Is starvation effective and healthy in weight loss?
When it comes to being over-weight the challenges faced can never be overemphasised, for some people, weight loss could come with just a few weeks of exercising and healthy dieting, while others could battle with same weight challenge for the next six months without any considerable difference in body mass index, as a result the temptation of going into ‘starvation mode’ may arise so as to loose weight within the shortest possible time. Lets look at how the body reacts to starvation and see why it might not be the best route to take in a healthy weight loss journey.
The state of being Overweight or Obese
Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have a negative effect on health. People are generally considered obese when their body mass index (BMI), a measurement obtained by dividing a person’s weight by the square of the person’s height, is over 30 kg/m2, with the range 25–30 kg/m2 defined as overweight. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases and conditions, particularly cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis and depression.
Obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive food intake, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility. A few cases are caused primarily by genes, endocrine disorders, medications, or mental disorder. The view that obese people eat little yet gain weight due to a slow metabolism is not medically supported. On average, obese people have a greater energy expenditure than their normal counterparts due to the energy required to maintain an increased body mass.
Once considered a problem only in high income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.
How does the Body react to starvation?
Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy intake, below the level needed to maintain an organism’s life. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition.
When you choose to starve yourself, your body will automatically react by actually slowing its metabolism, as a way of protecting itself. Choosing starvation as a mode of weight loss is not the best approach to take.
Weight loss via starvation causes individuals to lose significant amounts of lean muscle mass and Lean Body Mass, which encompasses water, bones, organs, etc. Reducing the mass of your bones is problematic, as that decreases bone density and can make you more prone to injury. Conversely, increasing Lean Body Mass increases bone strength and density.
One study using human participants indicated dropping significant amounts of calories from the diet lead to significant weight loss and decreased lean muscle mass. However, participants also gained back nearly all of the fat they lost, within 8 years. There’s a certain number of calories necessary to maintain your lean mass. If you go below this number, your body will be forced to break down these muscle stores in order to create energy.
Starvation diets have far-reaching negative effects on the body. Starving to lose weight changes the metabolism, reduces lean muscle, reduces bone density, and decreases strength.
What happens is that your body starts to sense it is not being fed and tries to slow down internally in case you are ill or have no more food coming it. This allows your body to survive for a longer period of time until it is fed again. The body believes that it will not be fed, so it counter intuitively will reserve the fat stores as a mode of survival. The effects of this can be found within just a few short days, as your body will already show signs of slowing down. The result of this will be evident as you lose only a few pounds and then wind up maintaining until you start to eat again. Add to that as soon as you start to eat, your body’s natural reaction will be to store up, in the event that your body goes through starvation again. So at this next go-round, your body may gain weight by you eating even a lower amount of calories than before. Ultimately this starvation may have you packing on the pounds in no time at all.
In addition, many people also find that when they go to eat after a period of starvation they tend to overeat. The body is often over hungry and then it is hard to control how much you eat, causing an influx of calories the body can’t handle. In these cases many people find that they not only gain back the weight they lost, but they wind up gaining even more. This often leads to a vicious cycle of eating and deprivation that in the end does not help one to succeed in healthy habits or sustainable weight loss.
After starvation here is what happens when one is ready to bounce back
Perhaps you opted for an ultra-low-calorie diet, placing your body in starvation mode. You’ve lost tons of weight and are ready to return to “normal” eating. So far, your body has also responded by losing muscle and decreasing BMR. But something else interesting happens to the body after a period of starvation.
The body’s systems do not “reset” after starvation. What does that mean? The body tunes itself to focus on significant weight loss at the expense of body fat mass, lean muscle, and other lean mass. It reduced its basal metabolic rate. Yet, once a person returns to a normal calorie level, the body cannot adapt.
The body cannot adapt from dropping to an ultra-low caloric intake to lose weight and return to a higher caloric intake to maintain the weight loss. The body will store the extra calories as fat.
This is because the body is now primed to replenish the lost fat stores, not lean muscle, lost during starvation. Starving to lose weight makes your body more likely, in the long-run, to replenish fat. It uses the new basal metabolic rate from starvation mode.
Lean individuals were more likely to gain more fat after starvation. To that end, the body’s system didn’t “reset” itself until all the body fat lost during the period of starvation was regained. This negates any progress made during this period.
One of the reasons this may be the case is because blood leptin levels decrease in individuals who lose a lot of weight via starvation. Leptin is the hormone that signals satiety. It is produced by fat cells and helps to regulate energy balance and inhibit hunger. In short, it signals the brain that you are not hungry.
Yet, those who starved for greater weight loss lowered their leptin levels, putting them at risk of regaining the weight because the body wasn’t signaling the brain correctly. Low blood leptin signaled to the brain the body was not full or satisfied after eating, causing them to eat more.
Research indicates extreme weight loss by starving yourself is often not sustainable. Take that example of the Biggest Loser into consideration again. What happens once the show ends? Most of the contests gain a significant amount of the weight back.
It takes time to gain weight and also to loose weight. Starvation could seem effective for an instantaneous weight loss but doesn’t maintain that desired weight achieved and could be far more detrimental to the health.