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TOPIC: Starvation Mode Myths and Science

 
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January 12, 2013 4:15 PM
My understanding of the starvation mode was not that it was to do with calorie intake but overall nutritional intake- ie your body goes in to so called starvation mode, holding on to fat and extracting more fat from foodstuffs when it is deficient in some nutrient or other rather than deficient in calories. I've not researched it but it may be the case that someone who increases calories sees a weight reduction because they have co-incidentally increased a particular nutrient in to the diet. For example, if dairy products have been prominent in the additional calories there will be an increase in calcium in the diet which (in combination with vit D) aids the body in metabolising fat.
  35228788
January 12, 2013 4:57 PM
QUOTE:

So sick of reading responses of people regarding diet and weight loss with everyone throwing around purported "facts" about starvation mode. So, here is a little research on the topic. Feel free to chime in with other studies, but lets keep it based on actual research, not personal anecdotes and not "my trainer says."

Starvation mode does not happen overnight or even in just a few days! Calories in, calories out. Simple, right? Short term, yes, it’s simple, long term, not so much. Let’s add some real science to the discussion:

First, a definition. Starvation mode does not mean going without food. It means that you cut your caloric intake to less than what the body would normally burn in the course of a day. I have seen so many posts where people offer advice and tell people they need to eat more to lose weight because they are starving their bodies. The idea postulated is that eating too few calories will reduce a person’s metabolism to such an extent that the person will gain weight instead of losing.

Now, a look at one of the classic scientific studies on starvation. Probably the most famous study done was conducted after WWII by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Starvation was widespread throughout Europe during the war and scientists were trying to figure out how to re-feed people suffering from starvation and determine the long-term effects. (Remember, tens of thousands of people died after liberation from concentration camps not only from disease but from the reintroduction of food that their bodies were no longer capable of digesting.) Scientists recruited 36 young healthy men to participate in a yearlong study divided into several phases: a 12-week normal control period, a 24-week starvation phase where calories were so dramatically reduced that participants lost approximately 25% of body weight; and, finally, a recovery phase to renourish participants. Results of the study were published in the two-volume, Biology of Human Starvation (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis, 1950). See more information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment.

So, what did the results of the study find? First, all participants lost weight. Starvation mode does not result in your body hanging onto extra fat or calories in an effort to “preserve” your body. But, it’s more complicated than just losing weight. All of the participants also experienced a drop in their metabolic rates – approximately 40% below baseline. Now, you will see many posters here that will argue that you will start losing muscle and not fat within a few days of going into so-called “starvation mode.” Yet, the research shows that participants lost both. In fact, at no point did they stop losing fat until they hit a rate of approximately 5% body fat near the end of the study.

Lyle McDonald explains it this way:

In general, it's true that metabolic rate tends to drop more with more excessive caloric deficits… But here's the thing: in no study I've ever seen has the drop in metabolic rate been sufficient to completely offset the caloric deficit. That is, say that cutting your calories by 50% per day leads to a reduction in the metabolic rate of 10%. Starvation mode you say. Well, yes. But you still have a 40% daily deficit.

But, keep in mind that apart from weight loss, semi-starvation has other not-so-cool effects on your mind and body. The other physical effects from the Minnesota study on semi-starvation included a significant drop in physical endurance, reduction in strength of about 10%, and sluggish reflexes. Those that were the most fit initially showed the greatest deterioration. In addition, heart volume shrank about 20%, pulses slowed and their body temperatures dropped. Concentration and judgment became impaired. Sexual function was reduced and all lost interest in sex. They had every physical indication of accelerated aging. But keep in mind, this was a year-long study, not something that happened in a just a few days or two weeks of eating restricted calories.

The more dramatic effects of semi-starvation from the Minnesota study were psychological, similar to what can be observed in anorexic patients. The men became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical, emotional and depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers in stress. They became obsessed with food, thinking, talking and reading about it constantly; developed weird eating rituals; hoarding, etc.

Now, let’s look at another aspect. The folks at Cambridge University in England did a study to determine the different effects starvation had on lean people versus obese people. The study can be found here: http://www.unu.edu/unupress/food2/UID07E/uid0 7e11.htm. Let’s just cut to the chase with this study.

Does starvation mode slow down the metabolism? No and Yes.

In the first 2 days of starvation, there is a small absolute increase in basic metabolic rate relative to values obtained from overnight fasting. Overnight fasting is what every one of us does during our sleeping hours. So it is not true that going below recommended calories for one day is going to slow down your metabolism -- quite the contrary, it may speed it up just a little. Of course, this is just limited to the first few days. After that, studies in fact support that “starvation mode” slows down metabolism.

Does Starvation mode cause our bodies to catabilize (devour our muscles and other lean mass)? Yes and No.

Lean individuals lost great amounts of fat-free, lean tissue during starvation, but obese individuals lost much more fat tissue. The loss of lean mass is not as critical to the obese person simply because an obese person has more lean mass than a person of the same age and height but normal weight. Here we get to a basic idea that makes sense – fat storage – the same way animals build up bulk to rely on during the winter, obese people have fat stores they can use (to a limited extent) in times of need. This means that the effects of a semi-starvation diet upon a normal weight individual are of course much more devastating than the effects on someone who is obese.

Finally, some conclusions. Does all this mean I should reduce my caloric intake below the minimum recommended as an effective way to lose weight? If you think the answer is yes, then you haven’t carefully read everything here, so I will spell it out:

Let’s start by clearing up that major myth I see repeated over and over again in the forums: that a single day or even a few days of extreme caloric restrictions forces your body into starvation mode, significantly reducing your metabolism and causing you to lose muscles. Not true. You may, in fact, lose weight in the short term. Your body does not go into starvation mode after a few days of extreme calorie restricted eating.

However, let’s look again at the Minnesota study for further compelling evidence why semi-starvation is not a good idea for long-term weight loss. In the latter half of the Minnesota Starvation Study the men were allowed to eat ad libitum again. Researchers found they had insatiable appetites, yet never felt full, these effects continued for months afterwards. Semi-starvation diets don’t work long-term for this simple reason – under ordinary pressures, when eating resumes, people put the weight back on and oftentimes, gain more.

And let’s not forget the other physical and psychological effects mentioned earlier. Any of those sound appealing to you? Reduced concentration or sexual function anyone? The Cambridge study also looked at several deaths from people who undertook extreme starvation diets, particularly those that did not create a good nutritional balance in the calories that were consumed.

Bottom line, you should do adequate research and dietary analysis to ensure you are getting the best nutrition you can for your calories.

If you are going to get all snippy about "real research" and "real science" don't use Wikipedia as a reference. High schools and Colleges alike, will fail you for using this joke of a site. You need to evaluate the creditability sources before you get on a soap box.
  7835755
January 12, 2013 5:46 PM
This makes for very interesting listening, it's very long. The bit relevant to this thread is at 52 minutes when he explains "a calorie burned is a calorie burned, but a calorie eaten is not a calorie eaten" http://thedianerehmshow.org/audio-player?nid=16890
  35228788
January 12, 2013 5:54 PM
Candy Bryson it is true you wouldn't cite Wikipedia in an academic paper but it's hardly a joke of a site, it's constantly being updated with new information and will cite studies etc. if you look at the bottom you will find them, you can then do your own analysis

And OP is correct, there's tons of research on this topic and starvation mode doesn't happen as quickly as people on here can make you think
January 12, 2013 6:08 PM
A creeping, slow ten pound gain over 3 years after my first half marathon brought me to this site back in July.

I even bought new pants in July because I decided that 10 lbs was never coming off.

I had been counting WW points for years. However, when I started here, I felt like I was eating soooo much! I lost 9 lbs in a month and I only had 10 lbs to lose!

I really think that I was under eating for the last 3 years.
January 12, 2013 6:13 PM
QUOTE:

Candy Bryson it is true you wouldn't cite Wikipedia in an academic paper but it's hardly a joke of a site, it's constantly being updated with new information and will cite studies etc. if you look at the bottom you will find them, you can then do your own analysis

And OP is correct, there's tons of research on this topic and starvation mode doesn't happen as quickly as people on here can make you think


Actually the Wikipedia information seems pretty good.
January 12, 2013 6:17 PM
All this talk about eating and not eating is making me hungry devil
Edited by jentarver On January 12, 2013 6:18 PM
  7064252
January 12, 2013 6:19 PM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

So sick of reading responses of people regarding diet and weight loss with everyone throwing around purported "facts" about starvation mode. So, here is a little research on the topic. Feel free to chime in with other studies, but lets keep it based on actual research, not personal anecdotes and not "my trainer says."

Starvation mode does not happen overnight or even in just a few days! Calories in, calories out. Simple, right? Short term, yes, it’s simple, long term, not so much. Let’s add some real science to the discussion:

First, a definition. Starvation mode does not mean going without food. It means that you cut your caloric intake to less than what the body would normally burn in the course of a day. I have seen so many posts where people offer advice and tell people they need to eat more to lose weight because they are starving their bodies. The idea postulated is that eating too few calories will reduce a person’s metabolism to such an extent that the person will gain weight instead of losing.

Now, a look at one of the classic scientific studies on starvation. Probably the most famous study done was conducted after WWII by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Starvation was widespread throughout Europe during the war and scientists were trying to figure out how to re-feed people suffering from starvation and determine the long-term effects. (Remember, tens of thousands of people died after liberation from concentration camps not only from disease but from the reintroduction of food that their bodies were no longer capable of digesting.) Scientists recruited 36 young healthy men to participate in a yearlong study divided into several phases: a 12-week normal control period, a 24-week starvation phase where calories were so dramatically reduced that participants lost approximately 25% of body weight; and, finally, a recovery phase to renourish participants. Results of the study were published in the two-volume, Biology of Human Starvation (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis, 1950). See more information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment.

So, what did the results of the study find? First, all participants lost weight. Starvation mode does not result in your body hanging onto extra fat or calories in an effort to “preserve” your body. But, it’s more complicated than just losing weight. All of the participants also experienced a drop in their metabolic rates – approximately 40% below baseline. Now, you will see many posters here that will argue that you will start losing muscle and not fat within a few days of going into so-called “starvation mode.” Yet, the research shows that participants lost both. In fact, at no point did they stop losing fat until they hit a rate of approximately 5% body fat near the end of the study.

Lyle McDonald explains it this way:

In general, it's true that metabolic rate tends to drop more with more excessive caloric deficits… But here's the thing: in no study I've ever seen has the drop in metabolic rate been sufficient to completely offset the caloric deficit. That is, say that cutting your calories by 50% per day leads to a reduction in the metabolic rate of 10%. Starvation mode you say. Well, yes. But you still have a 40% daily deficit.

But, keep in mind that apart from weight loss, semi-starvation has other not-so-cool effects on your mind and body. The other physical effects from the Minnesota study on semi-starvation included a significant drop in physical endurance, reduction in strength of about 10%, and sluggish reflexes. Those that were the most fit initially showed the greatest deterioration. In addition, heart volume shrank about 20%, pulses slowed and their body temperatures dropped. Concentration and judgment became impaired. Sexual function was reduced and all lost interest in sex. They had every physical indication of accelerated aging. But keep in mind, this was a year-long study, not something that happened in a just a few days or two weeks of eating restricted calories.

The more dramatic effects of semi-starvation from the Minnesota study were psychological, similar to what can be observed in anorexic patients. The men became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical, emotional and depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers in stress. They became obsessed with food, thinking, talking and reading about it constantly; developed weird eating rituals; hoarding, etc.

Now, let’s look at another aspect. The folks at Cambridge University in England did a study to determine the different effects starvation had on lean people versus obese people. The study can be found here: http://www.unu.edu/unupress/food2/UID07E/uid0 7e11.htm. Let’s just cut to the chase with this study.

Does starvation mode slow down the metabolism? No and Yes.

In the first 2 days of starvation, there is a small absolute increase in basic metabolic rate relative to values obtained from overnight fasting. Overnight fasting is what every one of us does during our sleeping hours. So it is not true that going below recommended calories for one day is going to slow down your metabolism -- quite the contrary, it may speed it up just a little. Of course, this is just limited to the first few days. After that, studies in fact support that “starvation mode” slows down metabolism.

Does Starvation mode cause our bodies to catabilize (devour our muscles and other lean mass)? Yes and No.

Lean individuals lost great amounts of fat-free, lean tissue during starvation, but obese individuals lost much more fat tissue. The loss of lean mass is not as critical to the obese person simply because an obese person has more lean mass than a person of the same age and height but normal weight. Here we get to a basic idea that makes sense – fat storage – the same way animals build up bulk to rely on during the winter, obese people have fat stores they can use (to a limited extent) in times of need. This means that the effects of a semi-starvation diet upon a normal weight individual are of course much more devastating than the effects on someone who is obese.

Finally, some conclusions. Does all this mean I should reduce my caloric intake below the minimum recommended as an effective way to lose weight? If you think the answer is yes, then you haven’t carefully read everything here, so I will spell it out:

Let’s start by clearing up that major myth I see repeated over and over again in the forums: that a single day or even a few days of extreme caloric restrictions forces your body into starvation mode, significantly reducing your metabolism and causing you to lose muscles. Not true. You may, in fact, lose weight in the short term. Your body does not go into starvation mode after a few days of extreme calorie restricted eating.

However, let’s look again at the Minnesota study for further compelling evidence why semi-starvation is not a good idea for long-term weight loss. In the latter half of the Minnesota Starvation Study the men were allowed to eat ad libitum again. Researchers found they had insatiable appetites, yet never felt full, these effects continued for months afterwards. Semi-starvation diets don’t work long-term for this simple reason – under ordinary pressures, when eating resumes, people put the weight back on and oftentimes, gain more.

And let’s not forget the other physical and psychological effects mentioned earlier. Any of those sound appealing to you? Reduced concentration or sexual function anyone? The Cambridge study also looked at several deaths from people who undertook extreme starvation diets, particularly those that did not create a good nutritional balance in the calories that were consumed.

Bottom line, you should do adequate research and dietary analysis to ensure you are getting the best nutrition you can for your calories.

If you are going to get all snippy about "real research" and "real science" don't use Wikipedia as a reference. High schools and Colleges alike, will fail you for using this joke of a site. You need to evaluate the creditability sources before you get on a soap box.


As an FYI to you, as you obviously did not check - it is an accurate representation of the study. Sometimes things are correct on wikipedia you know.
  18358448
January 12, 2013 6:20 PM
BUMP***I'll be back soon, good subject.
  30309612
January 12, 2013 6:20 PM
QUOTE:

Zombie thread needs braaaiiiinnnnnzzz.


I wonder if anyone realizes that someone just randomly responded to a 2 year old thread that died back in September...

January is the month for old threads to be revived....lmao...
January 12, 2013 6:21 PM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

Zombie thread needs braaaiiiinnnnnzzz.


I wonder if anyone realizes that someone just randomly responded to a 2 year old thread that died back in September...

January is the month for old threads to be revived....lmao...


It's happening a LOT at the moment.
  18358448
January 12, 2013 6:26 PM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

Zombie thread needs braaaiiiinnnnnzzz.


I wonder if anyone realizes that someone just randomly responded to a 2 year old thread that died back in September...

January is the month for old threads to be revived....lmao...


It's happening a LOT at the moment.


But when someone starts a new thread on an old subject they are told to search the older threads for the info so maybe they are learning a new approach.....weird but possible
  5554507
January 12, 2013 6:32 PM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

Zombie thread needs braaaiiiinnnnnzzz.


I wonder if anyone realizes that someone just randomly responded to a 2 year old thread that died back in September...

January is the month for old threads to be revived....lmao...


It's happening a LOT at the moment.


But when someone starts a new thread on an old subject they are told to search the older threads for the info so maybe they are learning a new approach.....weird but possible


You have a very valid point.
  18358448
January 12, 2013 6:45 PM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

Zombie thread needs braaaiiiinnnnnzzz.


I wonder if anyone realizes that someone just randomly responded to a 2 year old thread that died back in September...

January is the month for old threads to be revived....lmao...


It's happening a LOT at the moment.


But when someone starts a new thread on an old subject they are told to search the older threads for the info so maybe they are learning a new approach.....weird but possible


You have a very valid point.


O.O Very good point. And out of all threads to be resurrected...this one is a pretty good one...
January 12, 2013 6:49 PM
Old but good post.
January 12, 2013 6:55 PM
BUMP!

TY! Great read!
  1134381
January 12, 2013 7:36 PM
Bump
  14276110
January 12, 2013 7:50 PM
Thanks for this, I've been really looking for some factual information on the topic.
I've been trying to lose ten pounds (for vanity only, because I have a healthy BMI) and have been about 1000 calories per day. I eat small frequent meals and don't feel particularly hungry. However, about once per week I drink alcohol and consume way above my calorie limit. In the days in which I don't cheat I am constantly worried about 'starvation mode'. I've been following this low calorie diet for about three weeks now, and have experienced weight loss. I do have a slower stamina and my concentration is weaker, but I think I'll start gradually upping my calorie intake when I lose the weight.
January 12, 2013 8:34 PM
QUOTE:
I get that. I just don't understand how this advice can ever result in greater fat loss if the increase in metabolism is more than offset by the calories themselves.

Eating well below your BMR can make you feel like crap and not want to work out. Especially if your workout is strength training. If you just eat a deficit and sit in a coma all day, you will burn off fat... and more lean mass compared to what your lean mass will do if you're working out.

From what I've seen the idea is to eat more to fuel your workouts. If you build muscle you increase your BMR, too. This may be part of the benefit.
  33156682
January 12, 2013 8:46 PM
I find it infuriating that 'Consensus Reality' is ..well ..a 'Reality' , that's exactly how the English Language gets developed & why non of it 'Rules' are even reasonable, & don't even mention pronunciation arguments, Democracy's no good if it panders to the lowest common denominator !
Edited by mattboysport On January 12, 2013 8:51 PM
January 12, 2013 9:12 PM
QUOTE:

I find it infuriating that 'Consensus Reality' is ..well ..a 'Reality' , that's exactly how the English Language gets developed & why non of it 'Rules' are even reasonable, & don't even mention pronunciation arguments, Democracy's no good if it panders to the lowest common denominator !

Agreed with the first part, but on the second part, all languages evolve. They are memes selected mainly for efficiency/speed. Language exists to serve our needs to communicate ideas to each other, not to fulfill a sense of symmetry. tongue

Try speaking English without any contractions, and conjugate all verbs the exact same way. (Notice that the most commonly used ones are very short words and also the irregular ones in any language?) Then try speaking it faster and faster and you'll find that you end up with many of the shortcuts we use today. (Try it with "do.") Most of its history was purely pronunciation without any written/phonic standard, too.

It isn't just English... look up the origin of "adonde" in Spanish, which essentially is 'to from from where.'
  33156682
January 13, 2013 3:28 AM
QUOTE:

This makes for very interesting listening, it's very long. The bit relevant to this thread is at 52 minutes when he explains "a calorie burned is a calorie burned, but a calorie eaten is not a calorie eaten" http://thedianerehmshow.org/audio-player?nid=16890


Sorry I don't think I can edit, its from 47 minutes not 52, that's the total length. Silly me.
  35228788
January 14, 2013 8:24 PM
Bump
January 15, 2013 8:49 PM
nice answer! & good points, i did refference 'English' merely as an example though, anyhow it's a pet hate of mine, as i'm useless @languages & excel @maths & the sciences (as much as i 'excell' @anything, that is) my theory on this is that :

if rules are logical i'm happy to abide & respect them,
if they'r not i'd rather rip the rulebook up, than study the nonsense... hehe,

-ofcourse that's exactly how the language develops, really -but it IS the study of the 'Consensus' & ultimately currently the consensus of the lowest common denominator, & to have the L.C.D. writing the Rulebook for Me, will NEVER sit comfortably.

To have someone insist you've pronounced something 'wrong' becouse 90% of the population have got used to miss-pronouncing it for the last decade (oft. foreign place names for example) is a good example, who's right, the people who live in those areas on those foreign lands, or the ignorant masses who's 'Consensus' rules?

I know which i'll go with.
January 18, 2013 7:41 AM
I started eating 1200 calories a day in October, and lost 27 pounds eating healthy meals (lots of fruits, vegetables, etc). It's difficult for me now to eat more than that in a day, because I get full on so much less. If I work out I do eat a little bit more usually but not if I'm still full. I don't see myself being in starvation mode; my BMR is pretty low because up until now I'd led a fairly sedentary lifestyle.

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