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Starvation Mode Not True for Losing Weight?

Updated on March 7, 2015

What is Starvation Mode?

People believe that starvation mode is something your body goes into to preserve energy when it feels like it isn't being given enough fuel. Most sources will tell you that starvation mode can kick in when a person is consuming less than 1200 calories per day. In short it is the belief that if you don't eat enough then you will be unable to lose weight. It makes people believe that their metabolism slows down in order for the body to protect itself from starvation and burn as few calories as possible.

Why isn't it true?

Somehow it has made its way into people's minds that they cannot lose weight if they eat too few calories, this is simply not true! If our bodies were made to work like that then you wouldn't see anyone die of starvation because their body would slow down the metabolism in order to preserve itself yet all over the world people with no access to food loose all their excess weight then unfortunately die of starvation.

People believe that in order to lose weight, they have to eat more food! Isn't that great? If someone is eating 800 calories a day and doesn't lose weight then they have to go up to 1000, if that doesn't work then they go up to 1200, and up and up and up! If you aren't losing weight at 800-1200 calories a day it isn't because you are in 'Starvation Mode' it's because of another factor of your life that you need to change!

The human body stores fat for a reason! Our fat storage IS our body's starvation mode! When we consume more calories than we can use our body keeps a hold of them in order to protect itself when and if food becomes scarce.

Then Why Does My Weight Loss Slow Down?

Assume that we have a person who burns 2,000 calories per day to maintain their current weight. If they maintain their current activity level so that their body burns the same 2,000 calories per day then their weight loss may look like:

Calories Per Week
Expected Weight Loss
Actual Loss
0 pounds
0 pounds
1 pound
1 pound
2 pounds
2 pounds
3 pounds
2 1/2 pounds

Wait! There is obvously less weight loss for the 500 calorie person than the 1000 calorie person! Starvation Mode confirmed!

Not quite. The person eating 500 calories still lost 2 1/2 pounds that week rather than the 0 pounds of weight loss that starvation mode suggests. Once a person is eating less calories they do need to take into consideration that their BMR (Basal metabolic rate) may go down. These people aren't burning the calories that people on 1,500 calorie diets would because they aren't burning the calories that would normally go towards food digestion. Your stomach does a mini workout every time that you eat in order to break down the food and the people on lower calorie diets get less of these mini workouts. You cannot solve that by adding more food to your diet or it would be the same as someone eating an extra 700 calories a day because they did a 500 calorie workout. The math still works out in the favor of the person who ate less.

Why Else Haven't I Lost Weight?

If you've truly been cutting down on your calorie intake and otherwise kept your routaine the same then there isn't a good reason to why you haven't lost weight. Unfortunately humans tend to be their worst enemy when it comes to their weight loss goals. Multiple reasons why you haven't lost weight yet could be:

You've Overestimated your workouts

When you've just gone to the gym its nice to feel like you've burned 500-1000 calories and you feel great! You even keep track of how many calories you've burned in a calorie counter such as My Fitness Pal! You do this a few times a week then step on the scale only to see that you haven't lost the weight you were expecting. Discourged, you wonder why your body refuses to lose weight even when you put in the time and effort.

The truth is, you may be documenting your burned calories incorrectly. Everyone burns a little differently and if you took a break or two for a drink or a quick run to the restroom then you may not have factored those moments into your calorie counter. You also may not be pushing to the intensity that you think you did and therefor overestimated your calories burned. It is very difficult to be accurate about calories burned so I recommend you always document it on the short side, at least then if you are wrong you've actually done better than documented rather than worse.

After Workout Snack!

Whew! That workout was hard! There is nothing better than cooling down with a snack like a banana and a granola bar, you've earned it! But would you have eaten that snack if you hadn't worked out? Did you just work off 500 calories just to put 300 immediately back on? Be careful about the little things like this that don't seem like much, they add up quickly! It isn't as satisfying, but perhaps you could swap out your granola bar for a handful of baby carrots.

Unintentional Laziness

You've worked out hard today, you've watched what you've eaten, and you feel good! Your muscles are sore so you sit on the couch and catch up on your favorite show. After a few days of this you weigh yourself to see the weight loss and don't understand why it isn't what you've expected. Some people change their daily routine a bit once they cut back on calories and add in a workout because they feel a bit more tired. They don't realize that they are burning less passive calories throughout the day because they decided to sit and relax. If your routine stays the same only with added workout and calorie counting then you should be losing your weight.

Calorie Cheaters

"I've only eaten 800 calories every day all week but haven't lost weight! I MUST be going in starvation mode!" Are you sure you've only eaten 800 calories that week? Have you maybe logged an item or two incorrectly or perhaps had a little something that you didn't' log because it seemed insignificant? Many people do this unintentionally and then blame starvation mode for their lack of weight loss. What do they do to combat it? They eat some more to get out of starvation mode then end up gaining weight because they ate more calories!

Weight Loss is a Numbers Game

As much as people would like to shed the weight they have put on quickly and without hassle it simply doesn't work that way. The equation is simple but most people don't like it.

Calorie intake > Calories burned = Weight Gain

Calorie intake < Calories burned = Weight Loss

No matter what you've heard, there is no scheme to get around this. If you don't want to eat less, you have to work out more. If you don't want to work out more, you have to eat less. If you don't do either of those, you won't lose any weight.

Although Starvation Mode Isn't True, What are the Risks?

First and foremost, when you are not eating very much throughout the day then there is no way that you are taking in all of the nutrients your body needs to function. If you plan on doing a very low calorie diet then you should be taking some multivitamins in order to make sure that you are not keeping your body full of what it needs to run. While taking in less calories is great if you are overweight, taking in less nutrients is NOT! Be sure to speak with your doctor if you plan on a low calorie diet and keep a close eye on your health.

Also, very low calorie diets are great for obese people and not so great for people who need to shed those last few pounds. Overweight people have more fat for the body to turn to once they run a calorie deficit and are much more likely to see faster results.

Thinking about low calorie dieting? What is your BMI?

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Sum It All Up!

  • Starvation Mode is a Myth
  • You will not lose weight by eating more
  • You will not stop losing weight by eating less
  • There is no trick to bypass Calories in v.s. Calories out
  • Low calorie diets can be very helpful to very overweight people
  • Be sure to keep up on nutrition no matter what diet you are on


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