If there was one myth I wish I could make a dollar from every time it was mentioned, I would have to strongly consider starvation mode as a candidate. In people’s defense, I can totally understand why they would believe starvation mode exists. The widespread belief goes something like this: “When you deprive yourself of calories, the body senses famine and starts holding onto its fat stores and can actually prevent you from losing weight, and sometimes even makes you gain weight.” The idea that the body has the ability to activate some sort of “mode” like we’re all f*cking Transformers, strikes me as comical.
Total. F*ck*ng. Bullshit.
Alright, now I can put my professional hat on and stop swearing. Let’s get down to business. Clearly, something is going on here. There must be some truth to this idea, otherwise where did it come from, right? Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself. Maybe you successfully lost weight for a while and then all of the sudden your weight loss completely stopped.
There was once a famous study called The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. I won’t go into too much detail about it, but Google it sometime. Basically, it was a clinical study conducted in the mid-1940s to see the effects of prolonged calorie restriction. The results were as you would suspect: the participants became anorexic and showed signs of severe malnutrition and emaciation. Furthermore, the participants lost an average of 25% of their pre-starvation bodyweight. Again, just do a Google search and you’ll see what I mean.
So what’s happening?
What’s actually happening is something we call metabolic adaptation. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Metabolic adaptation is just a fancy term that refers to the body adapting to the calories you’re providing it. Let’s say prior to dieting you were maintaining your weight while eating 2,500 calories daily on average (though most likely you weren’t aware of it). Now, you discover macros and you start eating 2,000 calories per day. It is impossible for you to maintain the same weight if you are suddenly feeding your body less energy. The body’s primary goal is to keep you alive. This means using energy to carry out its biological and physiological processes. Consequently, the body has no choice but to give calories to these processes and shed excess fat.
This is where the starvation mode myth comes from. People think, “I started eating less food and lost weight. Now I’m not losing weight so my body’s survival mechanisms must have kicked in. My body thinks I’m starving so now it’s holding onto fat stores.” Boom – starvation mode. Instead, your body adapted to be able to carry out its vital processes and maintain its weight with your lower calorie intake. Basically, you now have a “2,000 calorie body” instead of a “2,500 calorie body.” This is a simplified analogy, but you get the point. The body quit losing weight once it adapted to the 2,000 calories.
What’s the solution?
We know now that if you want to continue losing weight, you just have to lower your calories again. So the next time you think you’re not losing weight because you’re a descendant of Optimus Prime and your body has activated Starvation Mode, remind yourself that you’re a human being who is subject to the laws of physics like everyone else. Your body is not holding onto fat, you aren’t starving (though you might be hungry), and the solution to losing more weight can be boiled down to numbers, numbers we can help you calculate.
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