Is “STARVATION MODE” Really a Thing?
“Hey Stef, I’m really trying to lose weight but I haven’t seen barely any progress… My trainer told me I’m probably in starvation mode and that my body is just holding onto the fat.”
I’m not here to offend anyone, but the short answer is NO, you are NOT in starvation mode.
Starvation mode is a theory that has gained more popularity than it deserves. It posits that putting yourself in an extreme caloric deficit can backfire and actually encourage your body to hold onto or even gain more weight.
Don’t take this personally, but that is impossible. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: weight loss comes down to achieving a caloric deficit; if you are truly ingesting fewer calories than you are burning, there will be weight loss. To be blunt, claiming that you are in starvation mode is to be pretty ignorant of the people around the world and throughout history who were actually starving. If starvation mode was real, why didn’t it work for them? (e.g. Minnesota starvation study)
The concept of “starvation mode” probably stemmed from something that is actually a real phenomenon known as “adaptive thermogenesis.” This is when your body will intentionally slow down its metabolic processes in the face of significant weight loss. As we lose mass, our resting metabolic rate naturally reduces since a smaller body burns fewer calories at rest than a bigger body. This is literally our body looking out for us by diminishing the odds of withering away when there isn’t food readily available.
Don’t get too excited-- this reduction isn’t enough to significantly slow or halt weight loss altogether-- and it DEFINITELY isn’t powerful enough to cause you to rapidly gain weight. At the most, it may require you to mildly adjust your eating habits in order to continue to lose weight at the same rate.
“So then why am I not losing weight, Stef?! I’m doing everything!”
Take a deep breath. It can get frustrating when the numbers you’re entering into your food and exercise logs appear to be yielding a caloric deficit, yet you’re not seeing the measurable changes you set out for. But it is crucial that we acknowledge the fact that humans tend to drastically overestimate our physical activity and underestimate our daily caloric intake-- by as much as 50%. This makes sense-- seemingly irrelevant or “forgotten” little “snacks” and “bites” throughout the day can add up, and activity trackers can be very inaccurate in reporting how many calories we burn during a workout or from day to day.
I hear your frustration. I suggest that you head back to the drawing board and closely assess your calorie intake and expenditure. Try to be as objective as possible with yourself, and don’t fall back on senseless claims of “starvation mode.” If you need help, our Hybrid Nutrition coaches can help you sort through the B.S. and find a sustainable way to achieve a caloric deficit and reach your personal goals.
I hope this video helped. Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts on “starvation mode.”