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Fasting, extreme low cal diets, and the "starvation mode" myth...

I originally wrote this post in response to a question about an extremely restrictive diet. My fear was that, because there were so many posts under that thread already, the original poster would just get over whelmed and not read my post, which I worked really hard on! Kidding. I also do think this could be useful to others, as so many people seem to believe that there's a "starvation mode" that your body goes into when there's an extreme lack of food. It's not quite untrue...but it's not quite right either.

My sister is in medical school and studied nutritional sciences for her undergrad. She told me that when you don't eat for a day, or any other prolonged period of time, your body produces the energy it needs to live and move by "eating" your muscles instead. Muscle weighs more than fat, so when you step on the scale, you will see that you have lost weight.

Consider, however, that muscle takes the most energy for your body to maintain. A person with a lot of muscle mass burns more calories per day than a similarly built person who has less muscle, even if both are just sitting on the couch watching TV.

So, when someone stops fasting, he or she will have lost weight because they have lost muscle mass. However, his or her body will now burn less calories per day than it did before they started fasting. If that person were to start eating again as they did before the fast, he or she would now gain weight, where as before the fast, they broke even, and neither gained or lost.

It's quite possible that the same is true for when you eat an extremely low amount of calories per day. Your body needs energy to keep moving and living. It is not getting that energy from food, so it burns up some muscle, because muscle a) provides more nutrients than fat, and b) requires more energy to maintain, energy which your body no longer has.

The belief that your body goes into starvation mode, then, is a bit of a myth. Your body does not think "oh, no food, better lower my metabolism for a while". Your body is a machine really, it doesn't think much of anything at all. Eating too little, however, does lower your metabolism because your body is eating up its muscle mass. This is not a temporary change though, as the words "starvation mode" may lead you to believe. The lowering of your metabolic rate will be permanent until you exercise to build back the muscle you have lost.

Hope you found this interesting and helpful, and if anyone has anything to add to or counter the above, please feel free to post it below. Thank you.

Sun. Dec 7, 11:07pm

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Friday, November 17, 2006, 12:25 PM

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I have a few points to counter.

Starvation DOES affect your metabolism. I am a pre-med in college and while I respect your sister's knowledge, I will give the benefit of the doubt that you are getting your information second hand, meaning you haven't learned it yourself.

The first few days during starvation there is an absolute change in your BMR. It is actually a tiny increase similarly related to 'overnight fasting' which is what we do every night when we sleep.

In 1950 a study was done, a very notorious Minnesota Semistarvation Study. ~40 young, healthy, lean men were put on what is considered a 'semi starvation diet', meaning less than 50% of their BMR caloric needs per day for 6 months. Their BMR dropped to about ~50% of what it had been. They did loose some muscle, but overall they lost mostly fat until their bodies reached the critical 5% body fat (critical amount of fat needed by males).

Starvation diets are usually used for morbidly obese/obese people. Obese people actually have a mechanism in their bodies that causes them to burn fat over muscle. A lean person and an obese person that are both on a starvation diet will lose weight very differently. The obese person will lose mostly fat, the lean person will lose mostly fat-free mass. 7e11.htm. (study that supports me)

Obese people have MORE lean body mass than a normal weight person (FORBES, 1987; JAMES et al., 1978). Up to over 30% more. Obese people need the greater vascular volumes and larger heart to pump blood through their entire body and need MORE muscle to move themselves.

When you do not eat for a long period of time, your body will release chemicals that tell the body to try and hold onto some fat, preferring muscle over fat. Burning muscle is EASIER than burning fat. That is why it's so hard to build muscle.

Monday, December 08, 2008, 12:20 AM

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If when starving people would not lose any fat then all those anorexics would be full of fat but they are not! They are skinny!

Monday, December 08, 2008, 5:52 AM

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Thanks, this is interesting stuff! My only concern is the date that this study was done, and the fact that it was done only on men. So many other things that people believed in the 50's have since been proved wrong, and women are physiologically different than men. Still, it may be relevant (unfortunately, I can't read the article, for whatever reason. It says it can't be found).

I'm sure you are correct, however, on the fact that obese people lose weight differently than people of a more normal weight. I haven't talked at length with sis about obesity. I was aware that the have more muscle than most, but that just makes sense. If I wore 100 pounds of extra weight on a daily basis, I would also have a lot more muscle.

I think this is neat stuff though. Does it say how long it took the men to get their BMR back up to what it had been? Just out of curiosity.

5:52 - yeah that was a point I was going to comment on, but it just got too long. I figured (solely on my own mind you) that, when your body has used up all the muscle you have to spare (ie, everything you don't use to get up in the morning, walk to the bathroom and take a shower, those kinds of everyday things) then it will start eating fat. Fat, however, is less nutritious than muscle, so at some point it will have to eat more muscle to get nutrients, and then go back to burning fat, and so on, until there's no more fat, and no more muscle, and then you body starts consuming bits of organs and will even go so far as to liquidate portions of your own DNA chain in order to keep going...of course by this point the person is beyond saving and will soon die (the DNA part was something my sister was amazed to learn, so that I'm fairly certain is true).

Anyway, this is cool stuff. Anyone else have something to add?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008, 10:53 AM

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Anorexics are "skinny"- I'd tend to go with gaunt. Completely lacking in tone and shape. And many prior to getting to that point are flabby.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008, 6:20 PM

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Most of the starvation diet myths were started by people trying to sell their own particular diet plans. People are always trying to make a buck off of fat people and claim that their own diet plan is the best. The one thing they all agree on is that starvation diets are bad, mainly because they won't make any money from people who fast or starve. But the truth is, fat is nature's protection against times of famine, and when people stop eating they are living on their stores of fat. They aren't even really starving, they are living off of their stored fat, just as if they were eating fat. Nobody ever died of starvation when they were fat. I repeat...NO FAT PERSON EVER DIED OF STARVATION. The body fat is used by the body as energy, and as long as you have fat, you have a source of nutrition. Only after the fat is used up does the body start to consume itself and enter starvation mode. As long as you have body fat, you will not starve. A 400 pound person can live for a year without eating. Fasting is a perfectly natural thing, and is by far the best way to lose weight. It shrinks the stomach which reduces portion size when you start to eat again. Fasting also re-sets the appetite switches so you don't pig out so much afterwards. Fasting is great, you really need to try it. And after 2 days of fasting you don't even feel hungry anymore, and the weight peels off FAST!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 5:45 PM

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Recent studies on longevity also recommend a restricted calorie 'diet' as a way of living a longer healthier life. But when you look at the way these people eat, it is full of nutrition, not empty calories - they are getting a big bang for the calories they do eat, combined with an active lifestyle.

What I have read recently about fasting is to do it as a cleansing ritual, not a weight loss regimen. I have a friend who stopped eating for two weeks after her BF broke up with her and despite already being slender dropped 15#'s and looked like death warmed over. She couldn't concentrate on work or anything else and she really scared me. Thank heavens she's eating again, back to her vegan lifestyle, and sounding rationale.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 8:26 PM

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I weighed 238 when my gf cheated on me with her ex last winter. They were together a couple months during which I ate about 3 times. I lost 10 pounds the first 2 weeks and another 10 pounds the next month and a half, from pure starvation. I could not eat a thing. All I lost was fat, I didn't lose any muscle, contrary to all the myths you hear. If I lost any muscle, I never knew it because I was still strong and my arms were still big and strong. I lost fat from my thighs, from my stomach, love handles, and even from my face. I went down to 218 and those 20 pounds were the best thing she ever did for me. I stayed around 225 for the whole year and snuck back into the low 230's this winter from pigging out. I want to go back to 220, but can I do it by fasting without a gf breaking up with me? It sure as hell worked last time. Maybe my (new) gf can make believe she is breaking up with me for a month and I'll drop 20, then she'll tell me she was only kidding.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 11:35 PM

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Not Sure Why It's Not Working

So guess what. I'm in the middle of this right now. I was 362 lbs, my maintenance calories were around 3500/day (people say multiply weight by 18, there's no way my maintenance calories were 6500, sorry 18 is wrong). Anyway... I started as a new year's resolution in January 2009, I did two weeks at 2000 calories/day and it wasn't working fast enough so I reduced to 1000/day, where I am right now. I have lost 47 lbs so far, I weigh 315 at the moment and I feel great. I manage 10 people and my work has not suffered, I'm totally on the ball. The reason I'm here is to research this starvation thing because I have been stuck at 315 for like 4 days, it baffles me because I eat 2000 calories less than my "updated" maintenance calories (after losing 47lbs they are now approx 3000 per day), and I execise on my new recumbent bike for an hour and a half a day burning another 1500 to make 3500. So that should mean that I lose a pound a day guaranteed. Why am I not??? I sweat my ass off everyday since I got this bike and I wake up weighing the same after having eaten a chicken wrap and a salad all day. Up to this point I drank diet soda exlusively because there are no calories, but I'm going to switch to water and see if that makes any difference. I also never took sodium into account, I stayed away from sugar, bread, starch, fats, but not sodium and there's tons of it in diet soda, so I'm really going to limit that. I'll let you know how this week goes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 12:33 AM

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I know for women, our bodies can hold onto pounds for days then let them all go at once....has to do with body cycles. My weight loss challenge program of '08 included being weighed every two weeks. Thank goodness it was not every week, because I always dropped 4-6 lbs on the 11th day....many of us were having that same experience between the 8th and 11th days we lost the weight. Daily weighing would be too destructive for me. Sodium can cause you to hold onto unecessary water weight. Weight/strength training will build muscle which burns more calories. Including workouts allowed me to eat more without any weight gains as muscle burns calories, but fat does not. Keep up the good faithful, it is like a bank account.....the effort you put in will add up to great numbers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 6:25 AM

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I remember my bf cheating on me and I was really depressed, I couldn't hardly eat and when I tired I'd gag up most of it if I tried to force myself. I lost 30 in about 2.5 months, I swear it's true. one night I started to feel really weird and new I had to eat, I ate something and felt much better. I basically was only able to gag down a glass of milk and a slice of bread for most of the day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009, 4:14 PM

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Starving? Pointless

The march 11, 5:45 poster is terribly wrong. Do not listen to her. Of course fat people have starved to death. Has she forgotten Mount Hood? Not the young family, but the man who was trapped up there a few years prior. He kept a journal to his girlfriend for when they found him. He was fat. He starved to death. It is natural to eat; to get hungry and eat, not starve yourself on purpose.

If you are truly confused about losing weight, I strongly recommend a nutritionist you trust. Don't starve yourself, it's silly at the least.

Broken hearts are exempt. But I've noticed all who posted, rebounded! :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 2:07 PM

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Re: Starving? Pointless

@Starving? Pointless

I think you misunderstood the previous poster's statement on "no fat people have ever starved to death."

Monday, December 14, 2009, 6:56 PM

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I'm with 11:35. When my bf broke up with me I just _couldn't_ eat. And my blood pressure rose, my entire metabolism ramped up. In my case I didn't have a ton to lose, but 7 pounds in 2 weeks? And as 11:35 said, it wasn't muscle as far as I could tell. And it has stayed off.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009, 6:47 PM

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Fat people can starve to death. I saw a documentary on tv where somebody that was over a thousand pounds and bedridden started starving himself and he starved to death and still weighed six hundred pounds when he died.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009, 4:33 PM

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Just one comment...

Muscle does NOT weigh more than fat. 1lb of muscle weighs the same as 1lb of fat. Muscle just takes up less space so you look thinner. 1lb of muscle is leaner and smaller in size than 1lb of fat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009, 4:53 PM

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I just wanted to add, here is what worked for me. I gained 80 pounds with each of my children, and lost it all, and got my body back each time. It was difficult for me to exercise after the birth of each child, and it was a lot easier for me to go on diets. This worked to get me started, but eventually I had to exercise as well as watch what I ate. Basically, it boiled down to two cycles, body building mode, and restricted dieting mode. By doing this, I lost 80 pounds within 12 months with each kid.

Body building mode, I am lifting weights, as my main method of exercise, with cardio, if any, being secondary. When I lift weights, its nearly impossible for me to stay on a low calorie regimen, so I do not even try, and dont count calories much, but I remember eating 1500, 2000, and some days, even 3000 caloried a day, without a change in weight.

Thats thet thing. During weight building mode, its hard to see results. I know my body is buildiing muscle, and I can feel myself getting stronger. Like each time I return to do a bicep curl, I am able to lift more than the previous session.

After a time of doing this, I noticed that my weight and inches, crept up a little bit, (about 10 pounds, and about one inch). My guess is that I built muscle, and kept the fat.

I did this for two or three months.

Then, I started a healthy diet of abouy 500 - 750 calories, while lightly walking/jogging. This is when the significant weight loss and inch loss occurred. I would drop about 10 pounds in every two weeks. so now I am losing fat and muscle, but thankfully, because of the muscle building phase, my metabolism is slower, but it does not come to crawl, at least not yet.

When I start to notice I am no longer getting results, I then start building my body again, until I am back to where I was before the baby was born.

People ask me why I just dont stay on a balanced diet and exercise regimen, and frankly, I just dont get results, until I go on a restricted caloric diet. During the body building phase, its useless to go on a restricted caloric diet, since your body does not have enough "building material" to build muscle, and your muscle building efforts are for nothing.

Another thing I noticed, is that I have a watch that tells me how many calories I am burning. During weight training mode, I burn like 6000 calories, during starvation mode, I will be lucky if I burn 1800 calories a day. If I eat normal, and dont lift weights, just do cardio, then I burn like 3500 calories a day.

It so hard to balance. Weight training mode, you gain muscle and fat. Starvation and restricted calorie mode, you lose muscle and fat.

Saturday, November 13, 2010, 11:55 AM

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Saturday, July 14, 2012, 6:55 AM

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yes u say right.

Saturday, July 21, 2012, 8:33 AM

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Fat people have died from "starvation" indirectly.

Fat people tend to have problems with thier health from their weight. Such a heart problems for this example. When a fat person goes on a long term starvation they do loose fat and continue to have their bodies live off their bodies. But when that happends for a long period of time say an anerexic fat person, thier organs slow and become weaker. If they already have say heart problems or any type of organ related health problem the chances of heart attack, heart failure (for this example) becomes much greater. So no directly no fat person has ever died from starvation. DIRECTLY. But indirectly there have been cases where because of organs weakening BECAUSE of starvation, added to their already current health problems, Say heart. They have indirectly died from starvation. Starvation lead to the weakening of their already weak hearts and caused heart failure, which cause death. DISCLAMER, heart failure was only used for my example, many other health problems could replace the heart.

Thursday, August 30, 2012, 11:32 AM

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You'll never be a contender. Except maybe the Special Olympics

Why bother posting something you clearly know nothing about having been informed by your idiot sister? I bet you're fat. This is another case of fat people being stupid. Google the correlation of obesity and stupidity then go on a fast.

Thursday, January 31, 2013, 10:06 AM

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Fasting works. It's not a "myth". Stop looking for excuses to be fat. Stop eating. Fat people are vile and disgusting. It's not just the impact they have on their own health, but that of the kids and the environment. It is sad that food is wasted on sub-human scum just so they can get fatter. Fat people are on average 20IQ points lower than normal people. Why are there not more calls to get rid of them?

Thursday, January 31, 2013, 10:15 AM

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The 1,000 lb woman didn't die of starvation. It was a heart attack after gastric by-pass. What dumb fat person posted that comment?

Thursday, January 31, 2013, 10:20 AM

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