Is it a good idea to “starve” yourself to lose weight? I try to discourage people from doing this knowing that in the long run it’s harmful but what about for just a few days? Very often once someone makes the decision to slim down they want to know what they can do to “jump start” the process. Some experts warn against starving yourself to lose weight. Saying this will force your body into starvation mode and slow your metabolism which will make it harder to drop pounds. Is this true? I decided to do some investigation and here is what I found.
First what exactly is starvation mode? According to Wikipedia Starvation mode is a state in which the body is responding to prolonged periods of low energy intake levels. During short periods of energy abstinence, the human body will burn primarily free fatty acids from body fat stores. After prolonged periods of starvation the body has depleted its body fat and begins to burn lean tissue and muscle as a fuel source.
Does this help people lose weight?
One of the classic scientific studies on starvation was conducted after WWII by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Starvation was widespread throughout Europe during the war and scientists were trying to figure out how to re-feed people suffering from starvation and determine the long-term effects. Scientists had 36 young healthy men participate in a yearlong study divided into several phases: a 12-week normal control period, a 24-week starvation phase where calories were so dramatically reduced that participants lost approximately 25% of body weight; and, finally, a recovery phase to re nourish participants. Results of the study were published in the two-volume, Biology of Human Starvation (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis, 1950). See more information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment.
The results of the study found that all participants lost weight. Starvation mode does not result in your body hanging onto extra fat or calories in an effort to “preserve” your body. But, all of the participants also experienced a drop in their metabolic rates – approximately 40% below baseline. Many experts argue that you will start losing muscle and not fat within a few days of going into so-called “starvation mode.” Yet, the research shows that participants lost both. In fact, at no point did they stop losing fat until they hit a rate of approximately 5% body fat near the end of the study.
The more dramatic effects of semi-starvation from the Minnesota study were psychological, similar to what can happen in anorexic patients. The men became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical, emotional and depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers in stress. They became obsessed with food, thinking, talking and reading about it constantly; developed weird eating rituals; hoarding, etc.
So yes you can lose weight by significantly reducing your calorie intake but the long term effects aren’t ideal. The healthy alternative to starving yourself is to slowly and gradually change your eating habits. Start by replacing processed foods, foods that contain salt, sugar, fat and gluten with fresh fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein. Slowly over time you’ll start to lose weight and feel better. You’ll want more nutritious food and less junk food. It doesn’t happen over night but if you stick with it it will happen. This is what your body needs to live a long happy, healthy life.
Health and Happiness