When it comes to dieting, starving yourself is never the answer. In fact, it only does your body more harm than good. However, if you stick to a diet that is too low in calories, often known as “starvation mode,” this doesn’t mean you won’t burn any calories—it just means that your metabolism will adjust slightly but not enough to keep losing more weight.
A Closer Look at Starvation Mode
When you go on a strict diet, you cut back the number of calories you eat. Your body needs a certain number of calories to function properly (between 1800 and 2,200 for the average person). If you don’t get those calories, your body ends up at an energy deficit.
Your body has only two ways to react to this deficit:
- It can use up the energy it has stored for just such an occasion. This means body fat, which is what you want, right?
- It can reduce the amount of energy that it burns, which means your body will function more slowly.
If only Option #1 actually happened! That’s what most of us are hoping for when we go on a starvation diet, but that never works. Why is that? Well, the human body is designed to survive and adapt to some pretty harsh environments (think the Sahara Desert, the Arctic Tundra, or the Himalayas). A day or two of insufficient calorie intake won’t cause problems, though the body will send signals that it needs more food (such as stomach rumblings).
However, after 48 hours of insufficient food intake, the body begins to adapt in order to survive. But instead of burning the stored fat, it shuts down and goes into “starvation mode”. It reacts as if you’re not going to get enough food to stay alive (which you’re not), so it finds a way to keep you alive.
This leads to a reduced calorie burn, which means less energy. Your heartbeat slows down, your brain function reduces, and even your organs don’t work as well. You have hardly energy for any kind of activity, and you certainly don’t have enough to get through an intense workout. Within a few days of going into starvation mode, your body has basically shut down and slowed everything to minimum power output. This leads to lethargy, fatigue, and moodiness. Keep this up for the long haul, and you can experience some pretty serious health problems during your low-power state.
That’s why it’s so important to NOT starve yourself (cut back too drastically on calories). You need to eat enough that your body is still able to function. If you need an average of 1,800 calories per day, only trim back your intake to 1,500 per day–just a 300 calorie deficit. Your body is able to handle that deficit without going into starvation mode, as it can supplement those missing calories by burning body fat. THAT is when you start to see the results.
Next time you’re contemplating doing something drastic, DON’T! Starvation dieting isn’t going to help you lose weight–in fact, you’ll usually end up gaining weight once you stop dieting. Your body will not burn fat, but will break down muscle tissue. Your metabolism will slow way down, and it will take time to speed up once your diet returns to normal. You’ll often come out of your diet a few pounds heavier, all thanks to your body’s natural need to survive.
The key to efficient weight loss: small cutbacks in your diet, and a lot more EXERCISE!