"IF YOU DON'T EAT ENOUGH YOUR BODY GOES INTO STARVATION MODE AND STORES FAT"
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
So I’m sure you’ve heard of this one…
Well it’s worth adding from the start there actually is some truth to this. Your bodies primary goal is to survive, so reserving fat for survival is true. However, in regions where starvation exists, people continuously lose weight, which can even lead to death. So why don’t their bodies adapt? The answer is, theirs bodies did adapt, but there is only so much it can adapt. Starvation mode should really be called metabolic adaptation, which is simply how your metabolism adapts to your diet.
Let me explain, every time you eat less consistently for at least a few days, your body detects a smaller intake of food. To your body it appears you might be stuck on a island, with a shortage of food not knowing when your next meal is going to be. Thus, leading to less usable fuel coming directly from your diet, so all the things most people want (fat loss, muscle growth) are made harder because your body down regulates your metabolism. It slows down fat loss to make sure vital organs are insulated and we have some fuel for survival. Furthermore, it's less interested in building muscle because muscle requires more energy and protein for repair, which right now we don't have a lot of. In reverse, This is often why when people start regularly eating more food, they all a sudden feel more energetic. Because their bodies sense an uptake in food, giving permission for more energy usage. This can sometimes lead for the need to move more and fidget. We call this NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis). So our inclination for NEAT goes up just by eating more. This would basically be a raise in metabolism.
Now I’d like to add in rare cases, normally when people couple a low calorie diets with intense exercise consistently for months on end, their body is now in a state of fear, so holding onto fat is a must for surviving. This then leads to a complete halt, or even a regression of results. This is often termed ‘metabolic damage’. It’s basically like starving yourself for a prolonged period of time, there obviously will be some repercussion from this. I would really like to add however in my experience, many people that claim this, aren’t actually in this situation, it takes crazy amount of will power and discipline, ignoring all signs of fatigue. Sex drive, mood, hunger all just none existent and continuing to plough through training like a zombie. In these cases, my advice is approach with caution! Don’t just eat a ton of food instantly, you’ll probably just put on weight again. The correct way to approach this is to reduce the intensity of exercise, and slowly increase calories. So, as crazy as it sounds doing less and eating more might be the best option. This should also be why your training out put should equally match your diet protocol and set goals.
I know what your thinking though, to lose weight we need to be in a calorie deficit but when we do that, eventually our bodies will adapt and weight loss stops. So I guess we are all just screwed and unless like those lucky few just born with ripped abs like Zac Efron, then we’ll never have them? So what shall we do, just give up? Well I’d hope not.
So, the secrets for success here isn’t black or white. But there are some tools, methods and clues we can use to help. The first, and a protocol I use a lot with clients, is ‘refeed' days. This means 1 to 2 days per week we have larger calorie intake, adding somewhere between 500-1000 more calories on those days. What happens here is your body detects a new larger intake of food every so often, helping keep metabolism ramped up and giving the body permission for fat loss because it knows to expect food every week or so.
Now, whenever we take on any new protocol, dietary or not, generally speaking one tool we can all apply is tracking. Tracking performance, body fat, bodyweight, circumferences, pictures, tracking is how you know if what you’re doing is actually working. If you do no tracking you are essentially just pissing in the wind. There are other things we should also be interested in tracking too. How are you actually feeling, or a much deeper look and what I call bio feedback scores. Now these are things that weekly you should be tracking and to make it more tangible ask your self on a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry are you? How stressed are you? What’s the quality of your sleep been like? What's your motivation like? What’s your soreness been like? What’s your energy been like? What’s your sex drive been like?
Focus on all of them equally because some people, no matter what day it is, are horny even when doing way to much exercise and not sleeping enough. This system has flaws and can be a quite subjective depending on the person, however, used correctly can be a very helpful tracking tool and when the scores change you can then figure out the variables that are lacking in your lifestyle that need improvement. The big ones are hunger, sleep, sex drive and stress. So if you’re still hungry, horny, happy, stress free and sleeping well. Your diet and training protocol is probably pretty good.
So in conclusion, if you feel like sh*t consistently whilst dieting, then you probably don’t have to. Starvation mode doesn’t exist, but your body will always adapt for your survival. So consistently under eating will force your metabolism to adapt to suit intake. Thus, leading to less fat loss, the primary goal of most diets. Furthermore, doing more isn’t always the answer, think logically… if doing more didn’t improve the outcome first time round, what makes you think doing even more will improve the outcome the second time round. You must listen to how you feel and monitor progress as much as possible. Refeed days when in a calorie deficit are in my opinion one of the best tools to yield success. It will keep metabolism ramped up and helps you stick to the diet the rest of the week knowing you can have one day where you can deviate off plan and eat a lot more.
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