Just Say NO to Starvation

Diet Sign

Just Say NO to Starvation

The word, “Diet” is defined as:

any severe restriction of food or calories that’s temporary.

Conventional diets usually call for low calorie consumption:

  • 800 to 1200 or less for women.
  • 1500 to 1800 or less for men.
Just Say NO to Starvation
Just Say NO to Starvation

The Foils of Starvation

When you starve your body, your body begins to fight back by conserving energy — it slows down your metabolic rate, which in turn slows down fat loss.

Starving also forces your body to start cannibalizing muscle tissue for use as an energy source. This leads to a loss of muscle tone and shape. After time on a starvation diet, you will also become irritable, reduce mental focus and grow tired and weak. Your health becomes compromised and your immune system will be impaired due to an inadequate amount of health-promoting nutrients in your system. After a time, you will most likely binge and end up gaining all the pounds back only this time it is all fat, and usually more of it, too. Every time you go through this process, your metabolism is slower than ever because during the last episode, muscle was burned for energy. Thus, you have to eat even fewer calories to reduce pounds — you see the pattern?

Of course, if you proceed to restrict calories, you will lose weight. So, on the surface, it may sound simple. Just enter starvation mode and you can lose weight! But no one likes to walk around with a rumbling tummy all day.  There are other major problems with this simplistic approach.

  1. When you lose weight from starvation you’re unlikely to keep the weight off over an extended period of time.
  2. When you do lose weight this way, most of the weight lost is actually from your muscle mass, not fat.
  3. When you re-gain weight, it’s highly likely to be gained as fat (unless you’re on a kick butt weight lifting regime), replacing the muscle you lost in point 1.

The National Institute of Health says there are over 100 million Americans over weight. That equates to over 55 percent of the population. The Center for Disease Control reports a steady increase through the years in people considered clinically obese. Clinically obese is defined at least 30 percent over ideal body weight). These stats tell us that dieting alone just isn’t working.

The good news for you today is, diets fail. The human body is created with defense mechanisms that protect you from starvation. It’s physiologically impossible to permanently lose body fat with a low calorie diet. When your wonderfully made human body senses a food shortage, your defense mechanisms kick in to protect it. This is good news because it means you can just kick calorie restricting diets to the curb.

At this point we must note that there are situations in which calorie restriction is necessary or helpful. Whether or not this would apply to you is something you would have to ask your physician about; we are not qualified to assess that on an individual basis. Also, one area being researched is in the elderly. Studies are suggesting that as we become senior citizens, some calorie restriction may prolong the aging process.

The Human Defense Mechanism

Our body’s weight-regulating mechanism recognizes starvation and decreases energy expenditure to protect you.  This survival mechanism is known as the starvation response. In a nutshell, your body senses that it’s deprived of calories and consequently reacts as if to say, “It looks like this is all the food we’re going to be getting for a while, so we’d better stop burning so many calories and start saving energy“. Your body does this so it can survive longer on the smaller amount of food it’s being fed.

BUT – while starvation mode can save our lives, it wasn’t meant to be a permanent lifestyle. Our bodies let us know this if it continues too long.

Your body cannot tell the difference between dieting and starvation. Period.

Drastically cutting calories will ALWAYS send your body into the eventually dangerous starvation mode.

Why dangerous? There are many “side effects” of calorie restrictive dieting but the very first and very worst is that your metabolic rate will decline. Other repercussions on your body include:

  • Loss of muscle.
  • Increased fat storage.
  • Decrease in fat burning ability.
  • Decreased thyroid output.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Increased chance of gaining weight.
  • Decreased energy.

Fasting Can be Risky

Fasting could cause dehydration and dangerously low blood sugar levels, which can make you pass out. If you’re otherwise healthy and still drink water, 100 percent fruit juice, and no calorie beverages, you probably won’t suffer health consequences if you fast for only a day or two, or one day at a time every once in a while (not twice a week). But get your doctor’s OK first, and know that most of the weight lost will be water and muscle, not fat. Our advice: Forget fasting and make small changes you can live with for a lifetime.

Whatever choice you make in your journey to weight loss, always remember the good news – you not only need not, but should not starve yourself.

Author: Jeni

Certified by the Professional School of Fitness and Nutrition in March, 1995; honored for exemplary grades. Practicing fitness and nutrition for over 20 years. Featured in the Feb. 1994 issue of "Shape" magazine. Featured in Collage in the spring issue of 1995 Low fat recipe's published in Taste of Home, Quick Cooking, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, among others. September, 2001: Featured in "Winning The War on Cholesterol" By Rodale Publishing

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