Starvation Mode Aka The Detriment Of Calorie Restriction

If you’re like most people on a fat loss diet, you understand that in order to see fat loss success, one thing that you must be doing is reducing your calorie intake, watching your portions and the types of foods you consume.  It’s not entirely about calorie restriction, but for the typical person that is on a weight loss journey, much of it starts with calorie consumption.

It’s the proper reduction in calories that’s going to help the fat loss process move along further as this will cause your body to begin moving to body fat stores as a primary fuel source.

The end result – you get leaner.

But, then there are those people that take calorie restriction just a little too far?  Some people make the mistake of thinking if they can cut back on 500 calories, 1000 must be better. Or maybe they should go for more calories yet….the more they cut, the sooner they think they’ll be able to reach their fitness goals.

WRONG!  Sadly, many find out -the hard way – this isn’t how it works.  If you begin cutting your calories back far too much for far too long, you’re headed for some problems.  Although some may see immediate results, the long term is far more detrimental.

Let’s take a look at the issues with very low calorie diets that put you into ‘starvation’ mode.

What Is Starvation Mode 

You’ve likely heard me talk about this or mention the term “starvation mode” before. This is a situation where you’re providing far too little few for the body and it thinks that a famine is taking place.  As a result, energy levels are extremely low, as your body is fighting to respond to this and burning through the fat first, then once that’s depleted, moves on to muscle and tissues.

While this doesn’t sound so bad to someone looking to shed large amounts of body fat, this is by no means, sustainable or healthy.   The body can handle slight deficits on a day to day basis, when you go too far, certain survival instincts are going to start kicking in.

Your body doesn’t realize you’re just trying to fit into size 4 jeans. It thinks that food is unavailable and you’re on a short road to what could be fatal consequences.

As such, it’s designed to protect you in this situation.

Unfortunately though, your body’s protection mechanisms are going to work in direct opposition of your fat loss goals.

Signs You’re Suffering 

What’s going to start to happen if you take your calorie intake down too low for too long is your metabolic rate will slow right down. The fewer calories your body burns off on a daily basis, the longer it can survive without food.  This is a very good way to outsmart starvation.  Not so good if you’re aiming for fat loss though.

Secondly, the body is going to start to ramp up the appetite level. This is going to give you the very strong urge to eat whatever you can get your hands on.  This is why after dieting for so long, you feel like you just can’t stop thinking about food and the urge to eat is through the roof.

Finally, the body is going to start to cling onto its body fat stores while burning off lean muscle mass.

Lean muscle tissue burns far more calories at rest than body fat does, so in a time of famine, the body is far better off without muscle and with fat.  Fat is what protects it against starvation. Muscle is what moves it closer to starving to death.

The Better Approach 

So what’s the solution? The solution is to first use a more moderate deficit.  Generally speaking you shouldn’t be using more than a 500 calorie deficit if you plan to be on the diet for any longer than 1-2 weeks.

Beyond that, you would have to take a diet break for at least one week to normalize your metabolism and hormones once again.

Furthermore, it’s a very wise move to implement some higher calorie days into your program from time to time.  You don’t need to go crazy here, just bring your calorie intake up to about 200-300 calories above maintenance and focus specifically on eating more carbs.  *Note: carbohydrates are closely tied into thyroid function, so they are a must.

If you do this, then you’ll find when you do start dieting again, the process moves along much more smoothly and will be more long-term, than a short term stint that can backfire.

Take your diet seriously, but know when you’re cutting back too much.  Less food does not always mean better results.

As always, I’m here to offer guidance and advice on how to set yourself up for success with meeting your fat loss plan.

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