Starvation Mode Explained

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Some people, especially small women, require very few calories to sustain their daily activities (I don’t make the rules). This makes weight loss difficult because it requires eating even fewer calories or being much more active, which isn’t always possible. We’ve had clients that needed 800 calories per day to see sustainable weight loss precisely because their maintenance requirements were so low (in this case, ~1200-1400 calories).

But what about starvation mode!

It’s true that eating fewer calories makes it more likely that you are going to develop nutrient deficiencies, but this issue is virtually eliminated with a multivitamin and not maintaining a diet indefinitely.

It’s true that eating very few calories isn’t a lifelong plan, but the goal isn’t to perpetually diet, it is to achieve a desired body weight and then start eating more calories to maintain that weight.

What isn’t true is that eating very few calories will stop weight loss or even cause weight gain. Ignoring natural body weight fluctuations due to water retention, it’s simply biologically impossible to eat in an energy deficit and store body fat outside of some exceedingly rare medical condition that we don’t know about.

Think about it: If starvation mode was a thing, then how do people starve to death? How do individuals with anorexia become as thin as they do?

Dieting definitely lowers energy expenditure through making your movement more energy efficient, lowering thyroid and testosterone, reducing your non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and lowering your desire to be active, but none of this is starvation mode. These are just attempts at your body to conserve energy, and these adaptations return to normal when you stop dieting and start eating at weight maintenance calories again.

Lastly, keep in mind that your maintenance calories will be less than they were before you started dieting, not because of some metabolic damage, but because you simply have less body mass that needs to be kept alive and moved around. Smaller people don’t need as many calories as larger people, and you’re moving from the latter to the former when you diet.

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