Starvation Mode: What It Really Is, and How to Avoid It

Starvation Mode: What It Really Is, and How to Avoid It

Starvation Mode.

Fat loss is the goal, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to make it happen.

Here are the basics.

Starvation mode is the trendy name for your body’s natural response to getting less calories than it needs.

When you’re trying to lose weight, you need to be functioning in a caloric deficit, meaning you are burning more calories than consuming. It sounds pretty simple, but there’s a lot of factors to take into account.

For most, the simplest way to lose weight is to restrict calories – eat less than they normally do. Accompanied by regular exercise, this is a great strategy. The problem arises when the calories are restricted too much.

Your personal “too much” is dependent on a number of things, which we will get into later.

Related Content: Intermittent Fasting: What, Why, How?

What happens when I restrict too much?

When you consume calories, a number of things happen. In short, your body burns the calories in exchange for energy, or some of the calories are tucked away for later (in fat cells), as energy stores for another time.

When your body is functioning in a caloric deficit that is too large or for a long time, your body freaks out. Since it doesn’t know when your next satisfying meal will be, it hangs onto every fat store you have. It’s smart really, using the back-ups exactly as they’re meant to be used. But, when we’re trying to lose weight, the last thing we want is to hold onto our fat. We want the exact opposite.

So that’s starvation mode in a nutshell. Your body clings to the stored calories, resulting in no fat/weight loss.

When you restrict too much, for too long:

Eventually, if you’re forcing your body to function without food, it will start using those fat stores. But, it’ll also start using your muscle as a source for energy.

This is not a normal process, and it is present in extreme cases of calorie deprivation. But, it is possible. When your body has exhausted it’s fat stores and there is no new energy (calories=energy) being consumed, your body will start to break down your muscles into Amino Acids. Our liver will then convert these Amino Acids into glucose, in a process called gluconeogenesis. Ask me how exactly that happens, and I have no idea. What I do know, is that less muscle mass is never a good thing.

Starvation Mode and How to Avoid It

How do I figure out how much is too much?

*Disclaimer: This is a very simplified version. The land of nutrition and metabolism is VAST, and I am nowhere near an expert. This is just the basics to my understanding (thanks to a couple of college courses) and according to various sources.

As mentioned above, your ideal amount of calories each day is dependent on a whole bunch of factors. First being your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Your BMR is a calculation of how many calories your body burns, just by living. Carrying out bodily processes like breathing, heart rate, and brain function all require calories. Your BMR accounts for about 65-70% of the calories you burn each day. Other factors include the Thermic Affect of Food (TAF – calories you burn by eating/digesting food) and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis(NEAT – calories you burn by non-exercise movements like fidgeting).


For essence of simplicity, let’s just focus on your BMR.

To calculate your BMR:

For men: BMR = 66 + (6.2 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) – (6.76 × age in years)

Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 × height in inches) – (4.7 × age in years)

For the sake of example, my BMR is 1535. So my body uses 1535 calories just to live each day.


Once you have your BMR, calculate your ideal rate of weight loss.

Starvation Mode

Losing 1 pound a week is a safe, healthy bet. 2 pounds is the maximum you should aim for. Anything more than that and you’re in danger of messing up your metabolism.

1 pound of fat = 3500 calories. So, if I want to lose one pound each week, I should be in a 500 calorie deficit each day (3500 / 7 = 500).

I can achieve this deficit by eating around 1000-1050 calories a day, without adding exercise. Or, I could exercise, track my amount of calories burned, and base my eating off of that. Ultimately, I should end up in the range of 1000-1050 calories a day whether I’m exercising or not.

You run into starvation mode when your calories in is significantly lower than your calories out. For example, let’s say I eat 1100 calories, and also burn 600 calories while exercising. That leaves me sitting at 500 calories for the day (again, not including NEAT and TAF). 1535-500 leaves me in a 1035 calorie deficit. Maintaining this deficit for an extended period of time is a sure fire way to get my body to cling to every ounce of fat it’s got.

With this information, you’ll be able to determine a healthy amount of calories to consume when you’re starting a weight loss journey. It’s easy to heavily restrict yourself, but depriving your body of calories will only cause it to hold onto what it has, halting your weight loss.

Have you ever used your BMR to help you with weight loss? Let me know in the comments or on twitter! @love__laney

Love, Laney



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