Starvation Mode: Are We All Believing a Foolish Myth?

close-up on a man's stomach as he rubs it

Could this man be experiencing starvation mode? | iStock.com

If you eat healthy, count every calorie, keep track of your nutrients, and work out day in and day out, then you’re probably expecting your body to get lean and strong in no time. So, if you find yourself hitting a weight-loss plateau without cheating on your diet or slacking on your exercise routine, you may assume you’ve hit starvation mode. This phenomenon, according to Livestrong.com, affects anyone who eats below their recommended daily caloric intake and makes weight loss nearly impossible. But is there any truth to this claim? It’s time to dispel myth from reality.

First, it’s important to take a look at what exactly starvation mode is supposed to look like. Authority Nutrition explains that essentially, starvation mode is damage done to your metabolism through restricting calories for a prolonged period of time. When this happens, your metabolism slows down significantly because your body is trying to maintain the proper amounts of energy and fat needed for survival.  No matter how few calories you eat in a day, your body is powerful enough to stop the weight loss process because of your brain and metabolism entering what is known as starvation mode.

Even on extreme diets, your metabolism will gradually slow down. | iStock.com

This is what starvation mode in dieting is said to be — a complete halt in weight loss when you’ve gone too far with your extreme dieting. Here’s the truth: While your body will have a response to cutting calories, it won’t be strong enough to completely prevent you from losing weight.

In truth, The Washington Post explains metabolism will slow when you’re cutting calories. This is your body’s natural response to a significant change in your diet and your routine, but this doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, this slowing of your metabolic rate doesn’t even happen within the first six to eight months of extreme dieting, which is when most people find that they hit their first plateau and look toward starvation mode as a reason. It takes years and years of severe calorie restriction for your metabolism to completely offset a reduction in calories.

healthy foods and a tape measure

Even a diet of nothing but raw produce won’t lead to starvation mode. | iStock.com

The idea that you won’t lose weight when your caloric intake is too restricted is completely dispelled when looking at The Minnesota Starvation Experiment outlined by the American Psychological Association. In World War II, men were worked to physical extremes and were given less than 1,600 calories to eat a day, resulting in extreme hunger, gaunt bodies, and malnutrition. They were rehabilitated back to full health by being fed a proper number calories, but nowhere in this study did they find the men stopped losing weight because they were eating too little. In fact, all of the participants lost about 25% of their body weight.

We’re not suggesting anyone try this out. After all, you’d be ravenous and have trouble focusing just about all the time. But it’s still interesting to see these types of extremes don’t have the power to halt weight loss.

Womans feet on weighing scale

If you’re not seeing results, try a different approach. | iStock.com

If you’re at the point in your diet where you’re unable to lose weight further, A Workout Routine suggests this may be because your body simply isn’t burning as many calories as it did when you weighed more. When your body weight decreases, you burn fewer calories in general, meaning the diet that worked for you when you were 50 pounds heavier may not be working so well for you anymore.

You also may think you’re eating the same exact diet that you were a few months earlier when you first started, but take a closer look. Have you allowed any unhealthy foods to sneak into your diet that may be sabotaging your weight loss? Keeping track of each food you eat every day is a good way to know if something like this is happening without your noticing it.

Fresh green salad with grilled chicken

A healthy diet is a better idea than trying to severely limit your food intake. | iStock.com/Lilechka75

While starvation mode may not really be what’s keeping you from losing weight, there is some truth to the idea. Your metabolic rate will slow when you go to extremes with calorie restriction. However, this metabolic slow-down is not enough to completely halt weight-loss progress, and it happens very slowly. Restricting calories may also cause you to feel intensely hungry and crave foods you ordinarily wouldn’t, and you may even feel like you’re mentally slowing down. It’s important to always listen to your body and to eat health-conscious meals packed with vitamins, healthy fats, and fresh produce to maintain your desired weight.

Going hungry for weight loss is never the answer, and a diet that strict likely won’t last long, either. While starvation mode is largely a myth, you’ll feel and look your best when you’re eating plenty of nutritious meals.

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