November 5th, 2007

Is starvation mode a myth?- No! It’s very real and here is the proof

On a very regular basis, almost weekly, I receive emails from Burn the Fat readers which say that other fitness experts claim “there is no such thing as starvation mode” or that “starvation mode is a myth” or “starvation mode does not exist” and so on. Just this morning I got another one and I’ve reprinted it below, along with my answer – including all the evidence – that proves starvation mode is a real phenomenon.  There is tremendous confusion about this subject to the point that even most of the “experts” don’t even fully understand it. They are attempting to “bust weight loss myths,” but since they don’t have all the facts themselves, they are actually perpetuating the myths themselves.


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Is starvation mode a myth? No! Starvation mode is very real and here is the scientific evidence.

QUESTION:

Tom, I was wondering if you had seen the 6 part e-mail series sent out by [name deleted] from [website deleted]. if you look at the last part, he basically states that “starvation mode” is a bunch ofcrap made up in order to sell diet programs. He didn’tmention you, but it almost sounds like he’s talking about youspecifically. How do you feel about this?

ANSWER:

Yes, I saw that article/email and the author is mistaken about starvation mode. In his article, he accused those of us who use the term “starvation mode” as being unscientific and he even says “dont buy diet books if they mention the starvation mode.” I’ll make it clear in a moment, that in this case, he is the one who doesn’t appear very well read in the scientific literature on the effects of starvation and very low calorie diets.

I do have to point out first that the effects of starvation mode are indeed sometimes overblown. There are also myths about the starvation mode, like it will completely”shut down” your metabolism (doesn’t happen), or that if you miss one meal your metabolism will crash (doesn’t happen that fast, although your blood sugarand energy levels may dip and you may get hungier).

Another myth about starvation mode is that adaptive reduction inmetabolic rate (where metabolism slows down in response to decrease calorie intake) is enough to cause a plateau. That is also not true. It will cause a SLOW DOWN in progress but not a total cessation offat loss.

As a result of these myths, I have even clarified and refined my own messages about starvation mode in the past few years because I don’t want to see people panic merely because they miss a meal or they’re using an aggressive caloric deficit at times. I find that people tend toworry about this far too much.

However, starvation response is real, it is extremely well documentedand is not just a metabolic adaptation – it is also a series of changes in the brain, mediated by the hypothalamus as well as hormonal changes which induce food-seeking behaviors.

Here is just a handful of the research and the explanations that I have handy:

Ancel Key’s Minnesota starvation study is the classic work in this area, which dates back to 1950 and is still referenced to this day. In this study, there was a 40% decrease in (total) metabolism due to 6 months of “semi-starvation” at 50% deficit.

Much or most of the decrease was due to loss of body mass, (which was much more pronounced because the subjects were not weight training), but not all of the metabolic decline could be explained simply by the loss of body weight, thus “metabolic adaptation” tostarvation was proposed as the explanation for the difference.

Abdul Dulloo of the University of Geneva did a series of studies that revisited the 1300 pagesof data that keys collected from this landmark study, which will not ever be repeated due to ethical considerations. (it’s not easy to do longitudinal studies that starve people, as you can imagine).

Here’s one of those follow up studies:

“Adaptive reduction in basal metabolic rate in response to food deprivation in humans: a role for feedback signals from fat stores. Dulloo, Jaquet 1998. American journalof clinical nutrition.

Quote:

“It is well established from longitudinal studies of human starvation and semistarvation that weight loss is accompanied by a decrease in basal metabolicrate (BMR) greater than can beaccounted for by the change in body weight or body composition”

“the survival value of such an energy-regulatory process that limits tissue depletion during food scarcity is obvious.”

Also, starvation mode is a series of intense food seeking behaviors and other psychological symptoms and if you do any research on the minnesota study and other more recent studies, you will find out that starvation mode as a spontaneous increase in food seeking behavior is very, very real.

Do you think sex is the most primal urge? Think again! Hunger is the most primal of all human urges and when starved, interest in everything else including reproduction, falls by the wayside until you have been re-fed.

There are even changes in the reproductive system linked to starvation mode: It makes total sense too because if you cannot feed yourself, how can you have offspring and feed them – when you starve and or when body fat drops to extremely low levels, testosterone decreases in men, and menstrual cycle stops in women.

Starvation mode is not just adaptive reduction metabolicrate – it is much more.

There IS a controversy over how much of the decrease in metabolism with weight loss is caused by starvation mode, but the case is extremely strong:

For example, this study DIRECTLY addresses the controversy over HOW MUCH of a decrease in metabolism really occurs with starvation due to adaptive thermogenesis and how much is very simply due to aloss in total body mass.

Doucet, et al 2001. British journal of nutrition. “Evidence for the existence of adaptive thermogenesis during weight loss.”

quote:

“It should be expected that the decrease in resting energy expenditure that occurs during weight loss would be proportional to the decrease in body substance. However, in the case of underfeeding studies, acute energy restriction can also lead to reductions in resting energy expenditure which are not entirely explained by changes in body composition.”

Starvation response is even a scientific term that is used in obesity science textbooks – word for word – CONTRARY to the claim made by the expert mentioned earlier who thinks the phrase, starvation mode is “unscientific.”

Handbook of Obesity Treatment, by Wadden and Stunkard
(two of the top obesity scientists and researchers in the world )

quote:

“The starvation response – which is an increase in food seeking behavior – is most likely mediated by the decrease in leptin associated with caloric deprivation.”

Textbooks on nutritional biochemistry also acknowledge the decrease in metabolism and distinguish it as an adaptive mechanism, distinct from the decrease in energy expenditure that would be expected with weight loss. In this case, the author also mentions another downside of very low calorie diets: spontaneous reduction in physical activity.

Biochemical And Physiological Aspects of Human Nutrition by SM. Stipanauk, professor of nutritional sciences, Cornell University (WB Saunders company, 2000)

Quote:

“During food restriction, thermic effect of food and energy expenditure decrease, as would be expected from reduced food intake and a reduction in total body mass. Resting metabolic rate, however declines more rapidly than would be expected from the loss of body mass and from the decline in spontaneous physical activity due to general fatigue.

This adaptive reduction in resting metabolic rate may be a defense against further loss of body energy stores.”

Granted, it is more often referred to as “metabolic adaptation”or “adaptive reduction in metabolic rate.” However, starvation mode and starvation response are both terms found in the scientific literature, and they are more easily understood by the layperson,which is why I choose to use them.

Another effect of starvation mode is what happens after the diet: A sustained increase in appetite and a sustained reduction of metabolic rate that persists after the diet is over. Although controversial, this too isdocumented in the literature:

American Journal clinical nutrition 1997. Dulloo “post starvation hyperphagia and body fat overshooting in humans.”

American Journal Clin Nutrition 1989, Elliot et al. “Sustained depression of the resting metabolic rate after massive weight loss”

quote:

“Resting metabolic rate of our obese subjects remained depressed after massive weight loss despite increased caloric consumption to a level that allowed body weight stabilization.”

and Dulloo 1998:

“The reduction in thermogenesis during semistarvation persistsafter 12 weeks of restricted refeeding, with its size being inversely proportional to the degree of fat recovery but unrelated to the degree of fat free mass recovery.”

By the way, this explains what some people refer to as “metabolic damage” and although this is not a scientific phrase, you cansee that it too is a reality. It is the lag time between whena diet ends and when your metabolism and appetite regulating mechanisms get back to normal.

Last, but certainly not least, and perhaps the best indicator of starvation mode is the hormone LEPTIN. You could spend weeks studying leptin and still not cover all the data that has been amassed on this subject.

Leptin IS the anti starvation hormone. Some people say leptin IS the starvation mode itself because it regulates many of thenegative effects that occur during starvation.

Leptin is secreted mostly from fat cells and it signals your brain about your fat stores. If your fat stores diminish (danger of starvation), your leptin decreases. If your calorie intake decreases, your leptin level decreases.

When leptin decreases, it essentially sounds the starvation alarm. In response, your brain (hypothalamus) sends out signals forother hormones to be released which decrease metabolic rate and increase appetite.

In summary and conclusion:

There is no debate whatsoever about the existence of starvation mode – IT EXISTS and is well documented.

There is also no debate whatsoever that metabolic rate decreases with weight loss. It happens and is well documented, and it is one of the possible contributing factors in weight loss plateaus.

There’s really only ONE debate about starvation mode that is –HOW MUCH of the starvation mode is comprised of adaptive reduction in metabolic rate and how much is due to loss of total body mass and increased feeding behaviors?

Researchers are still debating these questions, in fact just earlier this year another study was releasd by Major and Doucetin the international journal of obesity called, “clinical significance of adaptive thermogenesis.”

Here’s a quote from this latest (2007) study:

“Adaptive thermogenesis is described as the decrease in energy expenditure beyond what could be predicted from the changes infat mass or fat free mass under conditions of standardized physical activity in response to a decreased energy intake, and couldrepresent in some individuals another factor that impedes weightloss and compromises the maintenance of a reduced body weight.”

I respect the work that other fitness professionals are trying to do to debunk diet and fitness myths, but this fellow didn’t seem to do his homework and totally missed the boat on this article about starvation mode. In fact he created a strawman by suggesting that other experts say “missing one meal triggers starvation mode” – an argument I clearly am not making here.

What’s really odd is that he didn’t quote a single study in his article, despite his repeated reference to “scientific research.”

If he wanted to argue against adaptive reduction in metabolic rate and chalk starvation mode up purely to increase in food seeking behaviors… and if he wanted to attribute the decreased metabolism with weight loss purely to lost body mass, he easily could have done that. But he didn’t cite ANY studies. He just expects us to take his word for it that “starvation mode is a myth,” and people like me who use the phrase starvation mode are “unscientific.”

Either way you argue it – and whatever you choose to call it – “starvation response” is a scientific fact and that’s why prolonged very low calorie diets are risky business and mostly just quick fixes.

The rapid weight loss in the beginning is an illusion: Starvation diets catch up with you eventually… just like other habits such as smoking appear to do no harm at first, but sooner or later the damage is done.

For years I’ve considered it so important to understand the consequences of starvation diets that my entire burn the fat program is built around helping you recover from metabolic damage and past diet mistakes, to avoid the starvation mode, or to at least keep the effects of the starvation mode to a minimum so you can lose the fat and keep the muscle… and you can do it without going hungry.

Sincerely,
Your friend and “Burn The fat coach”

Tom Venuto, CSCS, NSCA-CPT
www.BurnTheFat.com

PS. For more information on getting lean without starving yourself or harming your metabolism, visit my website at www.BurnTheFat.com.

Related articles:

Starvation Mode Revisited:

http://www.burnthefatblog.com/archives/2012/12/starvation-mode-revisited.php

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24 Responses to “Is starvation mode a myth?- No! It’s very real and here is the proof”

  • Zack

    Tom,I like this article. I was trying to explain the “starvation mode” to a friend in the gym trying to cut fat and achieving absolutely no success.I think “starvation mode” is the most appropriate term because it describes what’s literally happening. I read that article you mentioned; the fitness industry is very entertaining to watch! haha.I ended up buying your book and I wanted to thank you for responding to my emails before and for the information you relay in the book. It reiterated all the things I’ve already been doing in my diet (just like you, I just asked all the amateurs and pro bodybuilders who knew their stuff and modeled their diet/workouts to fit me), but the way you explain is extremely helpful in the manner presented to talk to the “average person” about how things work.and as far as my results lately, I’ve been at it for 6 months, I’ve gained 20 lbs (lean) and I’m at 9.5% (5’8″ 132.5 to 152.5). I’m on a gaining/bulking phase and expect to start cutting for a while at 155 to get back to 6%. Then I think I can make the more patient gains =).-Zack

  • lisa

    Tom, thank you for a very informative e-mail. I have a question about leptin. if leptin regulates the appetite, and it’s secreted by fat cells, then does it follow that as you lose fat, your body secretes less leptin and therefore your appetite goes up? or asking the question another way, how does leptin secretion and appetite regulation work in someone with very low body fat?ThanksLisa

  • lisa, you got it! Body fat goes down, leptin goes down appetite goes up… this is why “starvation mode” is a much bigger deal when you are already lean and working on getting leaner — because leptin responds to signals from fat stores AND quantity of food intake. the leaner you get, the harder it gets to get leaner. Think about it – if someone is obese, are they really in danger of starving, with all that fuel in reserve. Well, if food intake plummets, then certainly the hunger mechanism will kick in, but its the lean person, like the fitness competitor or bodybuilder who really needs to be much more aware of being conservative with calorie cutting: Starvation mode is affeced by the severity of the calorie deficit in all indiciduals of all body weights, but Obese people can use larger calorie deficits than lean people without detrimental effectsFor more info on the size of the calorie deficit see our previous post here: CALORIE DEFICITS

  • Tom – What about alternate day fasting or calorie reduction? There is the JUDDD diet that has you eat normal one day and very low the next. ie. 2500 calories today and 500 calories tomorrow. This is supposed to keep your body from “adjusting” to a low calorie diet and therefore keep your metabolism up and the results are steadyy weightloss because of the over all lower calorie intake.What are your thoughts on that?Here’s the link to info on this: http://www.johnsonupdaydowndaydiet.samsbiz.com/page/1ed7e/Home.htmlTravis

  • I am not sure how anyone can argue with the idea of “Starvation mode” I have always told people, diet to deep and your body will start to get scared that it will not get enough calories to survive.Not only is this fact but even from the outside looking in it only makes sense.Now, maybe we can deal with the lack of protein in peoples diets. Man can not live on bagels alone

  • Travis. the various fasting protocols are making their way around the net these days and some people are claiming good results. it would take another long article to cover it, not to mention there are more variations than you can count. As a proponent of bodybuilding style nutrition you might think i would be very quick to dismiss intermittent fasting, but I have an open mind to everything these days, even though i don’t recommend fasting, as my weapon of choice for body composition improvement or performanc enhancement.The way i see it, its more of a lifestyle decision for certain individuals who are not predisposed to eating every 3 hours, rather than a ‘superior’ way of getting lean or muscular. Bodybuilding style nutrition, which is essentially what I teach in “Burn The Fat” has served me and many thousands of others extremely well; so this approach is tried and tested and proven, while these IF protocols are new kids on the block.re: fasting for :life extension, see my interview with john berardi on G-flux, Dr. Berardi comments on that: I agree with dr berardi that there are other potential ways to extend lifespan where quality of life is not reduced due to being hungry all the time.

  • Stephanie

    I am living proof of starvation mode. I have always got away with eating next to nothing, but after several really stressful events, not eating much but grabbing the odd handful of this and that, I have managed to gain 5kg…eating nothing – 5kg sitting around my waist. The hardest lesson I’m having to learn is to start eating properly and enough food.

  • Dale

    I did not even KNOW what starvation mode was until I did it to myself, following a “training program” I paid for two years ago.I’m 200+ lbs, and was on a 1,400 calorie diet for 12 weeks. That is HALF my maintenance 3k calorie, with my HIGH activity level.I lost weight for 3 weeks, GREAT… then stalled for the next FIVE weeks?… Couldn’t believe I wasn’t losing more on only 1,400 calories.So I swithced to low carb, low cal, I lost a few more lbs, and stalled AGAIN??? How could this be possible?Answer: STARVATION MODE is very VERY real !!!I switched to a different plan, ate 2,400 calories, LOST WEIGHT? and gained enormous strength. I was shocked at the results. I never heard of starvation mode before…TOM, your stuff is the Best I’ve seen. EXCELLENT info.THANKS

  • betsey

    Just from my own personal anecdotal experience, I completely agree that starvation mode is really about a reduction in the metabolic rate due to extreme calorie deficits over time. My own experience was at 250 lbs doing Nutrisystem, which is 1200 calories a day for women. I was also exercising somewhat regularly (all cardio). I lost 61 lbs in 6 mos. The only reason I stopped was because I found out I was pregnant. One of my regular blood tests found a problem with my thyroid, it was sluggish (TSH should be 2.5 or less, mine was 10), even though before the diet, my thyroid was normal. I do not know for sure, but I think the low calorie diet brought on the low thyroid because once I was eating more normally during the pregnancy, my TSH returned to normal without medication.Betsey

  • Steve

    Am I just naive here or could we eat some leptin and be less hungry, keep the metabolism going, and so on? Are there any foods that have a lot of leptin?

  • Steve; not a naive question at all — researchers looked at this back in the 90’s — the thing is leptin is a hormone – you cant take leptin orally, it has tobe injected. needles, combined with an outrageous cost explains why it was not feasible as an obesity drug. However, even if someone didnt mind needles and had the money, it turned out that many obese people are leptin resistant, similar to the way that people are insulin resistant. so exogenous leptin didnt work.The solution would be to naturally manage your leptin levels. This is the basis for the theory of refeeding or calorie/carb cycling. Although we do not have direct experimental reseearch evidence that carb/calorie cycling and refeeding (eating more – ie spiking calories throughout a diet), increases fat loss as compared to holding the calories steady, we do have direct experimental research showing that a spike in calories increases leptin because basically its telling your body that you are not starving any more. this makes for a strong theoretical basisits for this reason that I beleive that diets which have higher calorie days and lower calorie days will be more effective at fat loss long term — even though you lose the caloric deficit on the high days, you may be restoring your hormones to normal levels.even if this didnt turn out to be true that calorie or carb cycling spikes leptin enough to keep metabolism humming along more efficiently and inrease fat loss, (and i believe very strongly that this technique works), by cycling your caloric intake you gain the psychological benefit of getting to eat more every so often so compliance tends to increaseas opposed to staying on a very low calorie or very low carb diet all the time.

  • Lynne Phillips

    Starvation mode does exist and i found out the hard way, I spent 1 1/2 years eating barly 400 calories a day I also did cardio and weight lifting while not eating much, when I did eat 600 calories a day I gained weight and even when I reduced to the lower cals I could not lose the weight I gained back. I have spent the last 3 months using the burn the fat feed the muscle method to repair the damage to my metabolism and I am now eating 1200 calories a day and they are healthy calories and I have not gained an ounce! I started eating 500 calories a day and made sure it consisted of protien and each week I added more, I am kind of stuck at 1200 but I am pleased that I can eat that much.

  • Micki

    Although I do understand that Stravation mode is real, there’s also a body of health that exists that states that severe caloric restriction is a modern elixer for longevity.What if I want to be thin (I’m not) and live longer?? Who’se right?

  • Hi, Great article. I for one can vouch just from personal experience that the starvation mode is real… for years throughout my 20s I would eat just 2 meals a day, sometimes going 18-20 hours without eating. I was always overweight and sluggish despite exercising 5-6 days a week (I do martial arts training).I always wondered why I could never drop the extra weight!Since I started doing the Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle program (for the past 9 weeks)… I’m eating 5-6 meals a day… between 3,000 – 3,500 calories a day. (I teach self-defense, I also exercise 2 times a day… I workout 7 days a week now)…. I have lost over 12lbs of body fat and am closer than I’ve ever been to my goal of 12% body fat.

  • Micki wrote:I do understand that starvation mode is real, there’s also a body of health that exists that states that severe caloric restriction is a modern elixer for longevity. What if I want to be thin (I’m not) and live longer?? Who’se right?calorie restriction is hardly an “elixir”. my belief is that psychological and emotional factors will have far greater impact on your longevity than just about anything else — give yourself enough reasons for living a a strong enough purpose and you will keep on living. death follows disengagement. So stay engaged in the game of life.rather than elaborating further on my personal opinion that calorie restriction for life extension should be left to rodents, I’ll simply refer to the interviews sectionof this website and read my interview with dr john berardi where we answer this question.

  • traci

    HELLOTHE CONTENT OF THIS NEWSLETTER I HAVE RECEIVED FROM YOU IS SOME OF THE BEST INFO I HAVE SEEN FROM ANY ARTICLES .A LOT OF YOUNG PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE ACCESS TO THIS, WELL PEOPLE OF ALL AGES, AND IT IS VERY INFORMABLE, WITH NO “BULL” ……………….AT ALL.NOW, I WOULD LIKE TO BE ABLE TO READ SOME FACTUAL ARTICLES FROM YOU ABOUT,”HOW TO REPAIR THE METROBOLIC SYSTEM, FROM THE DAMAGE OF THE STARVATION, OR SEMI STARVATION DAMAGE.AND WHO, AND WHAT TYPE OF SPECIALIST, ENDOCRINOLOGIST, OR JUST A NUTRICIANIST, WOULD BE THE ONE WHOM WOULD HAVE THE SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE FOR THIS………….THANKSKEEP THE GOOD SCIENTIFIC FACTS, COMING!

  • Kirsten

    Tom wrote:”As a result of these myths, I have even clarified and refined my own messages about starvation mode in the past few years because I don’t want to see people panic merely because they miss a meal or they’re using an aggressive caloric deficit at times. I find that people tend to worry about this far too much.”That’s it in a nutshell isn’t it? People tend to worry about this far too much and some unethical “experts” are spinning the facts to sell their latest snake oil.Tom, where were you when I first started dieting? Sheesh, I can’t tell you how many fad diets I’ve tried in my life and until I read “Burn The Fat”, I thought I was doomed to have a slow metabolism for the rest of my life as punishment for following all the latest and greatest diets that were written by people who didn’t care about the long term outcome.Thanks for backing your articles up with the facts. Keep them coming! I always learn something new.

  • starvation mode really exists.Cutting down the calories you consume each day down from 1000 can have the exactly opposite results than the ones expected.I know because i have tried many different starvation diets and not only did i not lose weight but i had problems with my health.Well this starvation mode destroys your metabolism which in long terms will be the worst thing someone can do to himself.A slow metabolism means that the body does not burn the proper amount of calories,so every food you eat will most probably be converted to fat.So i think someone who wants to lose weight should follow a sound plan,change their eating habits and lifestyle rather than resort to anything so drastic. If you want to hear how i changed my own life visit: http://burningfatreviews.blogspot.com

  • I am a “Burn the Fat” subscriber. I just had my BMR tested. I had a 16% higher metabolic rate than average. I have also been told that I need to eat more than twice the calories I have eaten in the past to lose weight. I have a 34% BMI and have been working out “hard” for 3 years without any substantial weight loss. I am healthy but I would like to not be labeled obese by decreasing my BMI. I am so confused. How is it possible that I have a higher than average BMR if I have been in “starvation mode”?Angela

  • Kingsquonk

    You are correct in stating that starvation mode or adaptive thermogenisis is an observed phenomenon.

    However, there is more to the debate than “how much of the slowing of the metabolism comes from starvation mode.”

    The real issue and the reason for the discussion of this phenomenon as a “myth” comes from a simple question.

    How applicable is any of the data above to normal dieter?

    The data above uses terms like “underfeeding” and “semi starvation” without the terms being defined.

    The Minnesota study dealth with males who had been dealing with severly restricted diets (less than 1000 calories per day) and who had lost nearly all their body fat.

    But do the studies apply to dieters where:

    1. Body fat remains high?
    2. calories ingested are greater than 1000 calories per day? 1500 calories per day?
    3. How long did it take to get into starvation mode?

    Additionally, in all of the studies above a calorie deficit would CONTINUE to produce weight loss! Just at a rate that was less than the deficit alone would produce. The starvation “myth” is often accompanied with tales of how your body will GAIN weight if you stay in starvation mode. This is clearly not supported by the facts

    So it is fair to say the body can go into starvation mode. It is less clear that it is true that this fact applies to the vast majority of dieters who have been lectured to about starvation mode.

    • Tom Venuto

      minnesota study was also looking at men who were not weight training, so that also limits the applicability of that data set (and assumptions about drops in LBM), to groups who are involved in resistance training. Another major point is that differences in starting body composition have a major impact on how one responds to calorie restriction – kevin hall at NIH and the work of forbes bore this out quite well. But, i have never said that your body gains weight in starvation mode. I also do not state that you will stop losing weight when a deficit is present. TOTALLY the opposite if you read through any of my blog p osts. Yes, you continue to produce weight loss if you have a calorie deficit. However, when the adaptive thermogenesis component of starvation mode occurs – YOU LOSE WEIGHT AT A LOWER RATE THAN PREDICTED due to the metabolic decrease. This rate is probably small – may be as low as 5-10%, which is not insignificant though. But tremblays most recent study showed adaptive (note ADAPTIVE) component being as high as 30.9%. Other data shows a genetic component some some are more at risk than others. One more thing “semi starvation” is defined in studies and textbooks – standard definition is 50% below TDEE. The bottom line here is that the adaptive thermogenesis component of starvation response is a explanation for why weight loss slows down and is a PARTIAL explanation for weight loss plateaus. When you consider the entirety of starvation reponses as including increase in feeding behavior and increase in appetite, then the combination of decreased energy expenditure with increased energy expenditure from higher appetite can COMPLETELY explain a plateau, therefore when looking at starvation response as more than merely the adaptive component, starvation response CAN in fact explain a plateau!

  • Dudu

    The starvation mode exist certainly, BUT it occurs only if you have very low body fat percentage ( < 9%) when almost all your subcutaneous fat is gone. For example, for men, to have an idea, "very low body fat" means your abs are clearly visible and well defined. If you cannot see your abs, you are certainly a long, long way from "starvation mode danger".

    While your body will still have any subcutaneous fat to burn, it will use it and will NOT use any muscle for energy. Mulscle loss occurs only if there is no more body fat available.

    So, for the vast majority of dieters who have lots of body fat available, the starving mode is a non-issue.

  • Johnny

    Dear Tom: I’ve been a follower (on and off) of your BTFFTM method for some years now, thanks for the update on the starvation mode.

    @Dudu:
    Is there some research backing your claim that starvation response/mode only occurs in very low fat % individuals?

    @Tom: Could you please elaborate on why Dudu is wrong?

    Thanks!

  • Phil

    Good article, Tom. I would suggest that it matters a great deal whether you call it ‘starvation mode’, ‘starvation response’ or ‘adaptive thermogenesis’, even if you refer to the same principle.

    The first brings to mind a mode dial – you don’t eat enough and suddenly your body switches to ‘starvation mode’. That sounds dangerous enough to scare people off, especially those who turn to food for comfort. It also implies you’d have to perform some sort of ritual to ‘switch’ back out of that mode – pigging out at an all-you-can-eat buffet, perhaps?

    I don’t think these are discrete states, as the term ‘mode’ implies. ‘starvation response’ sounds a lot more realistic to me. A response usually matches the stimulus in intensity, so the term is less likely to evoke fears of complete metabolic breakdown in response to a missed meal.

    I consider ‘adaptive thermogenesis’ the best. It avoids the term ‘starvation’, which triggers a subconscious fear, particularly for those that like their food a little bit too much. Furthermore, it doesn’t emphasize one direction. Your BMR adapts to some extent to your food intake, be it above or below your needs. Adaptation also suggests something that happens over time. So a 24h fast isn’t going to cripple you for life or require drastic compensation the next day.

    Semantics aren’t that exciting, but they do make a difference. My fellow runners who talk about their ‘foot strike’ tend to do precisely that – strike the ground with their feet and get injured in the process. Get them to think of it as a ‘landing’ instead, and suddenly their running form improves. To give credit where it’s due, I first stumbled on this suggestion in one of Ken Bob Saxton’s books.

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