I see some chicks saying that we don't need to be so paranoid about starvation mode. I figured I'd start a thread to get more opinions.
I think worrying about eating too few calories has made it harder for me to lose weight. Then it get confusing when I read we need to eat more when we workout, but then some say we shouldn't eat back our exercise calories.
So, what are your opinions? Is starvation mode thrown at us unnecessarily? do we really ruin our metabolism by eating too few calories?
09-05-2010, 03:25 AM
I think that "believing in" or "not believing in" starvation mode may be the wrong question.
There are some posters here who dropped calories to very low levels, and noticed that they stopped losing and/or gained on relatively few calories. For some of those posters, adding in more calories enabled them to start losing again.
There are other posters who had relatively low calorie levels and simply never had that same sort of metabolism drop.
I can't say why our members have had such different experiences...I'd guess it's like nearly everything else with weight loss, and your own mileage may vary.
Regardless, given that we have members who have real-life experience with both, there's no way to say you do or don't "believe" in it happening without invalidating someone's real-life experience. So I believe that it does happen to some people, and may not happen to others, for metabolic reasons that are not entirely understood.
09-05-2010, 03:46 AM
I have wondered about this too. On the few occasions when I was trying to find an appropriate calorie level for loss, and have spent a week or two on too few calories (for me), I have noticed pretty obvious symptoms. Things like not having the energy to do my regular workout although I had never had trouble before, not being able to think clearly, excessive crankiness and lethargy.
These seemed to me like pretty clear signs I wasn't getting what I needed, so I increased calories to a more comfortable level. I would think if your body was really protectively slowing down your metabolism, there would be more noticeable signs like this, and people would not have to be told they were into "starvation mode".
I have never actually seen any one cite medical studies on starvation mode (in first-world people on purposeful calorie-reduction diets) although it's such a popular idea on any weight loss site. Maybe I'll write in to some of my favorite obesity research blogs, they could help with this.
09-05-2010, 04:01 AM
I used to believe in it. Don't anymore.
I, personally, feel and do better on a very low level of calories. I calorie cycle but the majority of my days are a number that would make most people here cringe. We all do what we find works for us. It's a big science experiment!
09-05-2010, 04:41 AM
I didn't see Mandalinn's post before I posted, so I should clarify. I certainly believe some people here have seen their calorie expenditure slow down in response to reduction. But I'm an academic, and I'd be interested to read actual studies on this in the short term (I've read about studies on this in the longer term with "yo-yo dieters") and for things like the 1200 calorie figure for instance. Where did that come from?
I have to say it's also partly that I'm a little uncomfortable with the use of the word "starvation" in connection with fairly prosperous first-world people on voluntary calorie reduction diets; I feel it trivializes the term somewhat given the problem of actual, real starvation in the world and in history. Maybe there could be a better term like "metabolism slowdown".
09-05-2010, 10:40 AM
Wow, I have thought about this SO much, great to see a discussion. So, here are my thoughts - what about a person who has weightloss surgery - are they not restricted to about 500 cals a day? A very low calorie diet seems to work amazing in those cases. I have no personal experience, just going by what I have researched.
Another thing I think about is eating disorders such as anorexia or bulemia. These are both examples of basically starving the body with extremely low calories. They do however lose a ton of weight, so obviously the starvation theory does not apply here.
I have been told that anything underm 700 calories will slow your loss, and personally, I have never gone below that. I certainly hope I did not offend anyone bringing up the topics of weightloss surgery and eating disorders. This is just something I have always questioned and thought this would be a good opportunity to get some other opinions,.
09-05-2010, 11:08 AM
I don't know the answer for sure, but I know for me I have to eat/fuel my body in order to lose weight. If I don't eat enough, I don't lose. But I also experience pretty clear signs that this is what is happening - hunger, fatigue, crankiness, etc. I know this is a much debated opinion, but I also think and have read several times that the longer you stay really low cal the slower your metabolism will become and the lower you maintenance cals will be.
09-05-2010, 12:04 PM
I don't think that I believe in starvation mode in the way that it is used by so many people lately. However, I DO believe that eating too few calories can and ultimately will have a negative impact on the body. I noticed someone mention people with eating disorders, and having known several I can without a doubt say that eating so few calories DID effect their metabolism. If you've ever met an anorexic after treatment, they regain the weight VERY quickly.
Do I believe that eating 1000 calories for a month will cause a person to go into "starvation mode" and stop losing weight? Not fully, IMO it really depends on the person. For some it may cause a stall, for others it might be just fine.
That being said, I DO believe that eating too few calories for weight loss causes weight loss to be more of a "diet" than a lifestyle change. It's what most (I know I'm being over generalized here, but bare with me) people have always done to try and lose weight in the past. Quick fixes to see the number drop, however as some of us know by experience, that is just how we yo-yo'd our way to our highest weight.
IMHO, there is no reason to drop your calories so low that you're hungry and irritable and tired. It's OKAY to not lose the weight RIGHT NOW. We're trying to form long lasting habits so that when we do reach our goal we are able to maintain it. There are people who believe that once they get to goal they can go back to eating the way they did before, and it's just not true. Maintenance is just as hard as weight loss, especially for those of us who have struggled with food for a majority of our lives.
If a persons calories are so low that they can't maintain that lifestyle (and I've seen it over and over again on 3FC), they lose a bunch of weight really fast, start seeing the scale slow down and show normal daily fluctuations, fall of the wagon because they get discouraged that they're not losing at the same rate, and binge their way back up to higher than before. Or a family gathering comes up, they treat themselves, and it turns into a binge and again they end up wayyyyy off the wagon.
Slow weight loss sucks, and it gets frustrating at times, but it's so worth it. It's worth it to work on managing our demons with food. It works on developing healthy habits and views on food and exercise (i always saw exercise equipment as modern day torture devices :D ). We deserve to fuel our bodies and feel good lose weight and be healthy and happy.
Anyways, I think I went on a bit of a tangent but it's something I do feel very strongly about... just in case you couldn't tell. ;)
09-05-2010, 12:27 PM
I believe that it certainly exists, but for someone who has a large amount of weight to lost it is very likely that it's something different than "starvation mode" if they aren't losing on low calories diets. They are likely just overestimating their calories.
Honestly, how many people do you see in famine struck countries who are even minutely overweight? None. They may have distended stomachs from malnutrition but that's not even close to being very overweight and claiming "starvation mode." The same goes for those with eating disorders on 300 calories a day, some of which are in my extended family. They are rail thin and don't look well.
I think it's overused in the weight loss world as an excuse. Heck, I've used it myself :) JMHO
09-05-2010, 12:50 PM
I think eating a vlc diet may cause people to stall, and may be successful with some people.
However, I think most people realize it's a bad thing to eat so few calories for so long because with most people, it's not sustainable. It causes many people to binge, or stop the weight loss efforts, or to gain the weight back after they lost it. (That's not to say some people haven't had success with sticking to it and transitioning their calories up once they meet maintenance).
So I guess what I"m saying is I don't necessarily believe starvation mode doesn't happen (rarely), but there are other more likely reasons to cause weight stall or gain (binge, quit because it's so hard, or not be able to maintain the goal weight)
09-05-2010, 02:45 PM
I think the term is overused and misused in ways that make many people think it's a "myth," because they have been lucky enough to have never experienced it themselves.
When I was much younger, I never experienced it. I suspected that people who warned me about it, were being silly. Either they were wrong, or it was something that happened to "other people" and not me.
I was also warned that yoyo dieting would decrease my metabolism, and every future diet would require more work and result in slower weight loss than the last. I didn't believe that at first either, until it became true. And even when I saw it happening, I couldn't stop the "crash" dieting, because only fast weight loss was motivating enough for me to have any success. If the weight loss was slow, I lost motivation too fast - so I had to get as much off as quickly as possible (I had no inkling of what I would do at maintenance, but I figured I'd cross that bridge when I came to it - and never did).
I think there are many reasons why very low calorie diets and rapid weight loss can backfire. Some of the reasons are physiological (such as the effects on metabolism) and some of them are psychological (such as cravings, and frustration - though even the psychological reasons also can have physiological components).
I loved vlcd's (very low calorie diets) when they resulted in rapid weight loss. I was hooked like an addict on that rapid weight loss. I couldn't conceive of the patience it would take to lose weight slowly - and I had no interest in learning that kind of patience.
Even when I realized that vlcd's were counterproductive, I still couldn't give them up, because I just couldn't allow myself to lose at any other speed than full speed. I didn't believe in starvation mode, so I couldn't even allow myself the option of trying a higher calorie limit to see if it would help me lose more. Many times I'd follow diets that were FAR below 1000 calories - and I'd have absolutely no energy for exercise. I suspect now (and even often suspected then) that eating more calories very well may have allowed me more energy to exercise, and I may have even lost more weight by eating more. Even though I often suspected this, I was in too deep, into the thinking that eating was "bad" and that eating as little as possible was "good." Every day became a contest to see how little I could eat. Of course making a war out of eating, is very tiresome. Eventually I would just want peace. I didn't want to think about food or eating every moment of the day, so for me that meant full surrender. I'd stop caring and would eat everything in sight - until the next vlcd.
It's taken a very long time to break that addiction to crash dieting. In some ways, I'm more reluctant to reduce calories than I should be, but I know that I just couldn't bear getting back on the mental and physical rollercoaster of crash dieting. In my 39 years of dieting experience, I know that the quickest way to weight gain for me, is a vlcd.
For me, it's not so much "starvation mode" as "war-zone-mode," when I reduce calories to fewer than 1200 - 1500, my life becomes a 24/7 war with food and the scale. I think of food every minute, I think of every way I can possibly avoid eating, and the less I lose, the more I try to restrict calories - and the less effective it becomes. And I have to sacrifice almost every other good thing in my life, because my weight loss efforts have to come before (and usually instead of) other aspects of my life. On a vlcd, I have to give up too much. Even when metabolism wasn't dropping, it was still "starvation mode," in the sense that it starved me of a social life, of enjoyment in life, of having any real "life" at all.
It's very difficult to voluntarily starve yourself to death. It's almost as difficult to starve yourself to your ideal weight. The brain/body is set up to make the process extremely difficult. I've found it much easier, much more comfortable, and much more sustainable to "outsmart" my body's survival mechanisms. Hunger, even unreasonable hunger is a drive that has survival value, in a "natural environment," because food is too scarce to be in overabundance for long (overpopulation occurs before wide-spread obesity - especially since an obese critter is a slow critter - and a slow critter is lunch for a faster critter). Metabolic slowing when food is scarce, is also a survival value. Perhaps only some of us have inherited that genetic trait - or the degree to which it is expressed is variable.
Regardless, we all have to play the cards we've been dealt whether we "believe" in them or not.
09-05-2010, 06:53 PM
For me, it's not that I don't lose weight on a VLCD--I do--it's just that I don't lose it any faster than I do on a moderately-low calorie diet. It's like when I have a 1000 calorie/day deficit or less, my body is willing to burn fat to make up that deficit and I lose 1-2 lbs a week. But if I start having a deficit greater than that, my body may well continue to burn 1-2 lbs of fat a week, and making up the rest of the energy deficit by slowing me down--keeping me asleep or lethargic, slowing my digestion, etc. I still lose weight, but that extra suffering isn't buying me any additional weight loss.
I think a lot of the tension around VLC diets comes from the fact that hunger is still, in many ways, considered unladylike in our culture. Since I've lost a lot of weight, people seem to like to "confess" their weight loss woes to me, and far and away the most common thing women say is "It's not that I am hungry. I'm an emotional eater.". I think that there's this idea that overeating from emotions is acceptably feminine, even if not admirable, but that overeating from hunger means you are a glutton, a "natural" fat person, not just a "normal" person that happens to have too much fat. I hear this in high school girls all the time (I teach): "God, I can't eat a whole piece of cake" or "I never eat breakfast" or "I forgot to eat the last two days". These sorts of things are always said with a bit of a brag in the tone--hunger is masculine, and not feeling hungry is feminine. But they will brag about binges in the exact same way, but always making it clear that the binge was about emotion, not appetite.
So I think a lot of women are in denial about how hungry they are, and they stick to a VLC diet even when it is killing them because they see the craving to eat as some sort of personal or emotional failure instead of the physiological drive that it is, and so they try to "conquer" what is really unconquerable, and when they fail and give in, they see it as caused by emotion, not biology--so the next time they go back to the VLC diet, since that will work, if only they can get the emotional stuff taken care of.
I also think people on VLC diets are more likely to cheat (because they are starving and not admitting it to themselves) and they often underestimate the impact of those cheats. Here at 3FC, we are pretty serious, but some of the ladies I work with are the most half-a**ed dieters the world has ever seen. They will say they are eating 1200 calories a day and they believe they are eating 1200 calories a day, but they have one or two "bad" days a week--well, ****, one or two bad days may well be an extra 3000 calories a week, and that turns 1200 calories/day into 1600 calories a day. Add a "bad week" in once a month and you're up to 2000 calories a day on average. But most days they really are eating 1200 calories--their average day is 1200 calories. But their daily average is much higher.
09-05-2010, 07:32 PM
I believe that it's entirely possible that, at first, peoples' metabolism slows down when they cut calories too low in a natural effort to maintain the body's weight. However, I don't think I believe in "starvation mode" the way it's discussed sometimes here on 3FC. If it truly was impossible to lose weight on 1000 (or fewer) calories, then it seems like it would be impossible for people to really starve to death. So I believe it when people say they experience a metabolism slow down, but I know that for me personally, I would lose weight quickly if I was restricted to 1000 calories or less a day. I wouldn't be able to stick to it voluntarily because that's just too low for me. But really, my body is just like everyone else's and if there were no food, I would starve. I wouldn't just stall out at some (still heavy) weight indefinitely, but that's just me.
09-05-2010, 08:05 PM
Maybe we need a new 3FC name for this phenomenon. I propose "Low Calorie Related Metabolic Slowdown".
THAT I definitely believe in.
The anorexic/starving person analogy, IMO, supports the idea more than opposes it. It's not a reason for being overweight, remember, it's a reason for not losing as fast as would be expected for a person of a certain weight. Someone who is anorexic or genuinely starving HAS experienced a metabolic slowdown...that is what enables them to live much longer than would be expected based on a formula of what someone needs to eat. If you run the calculations, these people would have shrunk to nothing much faster than predicted. Instead, the body slows itself down to conserve energy, so the person starves more slowly than they might otherwise. Body temperature drops, less spontaneous movement occurs and the person is tired and doesn't want to move around much, etc. Also, most anorexics started at a relatively low-cal level, and then, when weight loss stopped at that level, reduced calories further and further to continue losing weight (again, supporting a metabolic slowdown...if they stuck at 600 calories, for example, they'd continue losing weight according to calculators, when in fact, most do not, causing them to reduce calories further).
09-05-2010, 08:34 PM
I did a VLCD a few years ago (actually, it would have qualified as extreme). I lost about 35 pounds in about 7 weeks. When I gave up the VLCD, I gained 89 pounds nearly as rapidly as I'd lost the 35.
I will never do that again, I remember how tired and sick I felt while I was doing it... and I know that it slowed my metabolism. From everything I've been reading (and current experience) it sure seems like the more often I eat during the day, the better my metabolism works.... so I have frequent, healthy meals and snacks... am not hungry and averaging 2 pounds a week lost.
09-05-2010, 09:32 PM
Thanks for the replies. Yes the term 'starvation mode' can get confusing. I didn't necessarily mean truly starving like an anorexic or even super low calories where you can't function, but it is interesting to know how much things slows down even then.
I notice even with the standard 1200 calories, people say that can trigger metabolism slow down. I know I can feel fine on 1200-1300cals and still do my workouts, but it's probably considered going too low for my stats. The only reason I'm hesitant to stay in that range is because I'm worried I might slow down my metabolism since the starvation mode is always mentioned.
09-05-2010, 09:59 PM
I'm worried I might slow down my metabolism since the starvation mode is always mentioned.
There really isn't any way to stop and avoid the slow down of ones metabolism as they get lighter (weigh less). It's normal.
The less you weigh, the less calories you will burn in everything that you do. But it's nothing to fear. In fact, that's our aim - to weigh less and part of that weighing less - means burning less calories.
If one takes in less calories than they burn, which is what we're after to create that all important deficit that is needed in order to lose weight, the metabolism slow down is not enough to cause lack of progress. You really needn't worry.
*Oh and adding muscle is a proven, effective way to increase ones caloric burn.