Is ‘starvation mode’ real? Is it the reason you’re not losing weight?
As a personal trainer and nutritionist, this is something I often get asked.
“Am I not losing any weight because I’m eating too little?” or “Is my weight gain due to me not eating enough and going into starvation mode?”
Fact or fiction?
Many have this idea that dropping their calories too low will send their body’s into ‘starvation mode’ and fully stop them from losing weight or, even worse, gain weight.
Let’s be clear, you WILL lose weight if you are in a calorie deficit over a long period of time. The idea that you can gain weight from eating too little is crazy when you think logically.
Think of calories as weight for a second. If you are putting less weight (calories) in, how can your body gain weight out of thin air? It’s like saying you lowered the weight on the leg press but it got heavier. It is scientifically impossible.
If you are gaining weight it’s because you are consuming more calories than you’re burning. If you are not losing weight you aren’t in a calorie deficit.
Ok, so now we know that what many call ‘starvation mode’ is a myth. However, being in a calorie deficit over a long period of time does lead to something called adaptive thermogenesis. Basically, as you lose weight your body doesn’t need as many calories to function, so your basal metabolic rate drops.
Many individuals’ weight loss journeys plateau because they are still eating the same calories to lose weight as they were when they were a lot heavier. This is common in people who lose weight without the assistance of weight-based exercise.
Weight-based exercise helps maintain and promote muscle tissue. This helps to keep your basal metabolic rate high as muscle needs calories to grow and maintain. Basically, you’re missing a trick if you’re on a weight loss journey and not lifting weights.
So, I’ve said that putting yourself in a large calorie deficit won’t stop you losing weight. So surely it’s a quick way to lose weight?
Many clients come to me eating under a thousand calories. They have put themselves into a drastic calorie deficit in the hope of getting the body they want, quick.
But they lack education in terms of how the body responds to being placed in a calorie deficit chronically below its basel metabolic rate – up to 80% of your maintenance calories are used to keep your body functioning.
Unless you genuinely have a lot of body fat to lose, placing yourself in a chronic calorie deficit below 20% is dangerous to your body, and will not get you the body you desire.
Yes, you will lose weight. But it won’t just be body fat you’ll be losing, it will be muscle mass as well. If taken to extremes, you will be heading down to the skin and bones route.
Remember maintaining and promoting new muscle should be a top priority for anyone wanting to drop body fat and improve health – male or female.
Eating chronically below your BMR decreases fat and muscle; your body will start to eat away at your muscle mass as it converts the protein within it into energy as a last resort.
On top of this, your stress hormones will be through the roof. Your mood, energy and sleep will all be affected. You will be devoid, not just of protein and healthy fats, but of minerals and vitamins too. Leading to poor skin, nail and hair health. Your whole bodys functioning will be adversely affected.
Take home points
‘Starvation mode’ – in the sense of stopping you from losing weight or being the cause of you gaining weight – is about as real as a unicorn riding a penny-farthing down the M6.
Adaptive thermogenesis however, is why many people plateau on their weight loss journey. Because they don’t realise there is less of them so their basal metabolic rate (amount of daily calories to function excluding movement) has come down.
Remember, weight loss and fat loss are two different things. Decreasing body fat and increasing muscle mass should be your main focus. That’s why the vast majority of your time exercising should be spent lifting weights in a structured and progressive manner.
My client’s calories never have to be reduced because their calorie output goes up as their workouts are progressed and increased in frequency. Coupled with the fact they are promoting calorie expensive muscle their calories generally increase throughout their journey with me.
Now go spread your new found knowledge to all those saying they aren’t losing weight because they’re in starvation mode.
All the love,
Sam Jones Fitness