Starvation Mode - What It Is and Why it Will Probably Never Happen to You
If you are trying to lose weight, then most likely you have heard the term “starvation mode”. It is the idea that if you skip meals or don’t eat enough protein your body will go “catabolic” and eat your muscle, consequently slowing down your metabolic rate.
It is true that your body will feed off of its own muscle when it is truly starving. But getting your body to that point is extremely difficult and simply cannot happen to the average person who skips a few meals or doesn’t eat enough protein – which most of us do on a weekly or even daily basis! Despite what you have read and heard, our bodies are made to use our body fat (not muscle) in the absence of food.
True “starvation mode” negatively affects the body’s hormone levels and is brought on by an extreme combination of factors. To support this point, consider Karl Friedl’s 8 week military starvation experiment (1) using soldiers that had an average body fat level of 14%. The goal of this experiment was to beat the soldiers down and try to get them into starvation mode. The soldiers were fed a diet between 1,000 and 1,200 calories while at the same time being deprived of sleep and physically pushed to exert more than 6,000 calories per day. This means that there was a daily caloric deficit of 3,000 to 4,000 calories.
You might think that these soldiers would start breaking down and losing lots of muscle right away. But actually, it wasn’t until around the 6 to 8 week mark that the soldiers had finally reached such low body fat levels, around the 5%-6% range, that their bodies had no choice but to start using their muscle as fuel.
This experiment shows why it is so easy to lose fat at the beginning of your diet and exercise routine and why “those last 10 pounds” are often so hard to lose. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean that your metabolism has slowed down. The less fat you have to lose, the slower your body will burn it for fuel.
The key is to find a diet, or way of eating, that helps you to regularly and effortlessly tap into your fat stores. The best way to do this is through intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting, or IF, is quickly gaining popularity among the fitness community for its ease, convenience, and fantastic results it produces. Those who follow this type of diet will alternate periods of fasting with non-fasting. A great example of this type of fasting is the Eat Stop Eat program written by Brad Pilon.
As you can see, there is no reason to constantly worry about starvation mode or losing your hard-earned muscle. You can relax and do what feels right for your body. Just remember to eat a reasonable amount of lean protein, choose healthy foods, and most importantly, don’t stress about your diet!