Weight Loss Support - Starvation Mode




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LockItUp
05-15-2012, 06:22 PM
Another forum I recently started reading is DEATH on starvation mode. I mean you'd think if you eat 1200 calories ONE day that your body will hold on to every bit of fat because it thinks it is starving. Heaven forbid if you dip below 1200 on occassion!!! Oh and if you don't eat back your exercise calories you will NOT lose weight because your body thinks it is starving!!! And on a side note, forget about gaining muscle on a deficit, even if you have a lot of excess body fat and are eating adequate protein, because it's NOT possible.

1st of all on eating back your exercise calories: How in the world do you know how much exactly you are burning!? (I'd bring this point up over there but I'm a noob and would get flamed, so what's the point).

2nd of all the answer cannot always be "you aren't losing because you aren't eating enough".

I've seen a few posts mention starvation mode here and disagreements as to whether or not it is real or at what point it "kicks in". But seriously though I picture this little switch in my body and at the end of the day if I haven't eaten some magical number of calories some little gremlin running over the the starvation mode switch and turning it on and laughing like a villain :devil: while my fat cells hold on tightly and my muscle is rapidly burned off as punishment for not eating 50 more calories that day.

Hmmm, guess I don't have a question, just ranting. :dizzy:

ETA: Just to clarify, in case it wasn't clear, I think it's silly, all of it!


JohnP
05-15-2012, 06:32 PM
I have found that it is best not to argue with people who are dogmatic about their information. Hence I no longer post in the IP section of this board.

My favorite are the Paleo people and vegans who believe everyone should eat the way they eat because [insert reason here]

ValRock
05-15-2012, 06:38 PM
I HATE the starvation mode talk!!!!

If that's the case, nearly everyone in history would have been obese!! There is no logic behind it. We don't give our bodies enough credit. If your body needs energy, it will find it!! The problem, more often than not, is that we give our bodies too much energy, and not enough ways to burn it!!!


serendipity907
05-15-2012, 06:40 PM
I totally don't buy the starvation mode thing either. I'm not sure where it came from but I've noticed in the last couple of years it seems to be the 'in' piece of advice for weight loss. The whole thing around it kinda annoys me.

seagirl
05-15-2012, 06:47 PM
If anything the danger from eating too little comes from later overeating to make up for your hunger. I didn't become over weight from eating too little. But there have certainly been times I've restricted calories for a little while, and then over ate later out of hunger.

Arctic Mama
05-15-2012, 07:37 PM
I think it gets way overused. It can become an issue for someone who was formerly obese, especially, and has been dieted-formerly-obese for an extended period of time. Their bodies, if they have severe endocrine disregulation, can fight tooth and nail to return to the homeostasis of a higher weight, especially after months of calorie deficit. But such cases are quite rare, and many people who have been quite heavy (like me!) occasionally slow or stall but do not have metabolic issues with maintaining weight loss that would cause starvation mode energy conservation and stress responses to kick in. Maintenance may be a challenge compared to someone who didn't have increased adipocyte hyperplasia (just hypertrophy, both tend to be required to achieve severe levels of obesity), but it is still not impossible to achieve.

I am of the opinion that some are more prone to starvation mode in their metabolism when dieting based on their specific dysfunctions that caused or exacerbated their obesity, which is why we do seem to have genuine cases pop up here and elsewhere, but that it isn't something a normal dieter can expect to contend with in a normal long term dieting situation (unless there is a severe nutrient deficiency of one type of another).

Basically all that says is that some people are battling greater and more metabolically resistant conditions that might predispose them to more difficulty in restoring or augmenting their metabolism - especially if they have not only emaciated the adipocytes they have, but also grew an excess of them in the process of becoming more obese. They have more metabolic pressure, as it were, to be 'restored' to higher weights than someone who just expanded the fat cells they have through overindulgence or stress-related thriftiness but doesn't have an underlying regulatory condition like insulin resistance, PCOS, Hashimotos, Cushings, or other similar conditions of the endocrine system that can cause the body to kick up more and stronger stress cues to losing weight.

Someone with adrenal damage is going to have a harder time not regaining or plateauing upon extended calorie restriction than a healthy individual, and those are the ones for whom nutritionally-related plateaus (which may or may not be starvation mode, it depends on the symptoms and subsequent cure) may be more common. I think we have a fair population of individuals on 3FC who may see real issues with this, because of the number of lifelong obese who are here. We aren't a sampling of the general population, after all.

But starvation mode is very difficult to achieve in a well nourished, reasonably healthy person. Plateaus, sure. Stalls as our bodies adjust to the changing inputs? Absolutely. Completely unexplained lengths of time where we don't seem to lose, despite the energy deficits we're running? Yup! But those are not actually the stress response known colloquially as starvation mode - it is more specific and complex than that, and is not going to be brought on by normal calorie restriction that is sustained for a long period of time. Intermediate signals like extreme and increased hunger, lethargy, and general malaise will set in long before the body dials back metabolic processing to cope with the decreased energy availability. Unless someone has damage to their endocrine system or sympathetic nerve response they will increase their intake or decrease their activity long before the body initiates emergency conservation mode, as it were.

LockItUp
05-15-2012, 07:43 PM
I think it gets way overused. It can become an issue for someone who was formerly obese, especially, and has been dieted-formerly-obese for an extended period of time. Their bodies, if they have severe endocrine disregulation, can fight tooth and nail to return to the homeostasis of a higher weight, especially after months of calorie deficit. But such cases are quite rare, and many people who have been quite heavy (like me!) occasionally slow or stall but do not have metabolic issues with maintaining weight loss that would cause starvation mode energy conservation and stress responses to kick in. Maintenance may be a challenge compared to someone who didn't have increased adipocyte hyperplasia (just hypertrophy, both tend to be required to achieve severe levels of obesity), but it is still not impossible to achieve.

I am of the opinion that some are more prone to starvation mode in their metabolism when dieting based on their specific dysfunctions that caused or exacerbated their obesity, which is why we do seem to have genuine cases pop up here and elsewhere, but that it isn't something a normal dieter can expect to contend with in a normal long term dieting situation (unless there is a severe nutrient deficiency of one type of another).

Basically all that says is that some people are battling greater and more metabolically resistant conditions that might predispose them to more difficulty in restoring or augmenting their metabolism - especially if they have not only emaciated the adipocytes they have, but also grew an excess of them in the process of becoming more obese. They have more metabolic pressure, as it were, to be 'restored' to higher weights than someone who just expanded the fat cells they have through overindulgence or stress-related thriftiness but doesn't have an underlying regulatory condition like insulin resistance, PCOS, Hashimotos, Cushings, or other similar conditions of the endocrine system that can cause the body to kick up more and stronger stress cues to losing weight.

Someone with adrenal damage is going to have a harder time not regaining or plateauing upon extended calorie restriction than a healthy individual, and those are the ones for whom nutritionally-related plateaus (which may or may not be starvation mode, it depends on the symptoms and subsequent cure) may be more common. I think we have a fair population of individuals on 3FC who may see real issues with this, because of the number of lifelong obese who are here. We aren't a sampling of the general population, after all.

But starvation mode is very difficult to achieve in a well nourished, reasonably healthy person. Plateaus, sure. Stalls as our bodies adjust to the changing inputs? Absolutely. Completely unexplained lengths of time where we don't seem to lose, despite the energy deficits we're running? Yup! But those are not actually the stress response known colloquially as starvation mode - it is more specific and complex than that, and is not going to be brought on by normal calorie restriction that is sustained for a long period of time. Intermediate signals like extreme and increased hunger, lethargy, and general malaise will set in long before the body dials back metabolic processing to cope with the decreased energy availability. Unless someone has damage to their endocrine system or sympathetic nerve response they will increase their intake or decrease their activity long before the body initiates emergency conservation mode, as it were.

:bravo: I'm college educated (believe it or not :) ) but I'm always in awe of your writing ability. Your post read like a text book, to me, in a good way I mean. You are very knowledgeable! I always enjoy your posts!

JohnP
05-15-2012, 07:48 PM
In truth - starvation mode is real. Just not in the context that most people use it.

When you're truly starving yourself your body will start to shut down non essential functions and/or wack out your hormones. Amenorrhea is one common way women can experience this.

Arctic Mama
05-15-2012, 07:49 PM
Lockitup - Haha! I'm actually a high school dropout (received my Equivalency) and a college dropout, too! But knowledge can be obtained by anyone willing to look and there is an incredible body of research on the basic metabolic processes of energy storage and release by the body, and where things can be manipulated, affected, or fundamentally altered. Smarter people than me have dedicated their lives to studying this subject and I'm so grateful the research is readily available if one wants it.

So no credit to me, I'm just learning and regurgitating but a completely uncredentialled individual beyond my own life experiences. Still, I appreciate the compliment on my long winded post ;)

LockItUp
05-15-2012, 07:55 PM
@JohnP - Yes, yes, definitely real! I don't deny that at all. Just isn't happening to every single person eating at or slightly below 1200 calories when they don't lose weight for *gasp* 3 days (or 3 weeks) straight.

@Arctic - I'm just now starting not to take people's word for things (as I have in the past) in regards to weight loss, muscle gain, how to eat etc. It's very eye opening. I get hard headed about things sometimes, but in the end I really do want to learn and know why things work the way they do.

novangel
05-15-2012, 07:55 PM
Yeah, I am pretty worn out on the whole "starvation mode" and "calorie counting" opinions. It's very confusing.

I just wonder if not eating breakfast really slows your metabolism for the day or not.

Arctic Mama
05-15-2012, 07:59 PM
Novangel, current research indicates that isn't the case, and in fact the opposite can be true, if the calorie deficits created by the fasted period are not made up later in the day. If you want some links I can dig them up.

JohnP
05-15-2012, 08:05 PM
Yeah, I am pretty worn out on the whole "starvation mode" and "calorie counting" opinions. It's very confusing.

I just wonder if not eating breakfast really slows your metabolism for the day or not.

It is VERY confusing because there are so many people out there spouting nonsense.

The simple fact is that calories dictate fat loss or gain. How one determines they are going to limit their calories is completely up to them. Generally speaking you can either count your calories or follow some "rules" which will automatically cause your calories to be limited.

As for breakfast - the simple fact is that your metabolism will not slow down one single bit by skipping a single meal and breakfast has no special metabolic properties. This is not up for dispute but it is a myth repeated on hundreds if not thousands of web sites.

starryblu
05-15-2012, 08:17 PM
i spent most of a year in starvation mode. i lost 167 lbs in about 11 months. many many days i ate around 300 calories. some days i didn't eat at all. yes, it was really bad for me. i've gained back about 60 lbs of it. a lot of my hair fell out. but i definitely lost weight. i just wish i could figure out why i can't lose weight the right way. i have the knowledge, just not the ability.

freelancemomma
05-15-2012, 08:18 PM
What I've read and believe: there is NO minimum amount of daily calories below which you will no longer lose weight. The less you eat, the more you will lose. That said, if you eat very little, you may not lose AS FAST as the caloric equations might predict because your metabolism will slow down a bit (maybe 5 to 20%). My personal experience has corroborated this info throughout several decades of multiple weight losses.

F.

LockItUp
05-15-2012, 08:23 PM
i spent most of a year in starvation mode. i lost 167 lbs in about 11 months. many many days i ate around 300 calories. some days i didn't eat at all. yes, it was really bad for me. i've gained back about 60 lbs of it. a lot of my hair fell out. but i definitely lost weight. i just wish i could figure out why i can't lose weight the right way. i have the knowledge, just not the ability.

I'm sorry to hear of your struggle.:hug: My comments are definitely not directed at a case like yours. I hope that was clear.

Steph7409
05-15-2012, 08:56 PM
I think "starvation mode" gets conflated with the idea that eating too few calories makes it difficult to get the nutrients we need to fuel vital functions. That's what the 1200 calorie threshold that gets thrown around a lot is based on, I think. It's certainly true that you can lose weight on 300 calories a day but, as the poster above noted, you'll also lose your hair and are undoubtedly doing damage to yourself over the long term.

I think a lot of the dogmatism about weight loss stems from the fact that we all wish it were a strict mathematical equation - e.g., a 500 calorie daily deficit x 7 days = 1 pound loss per week. But it doesn't work that way, so people come up with all sorts of theories about how to make it work - eat more! no carbs! calorie cycling! - when really, it's all about patience and commitment.

LockItUp
05-15-2012, 08:58 PM
it's all about patience and commitment.

YES! Exactly! :carrot: I also agree with everything else you said!

meltaway
05-15-2012, 09:03 PM
I also think the whole 'starvation mode' thing is a lot of rubbish. I personally think that at 210lbs there's no way my body will go into 'starvation mode' at 1200 cals a day. It also frustrates me when I see people telling others that their goal weight is too low or too high for their height. Drives me crazy. And the breakfast thing, OH!! That annoys me. You will not gain weight or slow down your metabolism by not eating breakfast. Argh.

starryblu
05-15-2012, 09:20 PM
I'm sorry to hear of your struggle.:hug: My comments are definitely not directed at a case like yours. I hope that was clear.


thanks for your kind words :) and i totally understand your post. it's an interesting topic, and one i find confusing. it's great, hearing all the input on the subject.

mystyblue85
05-15-2012, 09:22 PM
The starvation mode debate will be neverending. When I visited a nutritionist, she put me on a 1200 cal diet and when I began exercising vigorously, she advised me to "up" my calories to around 1400. That's it. I weighed 307lbs at the time and most people would assume that the amount of calories would put me in starvation mode.
It didnt. I lost weight, but I got off plan and went on a cheeseburger binge for a few months. I now stick to a plan of my own making that caps at 1500 cals. If I dont hit 1500, I dont shoot myself. I eat when I'm hungry and I don't eat when I'm not hungry.
I find that a lot of people mistake hunger cues because they have been overfeeding their bodies so much and not properly hydrating themselves. I fasted for 24 hours (only water/tea etc, no solids) and that taught me to understand what being hungry was really like. and from there, I was able to stick to my current plan.
But, ppl are inundated with useless and incorrect information and they have to share it with others, never taking into consideration the damage they may be causing.

ELBS717
05-15-2012, 09:42 PM
This is obviously a hot topic and I'm not bothering to read all the responses... all I can say is that from my experience, I think your body holding onto fat CAN happen... though 'starvation mode' was never something my nutritionist mentioned specifically and I'm sure there is a lot more to it, having to do with chemical/hormonal imabalances and the like. I was doing 45 minutes of intense cardio 4-5 days per week on 1000 calories per day, and couldn't lose a pound. I finally saw a nutritionist and he upped my calories to 1200-1400, and I finally lost 15 pounds in three months. So... 'starvation mode' or not, difficulty losing weight because of too FEW calories is real.

kaplods
05-15-2012, 09:58 PM
I also agree that "starvation mode" is a term that's overused and often not-well understood when it is being used.

And yet, I've experienced some strange things in my own weight loss that fall under the "starvation mode" umbrella. Such as learning that to lose about the same amount of weight, I can choose to eat 1500 calories of high-carb food, or 1800 calories of low-carb food.

One of the theories behind "starvation mode" is that if your body gets too few calories, it stops "spending" calories on nonessential body processes (like hair and nail growth - which is why many people lose hair when they diet and like the immune system).

A recent study found that even mild calorie restriction can impair immune function (that doesn't mean don't cut calories, but it might be prudent to be more careful with hand-washing and other hygeinic practices while trying to lose weight).

It might be coincidence, but I have found that if I cut calories too drastically, I do seem to get sick more often.

I also discovered that my body temperature is about one whole degree higher on lower-carb eating than high-carb eating, which suggests that my metabolism is "burning" more on low-carb (as it generally takes more calories to maintain a higher body temperature).

None of this means that I have a "magic number," but it does suggest that there's more to the calorie question than simple math would suggest. Not only are all calories NOT equal, there's a point at which cutting calories more drastically doesn't yield more dramatic results, and that sometimes increasing calories actually CAN help you lose more weight (just one possible cause aside from the ones I've alluded to, is having more energy for exercise. When I eat too few calories, I do get fatigued more easily, so eating more also can allow me to burn more perhaps not just on physical movement, but maybe immune function and other processes I have no way to measure).

What it really means is that all of us are left with mostly trial and error. We probably need to experiment to find the balance that works best for us, emotionally and physiologically. Cutting calories isn't the only answer. Changeing the nutrient balance, experimenting with different exercise/activity levels, even our sleep habits can affect our weight loss.

I may not have gotten this far, if I hadn't accidentally lost weight after sleep apnea treatment. My doctors told me I'd probably lose some weight without even trying, just from getting better sleep. That sounded like nonsense to me, because I'd never in my life "accidentally" lost weight, but sure enough I lost 20 lbs without even trying over the course of about 6 to 8 months.

This was at a time in my life when I had given up on weight loss. I had decided that dieting had only ever resulted in me being fatter than ever before, so I was very hesitant to get back on the diet rollercoaster.

Instead of getting back on the diet rollercoaster by drastically cutting calories, I decided to focus on "not gaining... and while I was at it trying to lose maybe just one more pound." This gradual change has resulted in slow progress, but progress that's lasted longer and acheived more than any of my previous thousands of attempts over more than three decades.

I'm still experimenting, and I'm still constantly amazed at the sometimes surprising and completely unexpected results.

I try to be unbiased and logical in my assumptions, though I'm sure I've reached some false conclusions. I can't do double-blind, randomized research on myself - so what I'm doing isn't science, but the science doesn't have a lot to offer me yet (not that I haven't learned a great deal from the existing scientific research - it just isn't yet able to explain why I've experienced what I have). Until science catches up, and can predict weight loss success better, most of us are just going to have to continue to experiment on ourselves, and try to be scientist and lab rat.

It isn't "good science" but sometimes it's all you've got.

LockItUp
05-15-2012, 10:13 PM
So... 'starvation mode' or not, difficulty losing weight because of too FEW calories is real.

I don't assert it is a made up thing at all, just that its overuse as an answer to anyone whose weight loss has stalled for even mere days, is just not the case for every single person all the time as it is so often said to be (especially on the site I talked about in my OP). We probably do agree, just wanted to make sure I wasn't misunderstood.

linJber
05-15-2012, 10:14 PM
Does anyone watch "Survivor?" It's only 39 days and those folks all lose weight like they were on the Biggest Loser. Even the ones who are very fit to begin with. That is certainly a situation where "starvation mode" would come into play if it were a valid principle of weight loss. People want to believe there is a reason they can control when their weight loss doesn't happen they way they want or expect it to. Would we all go into starvation mode the day before surgery or a colonoscopy? NO, we don't!

In my case, I never plateaued in 8 1/2 months. I never did much in the way of mixing it up with how many calories I ate per day. I hit the classes at the gym in the same order pretty much every week. There was very little variety to what I did. Many might suggest that I would not have been successful because I didn't calorie cycle and I didn't change up my workouts. But that wasn't my experience. I agree wholeheartedly that unless there are medical reasons, eating fewer calories and exercising more will result in weight loss. I'll even go so far as to say it will result in significant and steady weight loss.

Slowed metabolism, starvation mode, all these concepts just add to the confusion and we allow it because we want there to be a reason if our weight loss slows or is not what we expected. If skipping breakfast slowed one's metabolism significantly, I would have been overweight as a teen. I NEVER ate breakfast when I was in my teens. No reason other than I was usually running late for school. I didn't starve before lunch, and my weight held steady all through those years. I started gaining when I started eating anything and everything with wild abandon. period.

Lin

wannaliveforhim
05-15-2012, 11:44 PM
Ah yes... the old "Starvation Mode" threat! :) It's a hot topic and brought up umpteen times per week on the Weight Watcher boards where I frequent... and <<yawn>> has really grown to bore me!!

First of all... if the threat that so many lay claim to behind the "starvation mode" myth was real, (that being that if you eat less than "X" amount of calories, your body will STOP losing weight, and that you MUST eat to lose weight!) then can someone please tell me... how could anorexics get so thin??

Additionally, how could anyone starve to death?? I mean... according to their theory, the body should just magically STOP this from happening, right? :-)

Hmmm... and what about the individuals who undergo gastric bypass surgery, and then consume only 700 to 900 calories per day, yet still manage to lose weight??

This one, like many myths produce more FEAR than anything... and we all know that most times, FEAR is simply-

False
Evidence
Appearing
Real

dstalksalot
05-16-2012, 12:03 AM
I don't know about "starvation mode", but I do know that when I eat regularly at my BMR, I am a much happier camper. I don't know how any one can sustain a calerie rate below their BMR with out being a tired hungry grouch.

novangel
05-16-2012, 12:13 AM
Good to know, John. Thank you. :)

JohnP
05-16-2012, 12:39 AM
This is obviously a hot topic and I'm not bothering to read all the responses... all I can say is that from my experience, I think your body holding onto fat CAN happen... though 'starvation mode' was never something my nutritionist mentioned specifically and I'm sure there is a lot more to it, having to do with chemical/hormonal imabalances and the like. I was doing 45 minutes of intense cardio 4-5 days per week on 1000 calories per day, and couldn't lose a pound. I finally saw a nutritionist and he upped my calories to 1200-1400, and I finally lost 15 pounds in three months. So... 'starvation mode' or not, difficulty losing weight because of too FEW calories is real.

Change that single word from fat to weight and I would agree with you.

There is a big difference between fat and weight loss.

Euphy
05-16-2012, 12:47 AM
Yeah, I am pretty worn out on the whole "starvation mode" and "calorie counting" opinions. It's very confusing.

I just wonder if not eating breakfast really slows your metabolism for the day or not.
I don't eat breakfast. I'm starving all day if I eat breakfast, so I usually just have my coffee, then I eat around noon. Plus I take thyroid medicine in the morning, and I want it to be fully in my system before I eat. I feel like 30-45 minutes isn't enough.

kaplods
05-16-2012, 01:54 AM
... if the threat that so many lay claim to behind the "starvation mode" myth was real, (that being that if you eat less than "X" amount of calories, your body will STOP losing weight, and that you MUST eat to lose weight!) then can someone please tell me... how could anorexics get so thin??


This is a common misunderstanding of the "starvation mode" evidence. Starvation mode is not about preventing starvation, it's about slowing the process.

The longevity of the average (and unusually long-lived) anorexics are actually often used to support the evidence of starvation mode. Anorexia victims often do lose weight until they starve to death, but many survive much longer than can be attributed to by an unimpaired metabolism. It's not a mystery that anorexics starve to death, but it is a mystery as to how some of them can take so long to do it.

If you take someone who has never been on a single diet and stop feeding them, they will tend (on average) starve to death much sooner than a person of the same weight who has a history of yoyo dieting or bulimic behavior.

In theory, anorexics should die just as fast... but they don't (well some of them do, but many of them don't). Instead, what often happens is that the body stops "wasting" energy (calories) on "unnecessary" processes. First the anorexic will lose their hair, but then later they will develop a downy fur-like covering of hair all over their body (the prevailing theory is that the body does this to preserve body heat... so that fewer calories need to be spent on maintaining a safe body temperature... body temperature also tends to drop several degrees. This isn't great for the body for several reasons, but it does prolong the starvation process. This is starvation mode (survival mode would be a better term - because starvation is not prevented only postponed/prolonged).






Additionally, how could anyone starve to death?? I mean... according to their theory, the body should just magically STOP this from happening, right? :-)


Again, because "starvation mode" doesn't prevent starvation, it only delays/prolongs it. There's nothing magical about metabolic decline. The medical community understands many incidents and ways in which metabolism can slow (and that's all starvation mode is.... slowed metabolism. There seems to be a great variation among individuals, and genetics may be involved. Some people may have inherited very resilient metabolism that slow and speed up as the environment warrants. Or perhaps environmental triggers account for the difference... but many of these metabolic changes are well understood... some are not).




Hmmm... and what about the individuals who undergo gastric bypass surgery, and then consume only 700 to 900 calories per day, yet still manage to lose weight??


Again, this reflects a misunderstanding of starvation mode. Starvation mode doesn't prevent starvation/weight loss, it only slows the process. And people who have gastric bypass do lose weight, but not at the speed that one would expect if their metabolism was not trying to compensate.

And again, there's a lot of difference from person to person. Two people with the same starting weight, same surgery, and same diet/calorie intake can lose weight at very different paces. Some lose extremely rapidly, some do not.

And another way in which gastric bypass patients experiences actually support "starvation" (or survival) mode is the number of patients who gain all their weight back and sometimes even more.

Because of the amount of digestive system removed, it should be virtually impossible for a person to regain all of the weight after surgery (and for many of the surgeries, up to 60% of patients regain all their weight if not more). In theory, if metabolism were NOT adversely affected, there would be no way to explain this weight gain (at least not without the person eating tons more than they did before the surgery) (because the rerouting of the digestive system prevents many nutrients and calories from being absorbed).

But that's not what happens. The person doesn't return to their pre-surgery eating. Their eating habits backslide partially, but their weight backslides totally (and sometimes more). Their "new" post-surgery metabolism is often much slower than their pre-surgery metabolism. THIS is evidence of "survival mode."

Starvation mode makes it sound like a person becomes starvation-proof, and they don't. Deprive people of food long enough and severely enough and eventually they die... but take dozens of people of the same weight and fat/muscle rations and starve them to the same degree and some will take weeks to die. Some will take months to die. And some will take years to die. "Survival Mode" may explain why some people die quickly, and some die slowly on the same diet.

The medical researchers understand some of the mechanisms by which metabolism can slow to prolong survival (which is why survival mode is a better description than starvation mode), and others are a mystery. Some believe the traits are inherited, others believe they are triggered by the environment (others argue that both a genetic trait and a triggering event in the environment are needed).


All this does not mean "eat more" is valid advice for all weight loss stalls, but there's ample evidence that the calories out portion of the equation is just as variable as the calories in. You can control your calorie intake, but it's much harder to control your calorie expenditures, especially since you can't choose to force your body to spend calories on body temperature or immune function.

There's a lot more variability in weight loss experience than can be accounted for without metabolic conservation of some kind occuring. Maybe starvation mode is not the best name for it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Arctic Mama
05-16-2012, 02:47 AM
That was an excellent rebuttal, Kaplods! Saved my fingers to have you take it on and type it ;)

170starting
05-16-2012, 07:16 AM
This was a very informative thread. Thank you everyone. :hug:

tricon7
05-16-2012, 08:22 AM
Like I've said before, this would be a great metabolic process if it were true. Someone would make millions in book sales with that slogan. "Lose weight.....by eating more!" But I have my suspicions that this myth is propagated by those who really don't know anything about dieting or have not been successful at it and haven't seen results. Perhaps this fallacy is perpetuated by those who don't want to eat less.

It's just a biological fact - if one expends more calories than one brings in, one will lose/burn fat. How is it that no fat is used if there's a calorie deficit? Where would the body be getting its fuel? All the free and stored carbs (not stored fat) have already been used up at that point. There's only one other source of fuel (and it won't be the muscles, since the body uses its fuel in a sequential process - glucose, stored glycogen, fat, muscle).

More on the "starvation mode" myth.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2144989/Diet-tips-Cut-300-calories-good-youll-pile-pounds-straight-on.html

JossFit
05-16-2012, 09:37 AM
http://www.burnthefat.com/starvation_mode.html

shapedself
05-16-2012, 09:43 AM
http://caloriecount.about.com/forums/weight-loss/truth-starvation-mode


Nice post here about it, particularly Lyle McDonald's commentary.

ELBS717
05-16-2012, 10:25 AM
Good call JohnP, you're right. "Weight" would have been more appropriate there than "fat."

Beach Patrol
05-16-2012, 10:38 AM
What I know for sure is this:

I didn't get up to 192 lb by "not eating enough".

Arctic Mama
05-16-2012, 11:11 AM
Shapedself and Jossfit both included excellent articles in their posts - if someone breezed by the links I highly recommend they backtrack and take a gander.

freelancemomma
05-16-2012, 11:22 AM
Does anyone watch "Survivor?" It's only 39 days and those folks all lose weight like they were on the Biggest Loser. Even the ones who are very fit to begin with. That is certainly a situation where "starvation mode" would come into play if it were a valid principle of weight loss. People want to believe there is a reason they can control when their weight loss doesn't happen they way they want or expect it to. Would we all go into starvation mode the day before surgery or a colonoscopy? NO, we don't!

In my case, I never plateaued in 8 1/2 months. I never did much in the way of mixing it up with how many calories I ate per day. I hit the classes at the gym in the same order pretty much every week. There was very little variety to what I did. Many might suggest that I would not have been successful because I didn't calorie cycle and I didn't change up my workouts. But that wasn't my experience. I agree wholeheartedly that unless there are medical reasons, eating fewer calories and exercising more will result in weight loss. I'll even go so far as to say it will result in significant and steady weight loss.

Slowed metabolism, starvation mode, all these concepts just add to the confusion and we allow it because we want there to be a reason if our weight loss slows or is not what we expected. If skipping breakfast slowed one's metabolism significantly, I would have been overweight as a teen. I NEVER ate breakfast when I was in my teens. No reason other than I was usually running late for school. I didn't starve before lunch, and my weight held steady all through those years. I started gaining when I started eating anything and everything with wild abandon. period.

Lin

I agree 100% with this post. Tall, short, fat or thin, we can't defeat the laws of thermodynamics.

F.

freelancemomma
05-16-2012, 11:28 AM
<<Starvation mode doesn't prevent starvation/weight loss, it only slows the process. >>

I think this is key. A lot of people maintain that you actually STOP losing weight if you go below a certain amount of calories. From what I've read and experienced, you don't stop, you just lose less quickly than expected from your calorie intake.

F.

Amarantha2
05-16-2012, 11:34 AM
I agree both with the original poster and with this post I am quoting from JohnP.

And to kick in yet another of my opinions lol, I think the idea of net calories (e.g., that you can eat back some number of calories that you theoretically have exercised off and thus lose weight) is not a good idea at all, because while it may be true and I believe it is true that weight comes down to calories in/calories out, a lot of factors go into that. Plus, you can theorize and measure and use devices, etc., but it is very hard, IMO, to get an exact number that represents how many calories an individual is burning doing exercise.

In truth - starvation mode is real. Just not in the context that most people use it.

When you're truly starving yourself your body will start to shut down non essential functions and/or wack out your hormones. Amenorrhea is one common way women can experience this.

JossFit
05-16-2012, 11:35 AM
<<Starvation mode doesn't prevent starvation/weight loss, it only slows the process. >>

I think this is key. A lot of people maintain that you actually STOP losing weight if you go below a certain amount of calories. From what I've read and experienced, you don't stop, you just lose less quickly than expected from your calorie intake.

F.


Not only that, but so many people start to say "I've gained weight... is it starvation mode?!"

Does that make ANY sense to anyone? Really??

kaplods
05-16-2012, 12:08 PM
Unfortunately, because "starvation mode" is poorly understood, and considered controversial, the sides of the debate end up polarized, and extreme (and sometimes ridiculous) arguments are thrown about rather than the middle-ground truth that the scientifically gathered evidence would support.

Instead of saying metabolic slowing is possible and can happen to some people in very specific circumstances, the argument instead becomes "it never happens in any circumstances to anybody, ever" vs "it happens all the time and can happen to anyone, anytime, at the smallest provocation, such as one missed meal, or eating 100 calories less than one "should."

There's no magic to metabolic slowing, it just means there's a point of diminishing returns. Just because 1500 calories works well for you (lets assume for sake of argument) it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll lose much more on1000 calories (that is you may not lose the full pound more you "should" if metabolism were unaffected).

It would be great if survival mode didn't exist, that is if metabolism weren't affected by severe calorie restriction, because that would mean that to lose weight, we could simply stop eating altogether until we reached our desired weight. Then when re reached our goal weight, we could just start eating again. And we could do it over and over again without impacting our metabolism.

Nice theory, but doesn't seem to work in reality that way. There's been some studies that has found that dieters, especially chronic dieters require fewer calories to maintain their weights than people with no dieting history. Some debate existed as to whether these people (the veteran dieters) always had had slower metabolism or whether the dieting actually was responsible. More recent evidence suggests that the metabolic decline is the result of the dieting (and may be permanent, there haven't been enough long-term studies to know how long the metabolic slow-down lasts. That too may vary tremendously from individual to individual).

Dismissing the survival mode evidence is just as dangerous as believing it accounts for every weight loss stall and the solution to weight loss stalls are always "increase calories," but likewise the solution to stalled or slower-than-wished-for weight loss is not necessarily "eat less." Sometimes "work smarter," is the solution rather than "work harder."


Also a simple "increase calories" is rarely going to be sufficient if a person is eating too little. Instead the advice is more like, "eat a little more, so that you can exercise a lot more."

If we believe that our metabolic rate never changes then calorie intake is all that's important. You don't have to get good sleep. You don't have to reduce stress. You don't have to exercise more (you can, but you don't have to) you just have to eat less.

But eating is only one part of the equation, and starvation diets affect both sides of the equation. Perhaps the simplest of restriction effects on metabolism can be explained just by simple fatigue. If you cut calories too drastically, severe fatigue is a very common side effect. It can be difficult to exercise or even be reasonably active with this kind of fatigue.

So if eating 200 calories more can help you burn an extra 400 calories, you can come out ahead.

Will eating 200 calories more help you burn an extra 400? There's no way to tell except my experimenting.

I was extremely surprised to learn that cutting 500 calories didn't always result in losing an extra pound each week (or even averaged out over the course of several months). Ever since I understood the math in high school, I wanted to assume that metabolism was a constant - but it isn't. The calorie out part of the question is variable, and to find the variables you have to experiment (the research evidence suggests that stress, sleep quality/quantity, calorie restriction, unbalanced diet, activity level, genetics... are some of the variables that can affect the calorie-out part of the equation).

It would be awesome if metabolism were a constant, but it just isn't.

Yes it's true that most people don't get fat from eating too little, however that doesn't mean that eating 500 calories is better (and one pound per week better) than eating 1000 calories. There's a point of diminishing returns in which cutting calories further doesn't yield much if any advantage (and can have significant deleterious effects).

"Eat more" isn't a solution unless it allows and encourages you to also "move more."

sontaikle
05-16-2012, 12:24 PM
I never know where to stand on this. We're much too complex to fit into boxes and categories and say that one thing is 100% true for everyone.

Can you waste away? Of course! We know this. Our bodies are complicated though and generally will find ways to combat whatever curveballs we tend to throw at it.

I'll offer up myself as an example, but not necessarily as proof of "starvation mode" but that a lower calorie count can result in metabolic slowdown.

When I hit 125 pounds I decided I was done losing weight. I immediately increased my calories by about 400-500 per day. I lost weight even faster. Not immediately mind you, but I did drop 5 pounds very quickly! I was shocked.

I also noticed that I was no longer freezing all the time. I am still colder than when I was 200ish pounds, but in weight loss mode I was always chilled to the bone. Now I am forgoing jackets on cold days like I did when I was at my starting weight.

This is all anecdotal of course, so make of it what you will. Another person could certainly do exactly what I did and experience something else entirely.

freelancemomma
05-16-2012, 12:54 PM
<<So if eating 200 calories more can help you burn an extra 400 calories, you can come out ahead.>>

Good point.

F.

freelancemomma
05-16-2012, 12:57 PM
<<I also noticed that I was no longer freezing all the time. >>

I had a similar experience: cold all the time while losing weight and for about three months after reaching maintenance. Then all of a sudden my internal thermostat returned to normal. I take this to mean that I experienced a metabolic slowdown that took three months of maintenance eating to reverse itself.

F.