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How Your Slow Metabolism Is Caused by Starvation Mode

Updated on October 31, 2013
Abby Campbell profile image

Abby Campbell is a Holistic Health Practitioner and President of 911 Body ResQ, an online store providing organic and non-GMO, supplements.

About the Author

Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, and published author of One Size Does NOT Fit All Diet Plan, one of Amazon's Top Gluten-Free and Weight Loss Diets. (You may read more about Abby at the bottom of this article.)

Are you having trouble losing weight even though you eat little?

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"I'm struggling with the last 15 pounds, and my trainer keeps telling me it's because I'm not eating enough to lose weight. How can that be?"

For someone new to the healthy eating lifestyle, it may sound odd that eating too little could actually cause you to gain weight or to hold on to existing body fat, especially when you are trying so hard to lose. If you didn't know any better, it would be easy to assume that all you have to do to win the weight loss game is to stick to the logical equation of calories in and calories out.

However, it's not that simple. When you begin to deprive yourself of essential nutrients, you're also forcing your body into starvation mode. You can compare your body to a small business. When a small business has severe budget cuts, it holds on to its limited resources and gets rid of anything that's unnecessary in order to conserve money. For instance, electricity may be kept running while excess employees are laid off. Limited calories are the limited resources of a small company. Your body holds on to those calories in the form of fat for essential bodily function such as breathing and keeping your heart pumping.

When you don't give your body enough calories to do the basics, it goes into a panic mode and hangs on to every calorie for dear life. You're in conserve mode instead of spending mode. When you want to lose weight, you want to be in a spending mode. You want to be a calorie or fat burning machine. If you don't eat enough, you become a calorie conserving machine instead. Your metabolism slows down while being in starvation mode.

How Your Slow Metabolism Is Caused by Starvation Mode
How Your Slow Metabolism Is Caused by Starvation Mode | Source

Starvation Diet = Irregular Insulin Response

Another reason your body stores more fat when it's starved is due to your body's irregular insulin response. When you skip meals consistently, your insulin response is higher on the second meal after you miss the first meal. Your body is then primed to be in fat-storage mode.


If scientists measured your insulin response after eating breakfast and lunch one day, they would get one result. If you skipped breakfast the second day and your insulin response was measured again after lunch, the result be much higher. This causes you to store body fat more efficiently. And, of course, this is not something you want.

Do you know what your daily caloric intake is?

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How Many Calories to Lose Weight?

Every person's caloric requirement is different. All is dependent on gender, weight, height, bone structure, muscle mass, age, and activity level. You should always listen to your body and how you feel above any number you come up with. Though you may be eating the precise number of calories prescribed by your nutritionist or some scientific formula you've found in a diet book, it's important to listen to your body first and foremost. If you feel terrible, make the necessary adjustments to your diet.

As far as caloric formulas, a good rule of thumb for weight loss is to use this simple formula. Take your scale weight and multiply it by 10. For instance, if you weigh 200 pounds, your daily caloric intake should be approximately 2,000 (200 x 10 = 2,000). With every 10 pound increment you lose, recalculate. If you get down to 190 pounds, then your caloric intake should be around 1,900 calories per day. Add 200 to 300 calories on strenuous exercise days, and decrease 100 to 200 on rest days. But, always listen to your body. If you feel like you're always tired, you may need more calories for extra energy.

One Size Does NOT Fit All Diet Plan
One Size Does NOT Fit All Diet Plan | Source

Healthy Foods to Eat

Getting yourself out of starvation mode may be difficult, especially if you've been there for a long time. Instead of increasing all your calories at once, try increasing a little at a time. Adding 100 calories per day for a week to start is good. Then add another 100 calories each day per week until you've reached the level you need to be.

Also, zig-zagging your calories like mentioned in the previous section also helps your body to keep guessing rather than adapting. By eating a few more calories on active days, while eating less on rest days, your body will continue to be a fat-burning machine.

Most importantly, don't just increase your calories with pre-packaged, processed, and junk foods. Instead, eat clean and natural foods grown from the earth. Include protein at every single meal. This includes lean beef, poultry, pork tenderloin, fish, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and tofu. Include nutrient dense carbohydrates such as green and colorful vegetables, as well as one or two servings of fruit per day. And, don't be afraid of dietary fats! Include Omega-3 rich fatty acids which are in foods such as cold-water fish (i.e., salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines), walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds.

Remember to use good foods as a prescription for good health.

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Helping those who desire it!
Helping those who desire it! | Source

About the author

Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, and published author. For the past 10 years, she has coached thousands of women locally and online to lose body fat and lead healthy lifestyles. Her clients have lost thousands of pounds, reclaimed health, and call her “Coach No Gimmick.” She is from Northern Virginia but now resides near Charlotte, North Carolina. Abby has been married for 20 years and has three grown daughters, one of which is autistic. She is a 19 year cancer survivor.


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    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Abby Campbell 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I'm glad this hub helped, Peg. It's a shame for most of us that the things from our younger years don't always work as we get older. But, we can still work with our bodies to help it perform the best it can after knowing what is right. ;) Thank you for commenting.

    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Abby Campbell 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Haha, Sue! I know how difficult it can be sometimes. Even though I'm in the nutrition field, it doesn't mean I'm not tempted! LOL!

    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Abby Campbell 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Thank you for that, Bill. :-)

    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Abby Campbell 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Thank you for commenting, Ms. Dora. I'm glad my explanations helped. :-)

    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Abby Campbell 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Thank you, Eric. Backpacking? That reminds me of hiking which I absolutely love to do!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      This explains so much about the proper nutritional ways to trim down. And the insulin response makes perfect sense. I've been trying to take off ten pounds which sneaked up on me and skipping meals was what worked for me in the past. Of course, I was much younger and had much more stamina. But now, when I finally eat something after skipping breakfast and lunch, I get so sleepy I can't hold my head up. I'm so glad to have found this article today. Thank you so much for the explanation.

    • Sue Bailey profile image

      Susan Bailey 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      I need you to come to my house Abby and feed me with what I should have to get and stay healthy and slim (Ha ha!). I know what to do but it's doing it that's the problem. Excellent hub, voted up, shared and pinned.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well one look at you, Abby, pretty much tells us you know what you are talking about. Interesting facts here; some I was aware of; some not. Thank you for the information.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      I appreciate this explanation. I've been guilty of skipping meals in an attempt to control my weight. Your article sure helps explains the damage of insulin response. Thank you.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very helpful and interesting. We have been using these concepts for extreme backpacking and they are good.