Have I gone into starvation or survival mode because I'm eating less than 1200 calories per day & I can't lose weight?

No & Here's 5 reasons why…

1. The Minnesota starvation experiment

In the Minnesota starvation experiment 36 men where placed on a very low 1570 calorie starvation diet (which is equal to about 1200 calories for women) and they were also required to walk 3+ miles per day and…

All of the men in that experiment kept losing weight week after week and they didn't stop losing weight until they got very skinny or until they got down to 5% body fat or basically…

They kept losing weight until they looked like this…

starvation or survival mode

I'm not showing you that picture to shock you but I'm showing you that picture to prove to you that you don't go into survival or starvation mode because no matter how little you eat…

2. Read this excerpt from popular science magazine…

In that extreme case he lost almost 300 pounds in ONE Year eating nothing (ZERO calories) so if you cant lose weight eating less than 1200-to-1500 calories per day…

Then you obviously need to double and triple check your calorie counts to make sure you're eating the right amount to lose fat.

3. Your body does not hold onto fat

Your body will NEVER stop burning fat until it's need for energy is balanced out so…

Look at the chart below to help you better understand exactly how weight loss, weight gain and maintaining your current weight works…

lose, gain or maintain weight

So…

I'm not saying you'll maintain all of your muscle mass as you lose weight but usually…

4. You don't always lose weight fast

Look at the picture above again but for example…

Does this mean you are in starvation or survival mode?

Of course not and here's what happening in this example…

Once you get to 130 pounds or even 149 pounds your metabolism no longer needs to burn 2000 calories to maintain your weight because as you lose weight…

Your metabolism burns less calories to help you maintain your new weight (simply because it takes less energy to take care of a smaller body) so once you reach 130 pounds in this example…

Does this mean your metabolism has slowed down so much that you can't lose anymore weight and you're stuck at 130 pounds?

NOPE &…

This is exactly what happens on any weight loss plan…

Look at it this way…

5. Is it possible to stop gaining weight?

Let's say you ate a HUGE amount of calories everyday and let's say for this example you're eating 10,000 calories per day so…

Do you think after you gain 10 pounds that your body is going to go into some type of "mode" to prevent you from gaining weight?

NO &…

Even if it did where would all the excess energy or calories go? Would you crap it out? Not likely and if you did eat 10,000 calories per day…

Then yes there would be a point where you'd stop gaining weight and…

That would be when your metabolism starts to burn 10,000 calories per day right after you've gained 100, 200, 300 or 500+ pounds!

But the bottom line is this…

If you're eating less than 1200 calories per day then your metabolism will never get SO SLOW that you'll go into "starvation or survival mode" and not burn any fat so…

If you're hardly losing any weight on a VLCD or less than 1200 calories then…

See why you can't lose weight and/or look at how to break out of a weight loss plateau but There's really only 5 things you can do…

  1. You can exercise more.
  2. You can exercise harder.
  3. You can double check your food journal to make sure you actually are eating less than 1200 calories and…
  4. 9 times out of 10 if you claim that you can't lose weight on less than 1200 calories then usually…

    You're not tracking how much you eat correctly and you're underestimating how much you actually eat so make sure you're using a food journal and that you know how to count calories

  5. You can eat even less than 1200 calories but that's probably not a good idea - see why.
  6. Be more patient (see #3 again) because your weight loss starts out real fast and it progressively gets slower and slower as you get closer to your weight loss goal.

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1-35 of 180 Comments
Isabelle

I may have misunderstood this article but from what I read I disagree that starvation mode is a myth! I am in that mode and have been for some time. 4 years ago I started gradually increasing my physical activity and decreasing my food intake. My metabolism would quickly adapt and so I had to continue this cycle.. At some point, simply to maintain my fit figure I would do a 1hour cardio workout every morning, take 2 hour walks and eat as little as 700 calories a day! If I ate more, my body would store it as fat! For preservation purposes my body was only storing fat in my glutes and thighs! This is in no way logical, I was eating so little and exercising so much and should have been losing weight not gaining! Now that I am trying to eat normally, 1200 calories, my thighs and glutes are bigger then ever! My body was in starvation mode and is still trying to recover! It does not trust that I will get food again soon and so it holds on to as many calories as it can. My metabolism is very slow too, I can feel full on an apple and 2 tbs of peanut butter for 6 hours easily! How else could you possibly explain this? Is this not the mechanism of a starving body?

September 11, 2016

Adrian Bryant

what is your weight and height now? the myth is that your body will hold onto fat even when you're not eating at all or not as much but starvation mode does become true (somewhat) when your bodyfat is at a dangerously low level

September 11, 2016

Sara

Okay, so I've read the responses to this article and I'd like to share my experience.

I'm 5'8. I started the calorie count diet when I was weighing at 250lbs. At the time, I didn't research on the topic and had never heard of this "starvation mode." For about 3 months, I was eating 800-1000 calories per day. I lost 50lbs easily. But then it became difficult to lose more and progress was slow, so I decided to reduce the number of calories down to 500 a day. For the next couple months, I lost another 15 pounds. I wasn't happy with how slow I was losing. I began to do more research and found that it's easier to lose weight on low carb diet. Before this, I'd been eating whatever... besides sugary foods and sweets, I'd been eating bread, grains, etc. Pretty much anything that was low in calorie.

With low carb/high fat diet, I was eating over 2000 calories a day, sometimes going as high as 3000. I ate bacon, bags of nuts, anything that was fat or protein, but absolutely no sugar, no carbs. To my surprise, I lost 10 pounds while eating like a pig for 2 months. The downside was this: I was losing more hair than usual. In retrospect, if I had been taking more multivitamins, especially B vitamins like biotin, it could've been avoided. Nevertheless, I freaked out over this and stopped the diet completely. I started eating normally again, around 2000 calories that included less fats, normal protein and carbs.

It's been almost a year since and I've gained back 20lbs, which is totally my fault. I have been binging too much. I'm now back to calorie counting at 700-800 a day and hoping to lose 50lbs in the next 5 months.

I should also mention that I was not exercising while calorie counting. I did not lose muscle mass (according to my digital scale that tells muscle, water, and fat). In my opinion, you don't really go into starvation mode unless you're already skinny to begin with. If you are obese and limiting yourself to 500-800 calories a day and you're NOT losing any weight, you're doing something wrong. Most likely, you're eating more calories that you're aware of, or you have other underlying health issues like hypothyroidism.

September 07, 2016

K SINGH

The most refreshing article i read in a while! I have been doing intermittent fasting and i can personally vouch that everything in this article is absolutely spot on. People are extremely conditioned into believing this starvation mode and honestly it un-be-knowingly becomes their excuse or easy way of backing out of the diet. Even bringing up this topic to people often elicits outbursts of anger and denial that it absolutely amuses me! They are very defensive too as seen here in the comment sections! If people dont believe this article kindly google weight loss fasting studies and you find scientific proof for the facts mentioned in this article.

July 18, 2016

ally

the article mentions the minnessota starvation experiment, but it does not mention that huge part of these men developed unhealthy relationship with food, including obsessing about food, binge eating, and even bulimia and eating food from garbage bins. people, do not starve yourself, it is a way to nowhere!!! starvation always triggers primal hunger (normal defence response of the organizm), which can easily lead to binge eating. starvation and deprivation are not a way to live! nourishment and mindful eating of adequate amounts of food are the only way to set at your natural weight, be healthy, full of energy and look good (when your skin glows and hair shine). do not fight with nature!!!

June 30, 2016

ally

also... of course, if you starve you will loose weight;) no brainer. you can keep loosing until you eventually die...look at the anorexics. they can weigh 30 kg but still (slowly but surely) can go down to 25. the question is - what for???? if you eat normally, good quality food and work out there is no possibility to have excessive fat. if you drastically limit your calories, really high chances are that you will develop some form of eating disorder. is it worth to take this risk?

June 30, 2016

Adrian Bryant

yes, i think everyone realizes that going on a VLCD will probably lead to food obession, binge eating and etc. but the point of this article is to kill the myth that your body holds onto fat when you starve

June 30, 2016

Adrian Bryant

again, not advocating ultra low calorie diets. just stating that not eating or starving will not automatically cause your body to hold onto fat

June 30, 2016

ally

true. if you keep starving you keep loosing. fat, muscles, bones... if you increase calories rapidly you gain rapidly because metabolism does not have enough time to adapt. if you increase slowly (say, 100 kcal per week), you may not gain ( or gain just a little bit) - metabolism still has to adapt. i agree that people do not gain on vlcd. but they usually gain after that... which is normal. it rarely happens that after vlcd someone is actually capable to increase calories extremely slowly, because of the primal hunger triggered in the vlcd period (which basically turns you into eating machine due to the natural and normal survival instincts). especially young people with prefrontal cortex not fully developed and self control mechanisms not that efficient at all.

July 01, 2016

Adrian Bryant

the muscle and bone loss is also a MYTH BUT ONLY IF you are already lean. an extremely overweight person will not lose muscle or bones at all on a ZERO or low calorie diet because they got lots of reserve energy (FAT) on their body.

I agree with you somewhat on weight regain after VLCD and that's why I recommend you find a sustainable calorie level. for example I do great on 1500-2000 calories per day. anything lower than tht and I'll go crazy for food.

I know some people who are doing fine on 1000 cals per day

July 02, 2016

Ashley B

I totally agree with you Adrian! This makes perfect sense.

June 28, 2016

Ashaya

This is wildly inaccurate. As a final year med-student who has studied anatomy, physiology as well as taken a nutrition course I can tell you right now: If you starve yourself, your body will automatically store more of your food intake as fat, and you will initially gain weight. If you do lose weight it will only come back the minute you think you've reached your 'goal weight' and stop starving yourself. Your body will be conditioned to think each small meal is its last, and it WILL act accordingly.

June 16, 2016

Ashaya

AND know that you will stay on an endless up-down cycle when it comes to your weight numbers.
I don't think any physician in their right mind would advocate this, or any other type of health professional for that matter. Is your only data a decades old starvation experiment? What type of example is that for any diet/training regimen? These people want to be healthy, not thin to the point of anorexia. Please, educate yourself.

June 16, 2016

Adrian Bryant

So you're saying if you starve yourself and you begin to eat 1,10 or only 100 calories that your body will STORE that little amount as fat and not use any of it for the energy it desparately needs?

What do you define starving as? eating enough to maintain weight, eating only 500 cals below maintence or etc?

And you said "Your body will be conditioned to think each small meal is its last, and it WILL act accordingly." so...

Is your body going to store every meal as fat and just use your muscle and orgrans as food/energy instead?

The starvation myth only comes close to being true if you are already extremely lean with not much bodyfat to spare for energy anyways.

What about the people on the popular TV show survivor? ALL of them STOPPED losing weight once they became extremely thin and lean. In your world of thinking they would have remained fat simply because the were not eating enough

June 16, 2016

Adrian Bryant

the point of this article was to get rid of the fear and misinformation people have about not going below 1200 calories or they wont lose weight.

I dont advocate ULTRA low calorie dieting b/c yes chances you will gain back some r all the weight back once you go back to eating a normal amount calories but again...

I dont want anyone to believe that THEY WILL NOT LOSE WEIGHT if they eat below a certain amount of calories.

Some people have to go below 1200 calories to lose weight (like people who need to lose their last 5-to-10 pounds).

and yes, some peopel do fine on 1000 cals or less b/c they can seriously sustain that low amount for a long time and others should not go that low b/c its tough to stay on that low cals forever

June 16, 2016

Bluebird

Ashaya
Just to be clear, how much do you weight?

July 10, 2016

Jcj

Due to extreme financial circumstances, I have been searching the web to see how long I can use my former food budget so I can afford to keep a roof over my head and get to work and back. You suggest a year? Everything I have consulted, says if a person stays hydrated they can lack food for 70 days. 74 seems to be the max in a hunger strike in Belfast. Then cardiac arrest. I am aiming for 68 days. However, starvation is not a myth. Do you really believe children dying from hunger is a conspiracy or urban legend? Some people are forced to make hard choices, some have no choice.

June 01, 2016

Adrian Bryant

no, of course actual starvation isnt a a myth. "starvation mode" where your body slows down its metabolism so slow that you dont lose any weight at all is a myth

June 02, 2016

Christie

Please help. I'm 37' 5'6. On Jan. 2 I weighed 150. I started a focused weight loss effort on Jan. 26. I have been eating 1000-1400 calories a day for the first 3 weeks, then dropped that to 1000-1300.

For the first 4 weeks, I focused on walking 4500 steps a day, and also did 2-3 15-20 min. Workouts a week. I then moved to 6 30-45 min workouts a week. I cook all my meals; I weigh ingredients. I know my cal counts are right. I have only lost 2 pounds.

Last year in January, I sadly had the same starting weight, and I lost 9 pounds in the first 4 weeks, and then 1.5-2.5 pounds each week after.

I'm so frustrated. When I weigh in the morning and see that despite all my efforts I've lost nothing, or even gained, I cry. Please help.

February 26, 2016

Adrian Bryant

go here to lose weight faster

February 26, 2016

Maria

Hello,

I found you article rather helpful, however, I do have a question. I am a 20 year-old female 5'10" (178-179 cm) tall and I currently weigh 116-117 pounds or 52-53 kg. I started losing weight a few months ago (October-November of last year), from an original weight of about 130 pounds. I know for certain that currently I am eating between 1200-1400 calories a day, sometimes a bit more. I realize my current weight is not necessarily a healthy one and by no means do I wish to be unhealthy. Right now I am struggling to determine how many calories I should be ingesting each day in order to maintain my weight, since at this rate, I know I continue to lose (I have had a weigh-in at the doctor a week ago and I weighed approximately 4 pounds less than 2 weeks ago). I understand that my basal metabolic rate decreases along with my weight, and I have calculated it to be currently at around 1360 kcal. I am also aware however, that this reduction incorporates a certain adaptive component, meaning that my BMR might actually be less than that...is this true? If so, how could I determine my actual BMR? Your help would be much appreciated! Thank you in advance!

February 08, 2016

Adrian Bryant

the only way for you to figure this out is with trial and error by keep logging in your calorie intake to see what works bst for you in maintaining your weight

February 08, 2016

Sally C

Hi Adrian,
I am 44 yrs old 5'4 170 lbs I would love to lose 25 lbs or even 20lbs and lose my baby pooch from 9+ yrs ago.
I usually do the treadmill at an incline, is there anything else I should be doing?
Will this work for me & what exercises should I be doing?

January 07, 2016

Adrian Bryant

start here to help you find the best plan for you

January 07, 2016

Markús

Hey, I've been counting calories via myfitnesspal for 63 days. 30 lbs down. My original weight was 315 lbs and I am 5'10. My weight gain was due to candy and energy drink consumption over a decade. So now I am getting used to eating food. I have struggles eatino enough of calories so I am staying in the 1150-1300 range. I feel fine but people keep giving me a hard time for it. But I don't feel like I am eating too little. As long as I feel alert and energetic I should be fine right? I have plenty of fat on me for my body to burn.

December 19, 2015

Adrian Bryant

YOu're okay

December 20, 2015

jennyct

If you've read the data analysis re the national weight control registry, you will find that most of the people in this database eat less than maintenance for the rest of their lives. Why? Because everyone is different. I purchased a Breezing handheld indirect calorimeter and I most definitely have a below average metabolism.According to my physicians I am a normal, healthy and fairly active individual (avg 8k steps day and 60 min week elliptical). So what's my problem? Metabolism. Yep, my metabolism is lower than the average person of my height, weight and age. Maybe my muscle structure is less dense or my mitochondria are messed up. Regardless, it's unsustainable to eat 1200 kcal every day for the rest of your life AND it's difficult to get more exercise at an older age without hurting yourself. It's probably due to multiple factors (muscle loss, genetics, hormones, etc) but there is no treatment other than more exercise and less food. BTW, I've got a college background in biology, genetics and psychology, so I'm not totally ignorant.

November 01, 2015

Heather

I think it's very possible to be actually eating a VLC diet and not lose weight quickly. Or even very much weight. I had a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (Gastric Sleeve) surgery- where they take out 75% of your stomach and you can literally eat only about 3-5oz of food at a time. The first 2 weeks post surgery drinking liquids only (Premier Protien shakes - 5 carbs and 1 gSugar) only I lost 6 lbs. 14 days of eating about 400 calories a day. The following 3 weeks after surgery, after keeping a VLCD and logging religiously every bite of food I eat into My Fitness Pal, I am consuming between 450-700 calories on any given day. I have only lost 3lbs in those 21 days. According to the BMR of my height I should be by just breathing- burning 1678 calories. I walk, play tennis and am generally active- not sitting down alot. And I have in total- in 5 weeks- that's 35 days- lost 9 lbs. That's walking at least 2 miles per day and eating VLC.

October 22, 2015

Lana

I've been overweight all my life and I'm trying to lose weight now. I'm female, 5'1" and 132 pounds. I don't really eat a lot (ranges from 500-1200 calories a day) and I'm pretty sure my metabolism is really slow because I calculated my metabolic rate and it said 1483 (something like that) and that's not even reasonable for me. Please help, thanks.

October 11, 2015

Adrian Bryant

how are you tracking calories?

October 12, 2015

Rebecca

Have you checked if your thyroid is working properly? Sometimes it can be a symptom of hypothyroidism...then you can take the right medication to fix the problem...
Another reason, scary for that matter, could be ovarian cysts. Which again, mess up with your hormone imbalance.
If the reason is in fact your calorie intake, make sure you count every snack and liquid you drink. Fruits can also have many calories. So count with care..

October 14, 2015

Lana

Normally all I do is search on the internet how many calories something is, or read the package label.

October 21, 2015

Lana

Thyroid problems? I've considered that, but I seriously doubt it, I've been overweight all my life. And ovarian cysts, let's hope not.
The only snacks I eat are actually goldfish (120 calories) and I'm not really a fan of colas, so the only drinks I have are either water or lemonade. Not lemonade much. Fruits maybe an apple a day/week.

October 21, 2015

christine

for a person to wejgh 160 pounds a person must eat 1400 calories without exercise so for your metabolism to burn 1483 calories and u weigh 132 pounds i would say ur metabolism is doing pretty darn good just saying look up susan powder or google how much do u have to eat to weigh and u put in the weight

December 08, 2015

Laura

I went onto a diet of about 1,200~1,600 calories per day a few weeks ago, but somehow my body managed to gain weight. My starting BMI was about 18.2 and per day I burn around 2,000 calories (with exercise). I began exercising for 30min -1 hour per day when I started the diet and sources online said that your body can gain weight after you start exercising initially, but it will go away? I'm freaking out because my job depends on my weight loss soon.

August 16, 2015


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