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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NowLoss.com Created by Adrian Bryant

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1-40 of 326 Comments
Michelle

I'm 5'6" and at 8 weeks ago, I went to fasting for five days a week. The weekends I would eat about 1000-1500 calories with about 60 carbs. (Curse you sushi). I lost about 5-6 pounds a week at first but then it started slowing down. Then my blood pressure dropped and I had muscle weekness. I had fatigue and SOB so I went to my doctor and told her what I was doing and she wasn't happy. She said I need to eat 1000 calories a day and I could stay under 10 carbs a day. Good deal, right? Well, since that happens three days ago, I have been gaining like a fool. 1-3 pounds a day. I'm under 1000 calories a day and under 5 carbs a day. When do things start reversing?

May 22, 2019

Michelle

Edit - I was 219 when I started. Got down to 188. Stopped losing.

May 22, 2019

Adrian Bryant

why are you going so low and how are you tracking those calories?

no need to limit carbs. weight loss is about total calorie intake and not the amount of carbs you eat

May 22, 2019

Art

I'm very mad cause I'm eating less than 1200 calories a day. At first I dropped 16 lbs. then poof nothing! It all came to a stand still. I exercise twice a burning 1400 calories. So why in the hell ain't the weight coming off? I find very frustrating when a person like me is trying this hard and nothing happens. I see why a lot of people give up on diets when crap like this happens. Some say eat more calories. How is that going to help? It's not! I have over 100 lbs to lose and I'm stuck in limbo. Don't know what to do. Also I'm using an App to track all my calories.

May 02, 2019

Adrian Bryant

what is your current weight and height and are you currently on any meds that may cause water weight gain and/or are you drinking at least a liter of water per day

May 02, 2019

Joshua

I'm a guy, 5' 6" and I weighed 330lbs at my heaviest.

I cut calories and got a bike, I am down to 150lbs. I walk on average 10 miles a day 5 days a week, I've switched to a clean vegetarian diet no processed foods with only water or coffee to drink.

For over a year now I've maintained that weight and my caloric intake would be somewhere in the 400 - 600 range a day.

And despite what everybody says I'm not starving, I have plenty of energy and have had no illnesses or side effects that are detrimental to my overall health.

You're article here was a nice alternate insight into whole starvation mode every body always preaches.

November 21, 2018

Valerie

I had gastric sleeve done August 2018, the prediet and after diet left me 65 lighter by a couple weeks after surgery. Since then (I have been adding calories - am up to 800 to 1000 a day) my iron is very low and not much energy. I eat protein first, then veggies then fruit if I have room. I am still over 300 pounds and cannot figure out why the weight is no longer coming off....I have not lost any weight for at least 8 weeks, I just stay the same.

November 18, 2018

Adrian Bryant

what has your doctor said about this?

at 300+ and 800cals the weight/fat should be easily coming off without exercise

November 18, 2018

ali

try leaving off the fruit for a few weeks and focus on lean proteins/ green veggies. remove the starchy ones. see if this helps.@ Also add pumpkin seeds to help with your iron good luck to you

January 15, 2019

Kim

Thanks for your honest advice on the whole losing weight calories merry go round Adrian. I understand your method more than most others. I have always been a believer of calories in/ calories out. I have been on a 900 calorie diet now for 12 weeks and I have been losing 1 kilo a week (Australia here so sorry for the metric), the healthy way to lose and keep it off should be around half a kilo a week but I have an event coming up and I need it fast. So I am happy with what I am doing. I understand that when I get to my goal weight I can adjust the calories to "maintain" the weight I want. I think a lot of people are getting confused on here...they are aiming for a stick thin body weight and wondering why it isn't happening...could it be that your body knows what weight you should be content with and people just want to go that extra mile when they already look good? If we could all spot reduce i think a lot of people would be happier. I for one would love to be squeezed like a tube of toothpaste from the bottom up and well you get the measurements I want haha. Thanks so much for you site

October 10, 2018

mishal

will i get into starvation mode if i eat 500 calories for a month? im an 18 year old 5'5 female weighing 140 pounds. i want to lose the weight in a month then eat maintwnnace calories. ia that a good idea?

October 09, 2018

Adrian Bryant

no such thing as starvation mode but you'll only stop losing weight or lose weight at a very slow pace once your bodyfat gets real low

October 09, 2018

Dean

Hi am 5' my age 29yo i believe this article . Im on crash diet 500kcal a day and i loss about 12pounds in 14days.i double triple checking my calories intake and trust me it works if you are on the right path.

October 08, 2018

Mads

Adrian,

I'm a 17 y/o female, 146 lbs, 5'4, and I've lost a solid 25 lbs over the summer eating under 1200 calories but as of the last month I've hit a plateau and I'm scared to go any lower than what I'm currently eating (around 800cal)

Any tips?

August 15, 2018

Adrian Bryant

1. make sure DOUBLE CHECK you're eating 800cals or eat different foods that add up to 800. Its hard to NOT lose weight on 800cals at your weight

2. go here to lose weight again

August 16, 2018

Brooke

I believe the total calorie intake would be about 500-600

August 04, 2018

Brooke

Adrian you seem Very knowledgeable on the subject of diet and fitness so I wanted to ask you a question. There is this diet called the five bite diet where you eat five bites of anything twice a day with zero calorie drinks. If I have 40+ pounds to lose, and a very low calorie diet uses fat instead of muscle, and I exercise to preserve muscle, would this be safe? I am trying to lose weight extremely fast

August 04, 2018

Adrian Bryant

you'll lose weight fast simply b/c you're not eating much. (maybe less than 1000) on this diet.

as for safe... its safe that'll you will mainly lose FAT MASS. muscle loss only becomes a problem for very thin people who continue to try losing weight with a VERY low bodyfat%

My advice... dont do this diet for LONG TERM SUCCESS. ONLY do it if you have a weight loss emergency

August 04, 2018

Brooke

Thank you! I'm hoping to find a long term way of eating I'm just very very impatient and like to see results extremely quickly (most likely why weight loss has been a problem in the past). I think I'm going to try the diet plan that you use on your "big butt flat stomach lose weight" tab. Thanks for all your help!

August 05, 2018

Water Weight

Forgot to mention females anatomy. I'm on a 600 calorie a day diet atm and walk 4 to 6 miles a day. Relax, I take vitamins and I'm old anyway so I don't need to eat as much. 600 cal a day isn't as hard on an older person. Anyway, I gained 2 pounds yesterday. It's just cycle-related water weight, not malnourishment. My bloodwork is literally perfect. You have to remind women that the scale might seem to impossibly tip up on occasion because of natural and healthy fluctuations in monthly hormones. Just stick to the routine and it all comes off when the monthly cycle is complete. Forget to mention normal anatomical functions like that and a woman might become discouraged or develop a mental state called learned helplessness. It truly helps to understand female anatomy. I don't do such a low calorie diet often. I just can't afford to gain weight because I donated a kidney, which incidentally increased the monthly water gain btw. I'm not providing this as an example of what to do. Just providing an example of how the math can seem to fail sometimes. I'm still losing fat despite the water gain. So don't panic ladies. If you usually gain weight for your cycle, that's probably it. Just stick to your routine and it will come off, probably all at once, when your cycle is done :)

August 03, 2018

Emily

Whoever is reading this article, please do not listen to this! I’ve been on low calorie diet majority of my life. I was thin, if I gained any weight I’d just lower my intake. My weight was between 130-140 pounds at 5’9.
Long story short, my weight started gradually going up. I ended up on 600 calories a day, maintaining my 195 pound overnight body!!! My wake up moment was when I got sick with stomach virus, I couldn’t eat anything for 5 days - ANYTHING !!!! Result? I’ve lost HALF a pound! Bottom line is that I totally messed up my metabolism by not eating. I’m currently working with clinical nutritionist to get myself back to healthy. I was overweight, tired, miserable and whoever would look at me would never believe that I don’t eat more than 600 calories a day. I do believe in “starvation mode” because I experienced it myself, for many years. Now im eating more and my weight is slowly going down.

July 30, 2018

Adrian Bryant

can you give more info. are you saying you currently weigh 190 and you maintain that with only 600 cals per day

July 30, 2018

Emily

What I’m saying is that low calorie diet as you’re describing is just for short term gains. It does NOT work long term. Eventually you slow down your metabolism (which does get used to low calorie intake) and then you’re screwed. I’d look into a study which they did on participants of the “biggest loser”. They put them on low calorie and high intensity workouts (during the show) for a year with great results but now some of them still work out and eat under 1200 calories a day and you guessed it - they are back to being overweight. I wrote this because I’m 37, I’m not 25 skinny, model looking girl starving herself. I’m paying for what I did to my metabolism over the years and I don’t want any young girl reading your article thinking that not eating will keep her skinny forever. There’s price to pay down the road.
To answer your question, yes I was maintaining 195 pounds with 600 calories a day. When I are more which was stilll under 1200 calories, I gained. Now I’m working with clinical nutritionist who upped my calorie intake to 1500 but I’m eating more often to speed up my metabolism and I slowly start losing weight. I was gaining first 3 weeks until my body got used to contestant food intake and gave up storing everything

July 30, 2018

Adrian Bryant

Long or short term for any diet or weight loss plan depends on the person but yes... I agree that VLCD are not the best for long term success as I state here

Our disagreement is the slow down of metab. Without getting too scientific your body burns at least 10 cals per pound so the least a 150 pound person's metab would burn is 1500 cals.

The only way you're not losing or maintaining on 600 cals is that you must be retaining lots of water weight.

The biggest loser weight re-gain is simply due to them going back to the lifestlye they did before the show which = less activity and more calories.

Finally, the main point I want everyone to take away from this is... VLCD should only be used SHORT term for a 911 weight loss emergency ONLY b/c its harder to maintain a lower calorie intake.

July 30, 2018

Emily

Well, then how do you explain that I only lost half a pound after being terribly sick for 5 days with the stomach virus. No intake at all, even water would make me vomit. I’ve been sick like this in the pass and I lost 6-7 pounds. Now I was half a pound lighter. It doesn’t make any sense, so as not losing weight at eating 600 calories and then starting to lose weight at 1500-2000 calories. Must be more to it than a simple calorie count.
I’m also pretty tall, at 5’9 my body should be burning calories.
Also, we did an experiment with my girlfriend once (same height, at the time I was 130 and she was 115 pounds) we went for a 9 day vacation together and ate/drank the same exact food/drinks. On the end of our trip she gained a pound and I gained 10. That comes to show you that each individual person has also different metabolism. It’s not simply “one size fits all” Everybody is different and even the same person can have different outcome depending on situation. I truly believe I slowed my metabolism. I also believe that human body goers used to whatever you do to it long term.

July 30, 2018

Adrian Bryant

its no doubt everyone metabolism is different. My only explanation for you NOT losing anything in 5 days of NO INTAKE including water is (get ready for it...) I Dont Know?

I can only guess your scale was terribly wrong. You had to use energy during those 5 days (output) and you didnt take in any energy and even if you held onto to water you would have to lose something.

I can only call you a mystery of science if you lost nothing while not taking in NOTHING (no energy). Only bears can do that when they hibernate but even they lose weight.

Not losing weight at 600 has to be a water retention issue. eating 1500 got you the extra minerals needed to to realse excess water.

as for metabolism slow down = YES, studies show it does slightly slow down with lowered calorie intake but NEVER will it go SO SLOW you stop losing weight. remember you need energy whter it comes from stored fat or food.

but again, I think we agree that long term VLCD is not the way to go

July 30, 2018

Chad

Sorry, I don't believe you. If that was true then millions of people would not have starved to death at Nazi concentration camps (just one example of mass starvation). You obviously are not keeping accurate track of all the calories you consume. I know that seems harsh, but no one at 195 lbs. will fail to lose weight on 600 calories a day.

August 06, 2018

Zain A.

What is your response to this article? Why are their metabolisms abnormally low after extreme crash dieting?

www.nytimes.com

November 24, 2018

Adrian Bryant

Why is it low?

1. bigger or heavier bodies require more energy (higher metabolism) so after you lose weight (no matter how you do it) = your metabolism will get slower.

Main question is this - why do they regain the weight?

Becasue they lost it doing something they can't maintain which is a comobination of extreme DIET and exercise.

I advocate diets but not VLCD where you starve b/c you are more likely to regain what you lost

November 25, 2018

Zain A.

Makes perfect sense actually. Extreme and constant caloric deficits puts extreme/constant stress on the body. So extreme VLCD diets plus extreme exercise can easily lead to metabolic damage (lower BMR). Which is what happens on the biggest loser where they are losing 4-6 pounds a week.

When losing weight, is it safe to lose 500-1000 calories per day (About 1-2 pounds per week)? How much of a caloric deficit is a VLCD diet?

November 25, 2018

Adrian Bryant

lets put things in perspective. A 400 pound person needs at least 3500 cals to maintain their weight. so Would a 2000 cal diet for them be not safe? of course not.

I define safe weight loss as a deficit you can realistically maitain. for most people going under 1000-1500 is not realistic.

I personally lose fat easily on a 2000 cal diet along with 10K steps per day.

Its not about metabolic damage (which does happen) BUT NOT to the extent where you are not losing weight only a ZERO calorie or 500 calorie diet.

The focus should be on what diet you can sustain

November 25, 2018

Zain A.

So lets say my RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) is 2000 calories per day. I am trying to burn fat so I eat 1800 calories. So eventually in a 24 hour period my body will run out of food and would need to burn about 200 calories off my body fat correct? And my RMR would remain at about 2000 calories for that day correct?

I am hearing about 'Metabolic Adaption' and people are saying that your metabolism will slow down 100 calories or so because it hits 'starvation mode' in order to save energy. In my case if this 'Metabolic Adaption' were true then instead of burning 2000 calories per day I'd shift to 1900 in that same day...

I always believed that as long as you had excess body fat your bodies metabolism would not decrease and instead it would burn off excess body fat...

Is it true that metabolism slows down and your body burns less body fat at a slower rate when at a caloric deficit?

December 11, 2018

Adrian Bryant

correct about body fat. your body will use backup energy (your body fat) to get what it needs

you are also correct about the metabolic slowdown but studies show this only occurs at a point where you are at less than 5-10% bodyfat where you dont have as much backup energy OR FAT to burn.

the average joe or jane trying to lose weight does not have to worry about this

December 12, 2018

Zain A.

Thanks for responding.

It makes sense because your body does not want to hold onto excess fat. It wants to burn it off because that is the only purpose excess fat has. It's extra energy waiting to be burned off.

So when you have over 10% bodyfat your metabolism will not slow down, instead it will burn off the excess bodyfat just like its food right? This is why obese people don't have to eat even half of their RMR calories because their metabolism will aggressively burn off their body fat correct?

I notice when I have over 10% bodyfat I don't even feel that hungry after eating about 1000 calories out of my 1800 RMR. This is probably because my body has a lot of excess fat and does not require many calories from food. So technically a very obese person can comfortably eat 0 calories and completely rely on all his extra body fat...

December 12, 2018

Adrian Bryant

I dont know the exact bodyfat% (i need to check the research) but I think the slowdown occurs at a dangerously low bodyfat level like less than 5%

December 12, 2018

Susan

Like a lot of people, she is obviously in denial of how much she is eating or does not know how to count calories based on portions or something like that.

May 24, 2019

Sheri

Hello! I'm 36 year old female. I broke my hip at 34. Went from 145 to 200 in a year being unable to walk for 8 months. It's still painful to work out but I'm desperate to lose my weight. My cholesterol is high from it. I'm 5'5 bmi is 33.3, wear 16 instead of a 10. I've started a very low calorie diet, 600 per day to start. Today is my second day. In my younger teen years I was anorexic which led to hip breaking. I'm worried about bone loss & muscle loss mostly in my weak leg where I still have 3 screws in. Should I use supplements and vitamins to negate this or because I'm considered obese I'll be ok? Thanks so much!

Sheri

June 20, 2018

Adrian Bryant

600 per day may be fine for now at your higher weight but WHY go so low. you'll lose just as on a 1500 diet

June 21, 2018

Water Weight

baloney. if I ate 1500 calories a day, I'd weigh 300 pounds in no time. Don't forget to factor in age. Old people need fewer calories, and of a higher quality so they don't lose minerals. i.e. mostly fruits and veggies with ZERO empty calories.

August 03, 2018

Adrian Bryant

300 pounds of what? fat? its simply not possible for someone to gain that much on a 1500 calorie diet (Im assuing you weight less than 200 pounds)

its simple (energy in & energy out) math. but lets say you're right and you can gain weight on 1500. at some point you'd level off eneryg/metab wise and stop gaining weight.

August 03, 2018


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