows down its metabolism and delays weight loss, which will be crucial to your health.

This is the body’s natural response to a reduction of calorie intake. Without this phenomenon, humans would have been in danger even hundreds of years ago.

It has three stages that all tries to protect the body’s natural set point. However, you can prevent starvation mode on any stage that you are so long as you eat healthily and exercise just right.

Unfortunately, there’s no single answer as to how many calories we must have in our body to prevent starvation mode in the long run. We all have different body types and our metabolism varies. The point where our body must burn muscle and tissues to provide calories during famine also varies too.

The myth regarding starving to lose weight must be debunked. The general rule is that dieting and losing weight is a gradual process. Take time to research and try what’s best for you. Pay careful attention to what your body needs, listen to it, and treat it carefully. If you attune to your body without imposing too many limitations, then there’s no need to panic and worry about starvation mode.