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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Starvation Mode Myth, Protein and Water

It is time to remind myself of the facts. Yesterday I received a very well-meant comment that suggested to increase my calorie intake. I know the person means well and I truly appreciate it. I really do! I have been misguided by the "starvation mode" theory for a long time... but in the end it has no scientific proof and is considered a "myth"

That's why it is important to remember the fact that we can't lose more weight by eating more calories/food.

It doesn't work that way!

Now, in regard to the "starvation" mode, someone who has extra body weight and body fat is not in any "starvation mode" where they need to 'kick start" their metabolism by eating more calories. You can not "eat more" calories to force your body to "lose weight".  
In regard to metabolism, if you are overweight/overfat, you can not cause your metabolism to decrease below a level needed to lose weight while you have extra weight/fat on you, and you can not "lose more weight by eating more calories/food." This is a misunderstanding of the principles of metabolism that does not apply to overweight people trying to lose weight.
Let's say we look at someone who says they are only eating only 800 calories and not losing weight.  A well meaning and good intentioned friend (or professional) has told them they are in starvation mode and in order to lose weight and/or kick-start their metabolism, they need to eat more.    But, what if instead of eating more, what do you think would happen if instead they just stopped eating altogether?Would they go further into starvation mode and continue to stay at the same weight or maybe even "gain" weight? 

Clearly, they would lose more weight if they stopped eating altogether.

We all know (especially those who are familiar with fasting) that if you were to stop eating completely and just live on pure water, you would start to lose weight almost instantly and would continue to do so.  
But according to this theory of the "starvation mode," if you were really in it and you fasted, by its own rational you would lose less weight if any at all, not more. We know this is not accurate.

The idea that "not eating enough" causes the body to stop losing weight because it goes into "starvation mode" is a popular myth among dieters.
Restricting calories during weight loss lowers metabolism1 because the body becomes more efficient, requiring fewer calories to perform the necessary daily functions for survival. Consequently, this can slow (but not stop) the anticipated rate of weight loss.
For example, if an individual needs 2,000 calories per day to maintain weight, reducing intake to 1,500 calories, assuming exercise stays the same, should provide a 1 pound per week weight loss (Note: 1 pound of weight is equivalent to about 3,500 calories). Furthermore, reducing to 1,000 calories should result in a weight loss of 2 pounds per week and going down to 500 calories a day should result in a weight loss of 3 pounds per week. However, if an individual actually reduces their intake to 500 calories, the weight loss would not likely be a steady 3 pounds per week because of the reduced metabolic rate. It would likely be around 2¼ to 2½ pounds. This "lower than expected" rate of weight loss is a lot different than "no" weight loss as the "starvation mode" notion proposes.

There are many more interesting articles on the "starvation mode myth" (This one is written by someone that also had WLS)

Now, to apply all of this to myself...

I am actually very happy that I can eat less than 1000 calories... this would never be possible without the band because I would be cranky and starving and miserable all day long. Now I can eat less than 1000 calories and I feel great, satisfied, I am full of energy and I have many happy moments because I am feeling well. And on top of that I have enough energy to work out every day and get even more energy out of it instead of feeling like "I need a nap".

I am not saying to stop eating, but there is nothing wrong with watching calories and to create a calorie deficit that will make us lose weight faster. I am not at a point where 1 pound a week satisfies me... I want to lose at least 2 pounds a week! 2.5 pounds would be even better! And I am willing to work for it!

No matter how much we hate the fact that 3500 calories equal one 1 pound....  it is still a fact and I know by paying close attention to my calorie deficit I will drop that 30 pounds to reach ONEderland.

Do I plan on counting calories for eternity? Hell, no! But when times get tough and weight loss slows down it is very helpful to evaluate the calorie intake.

I got to a point where I seriously asked myself... "Why did I get the band" and the answer is simple, because I am sick and tired of being fat, overweight, chubby or whatever you want to call it. I refuse to live like this and it is up to me to make it happen.

And I will make it happen! 

Thanks for reading, I really had to get this off my chest and I need everyone to remember that the "Starvation Mode theory" is not a scientific fact! So please do not eat more calories just because you are afraid to stop losing weight.

@Barbara, Thanks for your comment! I have to agree with you, protein is very important. I always aim for at least 80g of protein per day. I usually drink a shake with 2 scoops of protein powder (23 g of protein each), soy milk, fresh or frozen berries and some flax seed in the morning and that adds up to 50 g of protein. I can't eat solids in the mornings but breakfast is important. If I do not drink a shake I eat oatmeal or kashi high protein/high fiber cereal but then I would also drink a bottle of isopure (40g of Protein) to make up for the protein.

Lunch is either something like egg or tuna with salad greens and herbs and dinner fish/chicken/beef with veggies. I rarely drop below 80g of protein per day. On most days I consume more than 80g.

And in regards to water... I drink between 4-5 Liters of Water each day, 3-4 (large cups) of coffee during the day and 2-3 (large cups) of green or herbal tea at night.

So and now I got myself all greedy for more weight loss and will jump on my elleptical trainer and burn me some more calories.

No idea what is causing the plateau... but I will break it... I will not give up!

And here are my GoWear Fit statistics for yesterday! (click to enlarge)

Happy Weekend to all of you!


  1. Thanks so much for this post! I always wondered when people said you should increase calories to lose weight. It never made sense to me. I am consuming around 1200-1300 a day but haven't had a fill yet. Once I've had a fill I'm planning on consuming no more than 1000 a day. I have not lost any weight since the week I was banded (5 weeks ago) consuming this many calories does not work for me. I have also started exercising at least 40 min. a day with C25K program and still have not lost any weight. So I DEFINITELY need the band to help me with calorie restriction and need to be at 1000 or less a day to lose.
    Thanks again for this great post!

  2. And it's nice to see another Californian on here!! Are you going to Chicago?

  3. Hi! I just started following your blog, and I really liked this post. Sometimes I think we tend to start mystifying weight loss. Your post is correct. Calorie deficit=weight loss.

  4. Really interesting post. I actually brought this up with my surgeon when I saw him last week. Both he and the P.A. told me to up my caloric intake but via protein hoping that it would speed up my weight loss a little bit.

    And even though I tend to agree with these articles regarding the starvation mode "myth", I do have to wonder where the loss of muscle mass would play into it. For instance, if you aren't eating enough calories that are protein based, your muscle isn't building right? In fact, you can be losing muscle mass. Isn't that what muscle atrophy is? And then, in turn, isn't it true that the less muscle mass you have, the less calories you will burn? So even though I get that the 'starvation mode' causes a stall in weight loss isn't really based on science, I feel like these articles aren't taking EVERYTHING into account i.e. how much protien are the people in the studies eating? How much of it is soluable vs. insoluable? How much muscle mass do they have? How much did they lose during their low caloric intake?

    I mean, there are alot of things that don't have 'scientific' backing that still seem 'real' and seem to happen. I know that in my first two weeks post surgery, I only lost like 5 pounds. I was eating very few calories, although most of them protein. I was exercising the same I am now with walking and yet when I upped my calories to 1000 or 1200 per day, getting in my protein, suddenly I dropped another 9 pounds. Tru dat, ya know?

  5. It is true, the Starvation Myth is just that- a myth.

    BUT, I think for many people it is also true that if you "shake up" your metabolism by eating more for a day or two, then go back to a much lower level, this will sometimes kick-start your weight loss. I know this has happened for me too many times to discount it. This used to be my way of getting through WW. When my body got used to the exact same number of calories every single day, I would plateau. Then I would eat more on the weekend, go back to my WW plan, and lose. Remember "Wendy's Plan" on WW? That is where you would alternate your high and low points on different days.

    So, in a way it works, but only if the "higher calorie" days are rare occurences.

    Also, I think there are some studies that go the other way. But yes, if you eat close to nothing you will lose weight eventually! If you eat 1000 calories a day you will lose eventually! Still, it can't hurt to try shaking things up every once in a while to "trick" your metabolism.

    And I really hate to say it, but a 2 lb loss every week is pretty unrealistic. When we talk about a 2 lb loss I think it is an average - including the first weesk when we would lose 5 or more pounds per week. There are going to be weeks when your body just will not let go of the weight - it will eventually, but not every single week.

    Then again, what do I know - on Biggest Loser they sure do lose more than 2 lbs a week every single week! (yeah they work out for 7 hours a day 7 days a week, but it is possible!)

  6. I know that without a doubt, I lose when I restrict my calories into the below 1000 range. I also know, again, without a doubt, that that range isn't sustainable for me, and the moment I popped out of it - say a glass of champagne at a friends bday, half the weight I loss during a week of very low calories would pop back on. I think it's a precarious balance.

  7. Thanks so much for the articles. They are very informative. Unfortunately, part of the problem with weight loss information is that there is so much contradictory information out in the health community. The reason people say you should eat more to avoid starvation mode is because there are articles/physicians that say this is what you should do. I think the cold, hard truth is that everybody is different, depending on muscle mass, height, weight, metabolic rate, exercise, genetics, etc. I know that personally I have broken out of plateaus when I've alternated calorie intake between the low to high range. However, this obviously doesn't work for everybody. I think the most effective tool with weight loss is documentation so you can see what you've done that works and then what doesn't. I also don't think anyone disputes that muscle, while weighing more than fat, burns more calories and is another good way to increase caloric burn.

  8. I guess I should read all the comments before I post one. Basically just said what Gen and Sherry said. Anyway, at least you know I read your post and will do better reading the comments. :-) Sorry I had nothing new to add.

  9. omg. I forgot about "Wendy's Plan". Only those of us who have done WW over 1000 times know that one...

  10. I guess I look at it that we really can't be in starvation mode if our bodys still have a bunch of fat on them. I have to agree the body isn't stupid. If it can't get food through the mouth it will use what is stored. And we have a lot stored. I think upping the protein and making sure we get enough is the best advice. That way the body will use the extra fat and not our muscles for energy.

    Thanks for something to think about. You made my list of posts to think about.

  11. Very interesting--thanks for posting this. I've been one who has bought into the idea of adding more calories to ramp up my weight loss. But, in retrospect, the only time in my life I lost a ton of weight (about 55 pounds), I did it by basically fasting, eating very few calories daily. I don't advocate this at all--it's very unhealthy, but the fact is, I ate fewer calories and DID lose weight. Of course, once I started eating again, I gained it all back and more.

  12. I totally agree with this post and have never understood how people would say eat more to lose weight. People with anorexia dont stop losing weight BUT I have had only 600 cals a day for over a week and gained 4.5 pounds so there must be some other reason for this unless it is all going to come off next week? Fingers crossed. Thanks for the info.

  13. I stumbled on your post while looking for information on "starvation mode." I've recently been banded and was on message boards trying to figure it all out. People seemed to be insisting that you need to eat more to lose more. This didn't seem right at all. One lady even told me I need to eat when I'm not hungry. I thought, well isn't that what made me fat in the first place? I quit those message boards. I really appreciate you for putting it in perspective. I usually have between 600-900 calories a day while still getting enough protein and I feel satisfied. I don't want to eat more than that and I couldn't if I tried. I no longer feel like I'm doing something wrong. Thank you.

  14. I had lap band December 2009 and I have found that unless I have a protein shake in the morning, I can not eat all day and get sick. Does anyone else have this? Why is this?

  15. I was searching about the starvation mode and ironically this post came up from yrs ago. It definitely helped me because as I only ate 600 calories today and my fitness pal screamed at me, I get so worried I am not eating enough. I am so happy to have stumbled upon this old post.