What is starvation mode ? Is it real or a myth ?

What is starvation mode ? Is it real or a myth ?
  • PublishedJanuary 25, 2021

Getting in shape by losing weight is everyone’s desire but in some cases, the mind interprets it in a different way. Getting your weight loss strategies right can lead to rapid weight loss which can be interpreted as a threat to the body. 

Most especially when weight loss is due to calorie restriction, the brain imposes measures to save the body from rapid weight loss. This is where the term starvation mode comes in. 

What is the starvation mode? Is it real or imaginary?

Also known by the scientific name adaptive thermogenesis, starvation mode is a natural’s body’s response to a long-term calorie restriction. When your calorie intake is reduced due to fasting or a low-calorie diet, the body goes into starvation mode to keep body safe.  

In such a situation, the body is forced to restrict calorie expenditure to maintain energy and save the body from starvation. 

Simply, starvation mode is like a survival mechanism by the body when your energy intake is reduced too much.  When the body goes into starvation mode, it reduces its metabolism the rate at which it burns calories.  

A decreased metabolic rate is due to the loss of muscle mass that comes with starvation.  

It should however be noted that the true starvation mode only occurs in cases of extreme malnourishment and prolonged hunger. Don’t also confuse starvation mode with a weight loss plateau. A weight-loss plateau is a stage in the weight loss journey where you do all activities right such as proper dieting and exercises but still don’t lose weight.

Both the weight loss plateau and starvation mode causes stagnant weight loss but are caused by different factors.

How does starvation mode work?

Your body will not enter into starvation mode hours when your calorie intake is low. Being hungry or skipping a few meals in a day doesn’t mean that you are starving and therefore starvation mode won’t be activated by the brain.  

The starvation mode will kick in when your calorie intake is very low and weight loss is rapid for a period of about 5 days and above. At this stage, you will feel hungrier, lazier, and increase food cravings.  

At this stage, the body fights weight loss and you stop losing weight as the body retains calories and stores them as reserve energy in form of fat.  

Starvation mode is real but it isn’t something that an average person encounters when trying to lose weight. No one has gained weight because of eating too little.  

Does this contradict that the fact that starvation mode can cause weight loss? How powerful starvation mode can prevent weight loss or even cause weight gain is not so clear. 

What happens to your body in starvation mode?

When your body goes into starvation mode, a lot happens to the body.  

  1. You are constantly hungry.

when you are in starvation mode as the body uses this measure to make you eat to satisfy your calorie demands.

It’s normal to feel hunger but when in starvation mode you will feel hungry even moments after a big meal.  

  1. Loss of muscle mass.

Deformation and loss of lean muscle mass is another side effect of starvation mode.  When the body is starved of calories, it will lose a lot of lean muscle mass instead of burning fat. The body will hold onto fat as reserve energy as it uses bits of muscle for energy. 

The loss of muscle mass can hinder weight loss as the fewer the lean muscles, the fewer calories burned through metabolism. 

low-calorie intake also poses a hard time for the body to repair itself and build new muscles since it gets fewer calories to be distributed in giving you energy and bodybuilding. 

  1. Feeling of tiredness.

The Continued denial of calories to the body will cause a  restricted-energy supply by the body. The body responds to calorie restrictions as a threat of starvation and adjusts hormones such as thyroid hormones, cortisol, and neurotransmitters like dopamine and adrenaline. The adjustment will cause a feeling of tiredness a process that helps the body stay less active to conserve energy. 

The starvation mode also causes a decline in exercise performance as the body gets less supply of energy. 

Do you lose fat or muscle! when the body is in starvation mode?

Starvation mode causes a lot of changes to the body. Since the body lacks a reliable source of energy, so when starvation happens does the body burn fat or muscle mass? Let’s break it down. 

Naturally, when the body doesn’t find calories to burn for energy, it turns to burn fat instead. However, during the starvation mode, the body tends to hold onto fat for future use.  It is a natural response by the body to save energy in form of fat for future use. 

Starvation mode causes the body to keep fat instead for future use and the little calories consumed are also turned into fat as reserve energy. The body will then burn fewer calories or fat to keep the body active as well as keeping fat for future use if the starvation is to continue. 

Muscle mass decreases with starvation as the body lacks the building blocks that are obtained from food. It will look like the body is burning muscle too as muscles may deform and decrease in size. What’s really happening is that the body lacks body building blocks that are obtained from food.  

For the body to burn muscles, it’s at extreme starvation when all the fat deposits are used up. 

Is starving a good way to lose weight?

man eating less food

Starving is never a good way to lose weight. While it may seem a great way to burn fat it is bad for weight loss and your overall health. 

Let me explain how the body makes fat, from the food you eat, the body burns calories for energy and stores the leftover calories as reserve energy in the form of fat. 

So now, here is what happens when you are starved. Your metabolism will decrease and the body will start to preserve or hold onto body fat. It is a survival mode that dates back to the early days of the caveman when food was scarce.  

Therefore, starving may not be the best way to lose weight since it slows down the rate at which the body burns calories, and the fact that the body starts preserving fat is not good for weight loss. 

Secondly, starving the body comes with a lot of side effects such as loss of muscle mass, malnutrition, general body weakness, decreased exercise performance, and exposes the body to various diseases caused by a deficiency of certain nutrients got from food. 

It should also be noted that rapid weight loss obtained from starving is not long term and usually comes back rapidly when the starvation diet is abandoned. 

It is therefore recommended to get starving for weight loss out of your options and choose healthy weight loss strategies instead. 

What happens when you eat after starvation?

Refeeding syndrome can develop in someone who begins to eat after starvation or being malnourished. The re-introduction of glucose or sugar can cause a sudden shift in the balance of electrolytes and fluids causing severe complications in the process. You may experience problems with the heart, lungs, blood, muscles, kidneys, nervous system, and digestion. 

The body will also take time to re-adjust to the proper functioning of the body. You will likely have complications for about 3-4 days as the body gets its self to proper functioning. 

You will also feel hungry more often as the body will be demanding a lot of food and calories to rebuild the lost muscle mass. It is at this stage people may overfeed and end up gaining more weight that was intended to be lost. Rapid weight gain is likely when you eat after starvation. 

Metabolism also increases as the body will fall out of starvation mode, and build more lean muscles. More lean muscle mass means a faster metabolism. 

Therefore, after starvation, there is the hope of proper weight loss that will be permanent and this is achieved through proper diet and exercises. 

 The bottom line.

 Starvation mode is real and is not the best way one can lose weight. Although some people may not directly intend to starve themselves for weight loss, choosing very low-calorie diets or fasting for many days may force the body into this mode.

It is therefore recommended to choose diets that don’t starve you but will help you lose weight. If you are having trouble choosing a weight loss diet, read the following article next.

6 Popular weight loss diets reviewed


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