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Is "Starvation Mode" Real?

In last week's email newsletter I talked about “3 Nutrition Lies That Need to Die”, and one of them was the myth about starvation mode. This topic has remained a hot topic in the past 10 years that I’ve been in the nutrition industry, so let’s talk a bit more about this and squash this myth for good. 

What people generally refer to as “starvation mode” (and sometimes “metabolic damage”) is your body’s natural response to long-term calorie restriction.

It involves the body responding to reduced calorie intake by reducing calorie expenditure (how many total calories you burn in a day) to maintain energy balance and prevent starvation.

Essentially, throughout all of human history, starvation has been a threat. Think about it... this metabolic adaptation was a valuable trait when food was scarce so that we didn’t starve and die. Our body reduced our metabolism for us and thereby reduced the amount of calories that we needed per day. Even though this trait was important when food was scarce, it may contribute to obesity in an environment where calorie-dense foods are readily available. 

Starvation mode is real, but it’s not as powerful as some people think.

Most people assume right away that this is what’s hindering their weight loss progress, however, skipping breakfast or intermittent fasting aren’t likely to put you into starvation mode. 

There are many (more important) factors that may be the reaI reason why you’re not seeing weight loss. The top reason I see is due to restricting calories too low which turns into binging on food.

Because binge eating is often a response to restriction, behaviors such as cutting calories, skipping meals, or eliminating the foods you love will make you crave calorie-dense food because your body feels deprived.

Bottom Line: Don’t restrict your calories too much. If you want to be in a healthy calorie deficit, aim to reduce your calories by 250-500 per day. Eating less can help you lose weight, but eating too little can make it difficult to keep up weight loss momentum and maintain your results.


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