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Starvation Mode - Is it real?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Ever wondered how people start eating more food and then start losing weight? Well the good news is it’s not magic or a gimmick, its actual science.

I am sure you have heard of a term when dieting called “Starvation” mode. What people mean when they mention this is essentially a weight-loss plateau. The theory behind “Starvation mode” is that if you bring your calories too low your body refuses to lose any more weight as it needs what’s left to survive and not die.

Now this isn’t 100% wrong, there is some truth buried in there. If you bring your calories to quite a low (relative) amount over an extended period of time then yes, your body will fight you in losing bodyweight. However, this is not because your body is fighting starvation.

Basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy per unit of time that a person needs to keep the body functioning at rest. Some of those processes are breathing, blood circulation, controlling body temperature, cell growth, brain and nerve function, and contraction of muscles

What is happening here is a process called Metabolic Adaptation. What metabolic adaptation is, is the process of your metabolism adapting to the amount of calories coming in each day, essentially becoming super-efficient at what it does. What this process does is down regulates things like your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis).

NEAT is the energy required for your body to perform functions like breathing, walking etc. Actions which require no thinking about that you automatically do. Essentially your body becomes stupidly effective and thus requires LESS energy to perform all these actions.

Because your body becomes so efficient here this means that what you previously thought was a caloric deficit may no longer be, hence your weight-loss plateau. In theory you could just keep eating less and less and keep losing weight, HOWEVER there are some diminishing returns with this. At this sort of low point you will find that you struggle to have enough energy to even get off the couch, let alone exercise.

Now there are some strategies we can use to help avoid this. Two strategies I use are Diet Breaks and Reverse Dieting. But those are for another post.


Article written by Timothy Steward

· UFQ Strength & Conditioning Coach

· UFQ Sports Nutritionist

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