Nutrition Is “Starvation Mode” Really Stopping You From Losing Weight?

Maybe you’ve been there, maybe you’ve heard about it! Big scary STARVATION MODE. The thought of not being able to lose weight if you eat too little.

But is that true? Does such a thing as “starvation mode” exists?

Let’s look into it!

Hopefully, we will agree on the fact that calorie intake detriments whether you are losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining your weight. People sometimes say “Yh but this kept diet really worked for me” or “You need to cut fat/gluten/sweeteners/carbs/processed food/etc.. and then you will lose weight.”

The truth is, yes, you will lose weight, but not because of WHAT you’ve cut out of your diet, but the simple fact that you’ve cut SOMETHING out of your diet therefore, you are cutting out calories as well!

When you go low carbs, for example, you have your steak and vegetables for dinner, without having chips. You will consume fewer CALORIES which will help you to reach your calorie deficit – which, as you guessed right, will lead to weight loss!

Back to our starvation mode. Is there such a thing that you will stop losing weight when you eat too little? YES! But not for a reason you may think…

If you are thinking…

“Damn, I’m sure I’ve stopped losing weight because I skip breakfast now. I am sure I don’t eat enough for my body to function properly and my metabolism has slowed down”

In reality, what has happened to your body while you were dieting is what we call “metabolic adaptation.” Which, in very simple terms, means that your body now needs fewer calories to complete the daily tasks you put it through.

Let me give you an example. 

You are 40 years old woman and your starting weight was 70kg. You started to exercise 4x/week and you watched what you eat. And you were losing weight and it went great! You were eating 1600kcal every day and your weight was dropping down nicely.

Suddenly, as weeks passed by, your weight started to plateau. You are now 63kg but it seems impossible to lose those other 3 kgs to get you to your 60kg goal.

What has happened here is, you still kept eating 1600kcal which would mean a deficit for when you were heavier, however now, with your current weight loss, it requires a further reduction in calories when you want to stay in a calorie deficit. Now, for the same activity, you may need only 1400kcal to be losing weight.

There are other factors to metabolic adaptations. The fact that you eat less, so your body needs to digest less food therefore it’s not expanding extra calories on digestion.

You still keep your 4 training sessions/week, however without noticing it, you sit a bit more than before. You gesticulate less. And you feel tired all the time. Your body is basically trying to convince you to move less and that’s what some people confuse for “starvation mode.”

It’s the fact that your body works a bit against you – well, against you losing more weight because our bodies are amazing and basically trying to save us from dying if weight loss would persist.
“I am still convinced that I am in starvation mode. My weight is not moving.”

Well, you are not in a starvation mode, nor in a calorie deficit! There was a very famous study done back in 1965 on a man called Angus Barbieri (google him for deeper info). Angus was clinically obese. The study was over 382 days when Angus did NOT EAT ANYTHING for over a year! He was given vitamins and minerals, water, tea, and coffee, but he was not given food. After 382 days, Angus lost 276 pounds (125kg). 5 years after this study, he only regained 7kg, staying on 89kg. If the starvation mode was real, Angus would never lose his weight and stayed obese.

So, what can you do when you stop losing weight?

  • assess your current calorie intake based on your CURRENT bodyweight
  • keep an eye on mindless snacking throughout the day (eg. “this cracker won’t hurt me, I’ll just have a couple” – but you say this to yourself 3x/day, then that’s the issue)
  • check your steps – are you still active the same way as when you were heavier?
  • reconsider your exercise – did you lose weight only by running? Now is the time to include some resistance training to increase your muscle mass which will help with weight loss
  • focus on your fruit and vegetable intake – think of rainbow colors, can you get all of those into your diet over the week?
  • appreciate your current stage and what you’ve achieved, focus on maintenance for a while, let your body rest and relax and start dieting when you feel ready again

Pavla Machova Fitness

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