Weight Loss
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starvation mode seriously?

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I am 34 and have been loosing weight on and off since my 20's. My normal weight is 140 lbs, max weight after 2 pregnancies 176 lbs. I am currently on the way down from my max, currently at 165 lbs (long way to go still :). I always knew what works for me, stop eating like theres no tomorrow and getting my butt to the gym. Hitting the weights is VERY important. I can usually manage to loose up to 10 lbs a month eating 1200-1500 cal a day and excercising up to 6 times a week. I have joined the CC to get back on track after my daughter has been born. There is an awfull lot of talk about starvation mode om the forums. I simply dont get this and it makes me more and more irritated everytime I come across the topic. I mean, does anybody realize that people who seriously undereat DO lose weight? If the theory about slowing your metabolism drasticly by undereating drasticly were actually true, there would be no anorexia, no skinny celebrities. I have a feeling that some use this as an excuse to eat. I am actually not a fan of undereating as I dont enjoy feeling hungry all the time, but hey, everybody who needs to loose 40 pounds like I do actually did have their fill. I have been literally eating non stop during and after my pregnancy. According to all this starvation mode talk, I should not have been able to have lost the 10 lbs I did since April 10. I am eating 1200 cal at the moment (BMR 1500) and spinning every day. The first 5 lbs is usually just water but 5 lbs in 2 weeks is not bad at all. I think that as long as you excercise at the same time (eating enough to have the strength) people should relax more about the starvation mode. Our bodies do actually keep the fat in preparation for days we do not get enough energy through food! Its just a matter of using the stored energy instead of adding more. Goog luck everybody, weight loss is hard work!
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Starvation mode is true. Take it from someone who's been through both that and an eating disorder. I must say that it's starting to annoy me that people keep telling others that 'starvation mode' does not exist. Starvation mode doesn't mean that you per definition don't lose weight. 

I started losing weight on 800-1200 calories with 500 burned calories a day (my maintaince 2200-2400 sedentary). At first I lost loads of weight! I mean, loads! Than after I guess, 5 months I started gaining. On 900 calories per day. With 500 calories burned. And trust me, I didn't count wrong! I measured everything I put into my mouth, and I mean everything. This wouldn't make ANY sense if starvation mode didn't exist. It's making me angry that people denies that it exist and eats way to little knowing it, when someone have warned them. I'm sorry I am so harsh but I think it is not showing much respect to those who are suffering/or have been from it.

The reason why anorexic keep losing weight is because their metabolic rate doesn't shut down completely. Mine was, as I said before, at about 900 calories. If I had continued and maybe eaten 600 cals, I would have continued losing too.

I'm not saying that you eat too little. I have no idea exactly how much you eat and exercise so I'm not trying to tell you what to do, I just wanted to tell you that this DOES exist, and that it isn't funny. Going into starvation mode means gaining everything plus more back. I've tried it.

Again, sorry for being so harsh, it's just annoying that some people keep on justifying eating too little just because they're in denial of what may happen and because they are not patient enough to lose weight healthy :)


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Hi Ulalalaura, thank you for your comments, I appreciate that. Sorry about you going through that. I did not mean to be disrespectful, believe me. I guess everybody is different. What works for some doesnt for others. I would not wish an ED on onybody, I really love my food. The point I was making was that I feel preassured almost to feel guilty for not eating more even though I somtimes feel I eat too much even at 1200 cal (that is not true I know). My experience has always been the less I eat and the more I excercise the more I loose. The right balance is the key maybe?

Thank you.

Wow ! 2 very convinced posts.


Yes seriusly undereat n u will lose weight. ED I believe. Let's say your BMR is 1,800. If u ate 1,800 u would lose weight due to daily activities. You drop your intake to 1,300 n keep it there. At first you would increase your fat loss by 1lbs a week. Then as time goes by your BMR would drop. (Remember BMR calculators give the average BMR of a person with your stats. Your own BMR changes bases on your diet and body composition) As your BMR drops you stop losing weight. Now if you are happy with your weight then sort of fine. Except of course your body being in a starvation mode / hybernation mode if you ever overeat your body will store extra as fat. But if you want extra weight loss you will need to decrease the amount you eat further. 100 , 200 at a time till you are barely eating. Voila ED , anorexia. 

Now the reason why people keep bringing up starvation mode, I prefer to call it hybernation is because your body not only needs energy it needs nutrition. The BMR calculator gives a calorie level at which your body will get the correct amount of nutrition if te calories are got froma balanced diet. When you start to decrease the amount you eat it causes your metabolism to slow down making you eat less n less till you are not getting the nutrients your body needs. You can lose weight by decreasing the amount you eat or increasing the amount you eat. You should only reduce the amount you eat if you are eating too much. Your BMR should be treated as your minimum.Then any further deficit you want should be by increasing you burn level.


"You can lose weight by decreasing the amount you eat or increasing the amount you exercise"

in last para.


Thanks for the link. But deceptive heading. It says "myth" then goes on to say that metabolic rate slows down. Thats exactly what we are saying will happen. The article goes on to say the rate picks up again when you start eating. Which is why I prefer to use the term hybernation as oposed to starvation.

Which Weight Watchers got wrong: The Fat trap - or why that Weight Watcher's article writer fails at science forever.

 Realize however that people are using "starvation mode" as a sort of short-hand for several different processes and you get a lot of confusion going on because you're all talking past one another.

 In the short term the bulk of the starvation response is volitional; eat too little and you'll have almost no energy or motivation to move more than absolutely necessary so your activity slows down to where your Active Metabolic Rate approaches your Basal Metabolic Rate or what you'd normally only burn in a coma.

 Eat little, move even less to compensate for the cut in calorie intake, and you wind up with a situation that seems like magic to some people because they assume that the estimate for their calorie burn from the Harris-Benedict, Mifflin-St.Jeor or other metabolic formula is going to match their actual measured calorie burn. But all the metabolic equations assume that you're at least minimally active in routine house work, self-care and at least a little random motion through the day which is why your Active Metabolic Rate even as a sedentary person is 20% higher than your Basal Metabolic rate. Cut your intake to ridiculously low levels from your actual needs however, and you won't have the energy to do more than lie on the couch and listlessly watch TV, so if your calorie expenditure were measured you'd be miles away from what theory predicts simply from your lack of movement.

 There are also long-term metabolic effect known as Adaptive Thermogenesis that lower your BMR rate by anything from a fraction of a percentage point to 44.6% which is the largest measured metabolic drop on record as found through searching though PubMed, part of the Minnesota starvation experiment by Ancel Keys. All biological processes are analog and function on a continuum, so the 0.1% to 25% measured drop in the metabolic rate of the dieter's musculature in the NY Times aricle is only different in degree, not in kind to the drop measured in the Minnesota study. This drop in metabolic rate persists past restoration of pre-diet weight and is hypothesized to be directly diet to the leptin signaling mechanism.

 Adaptive thermogenesis is real but insignificant for the normal lose-10-lbs dieter where your start and goal weight are close together, and is largely prevented with sufficient strength training. However, there are limits to the ability of even properly performed strength training to overcome the very real and  measurable effects of adaptive thermogenesis on the metabolisms of the formerly obese that lead to the formerly obese individual burning anywhere from 100-300kcal/d less than a similar-weight individual who've never been obese.

 People generally tend to use "starvation mode" when they really mean adaptive thermogenesis, and further compound the problem when they blame adaptive thermogenesis in situations where it's clear they're really discussing the effects of the drop in activity level that comes under the heading of starvation response. Hence the confusion in this thread and elsewhere where people mix up their terminology, talk past each other, and generally fail to communicate what they're actually talking about.

I read somewhere that you don't go into starvation mode until you are underweight. Up until then, you body has plenty of resources to feed on. I REALLY don't think that it is possibly to be overweight/obese and be in a starvation mode at the same time.

I eat about 1200 cals a day most people here would go OMG YOU ARE STARVING YOURSELF. I am not. I am getting all of my nutrients on most of the days and don't feel hungry. Plus, I am pretty much sedentary with 0 exercise (not something I'm proud of, but that's just the way it is) and I am only 5-10 pounds overweight.


Somehow those poor people in concentration cams managed to lose tons of weight on 800 calories with a lot of "exercise".

Original Post by myteasgonecold:

Somehow those poor people in concentration cams managed to lose tons of weight on 800 calories with a lot of "exercise".

People in concentration camps weren't eating anywhere close to 800 calories, and they weren't in starvation mode. They were literally starving to death. Using them as an example proves nothing except you don't understand what you are arguing about.

also, i wasnt underweight and same thing happened to me. i also have hormone issues that have made things load worse, and i really cant eat above 1400 a day w/o gaining(with exercise) so 600 a day for me no exercise wouldnt be as killer as to say someone whose bmr is 1800(vs like 1100 or somethig low like that)

Oh, really? Actually, I do know what I am arguing about. German paperwork from camps contains data about how the prisoners were fed. They were given even more than many people on this board are eating. Here is a quote for you "the prisoners in Auschwitz were getting from 1302 to 1744 calories...". 

We get what you're saying but c'mon.

 Lets have respect for those who have suffered. Using prisoners in comparison to us, regular people who are cutting calories to lose our guts is just faux pas.

 Bad form is all.

What is it with inappropriate references to Nazis and extermination camps this week? But assuming you're actually serious and not trolling....

 When my grandfather came back from a German camp after WWII he weighted about 100-105lbs, while his normal weight pre internment hovered around 180-190lbs and he was so physically disabled from the starvation and torture he endured that he was unable to climb stairs for more than a year. But he'd survived deprivation and Germans doing their level best to work him to death in part through the process of long-term adaptive thermogenesis which allowed him to stave off death by starvation for long enough that the German forces occupying Norway surrendered before they'd used him up completely, even though going by the camp records he should have starved to death in 1944.

 And he wasn't even in the death camps, he was 'just' a resistance spy - though the Germans had about used him up and he was scheduled to be transferred to Belsen for disposal the day after Germany surrendered so if the war had gone on for a week longer I wouldn't be here - dad was born in 1948.

 So. I really don't know what your point was except to demonstrate that you're confused about terminology and are arguing against straw men for some odd reason.

That is a very interesting article Melkor, though it does not dispute the primary argument of the much briefer and less rigorous weight watcher's article: That adaptive thermogenesis, or "starvation mode", will not completely stall or reverse weight loss; instead it shifts where the bar should be set, and people who lose weight misjudge where that target should be.

"The Fat Trap" does however address a more in-depth look at the issue of weight regain after fat loss dieting and weight maintenance.  The primary focus of this article is the metabolic difference between obese and non-obese persons in caloric needs after weight loss.  From the research cited the article postulates that formerly highly-overweight or obese persons require fewer calories for a given body mass to maintain weight than people who did not reach that weight from fat loss.  Moreover the article continues by citing futher studies suggesting the significance of genetics on weight-gain, weight-loss, and fat distribution.  You mentioned this already, I just wanted to offer my own synopsis.

The article does not directly address adaptive thermogenesis as most people believe it (a severe reduction in metabolism due to restricted calorie intake), rather it is describing the large variability in the human population regarding weight loss and caloric needs, based on many factors.  The findings of the studies in this article does suggest that the caloric intake for many persons who believe they are eating under their daily caloric needs may in fact be at a maintenance level due to the fact that they are over estimating their true metabolism and their body's adaptive hormonal response.  You mentioned this in your post, though you continued to expound on it by discussing the effects of energy and activity level and their relation to caloric need.

I believe that this article is a valuable resource to read for any person who is looking to keep off a large amount of fat after a serious diet and weight-loss period.  However it does not, as you say, prove that the "Weight Watcher's article writer fails at science forever".  I don't want to be to much of a stickler for scientific validity in publications, but the weight watcher's article bases its argument on three sources relating directly to energy regulation and metabolic rate, with another on the bio-psychology of appetite, all from different institutions.  The NY Times article only links to two references relating to energy regulation and metabolic rate, both from the same source (New England journal of Medicine), and both with design and method focus on genetics and hormonal influences.   The NY Times article further links three more articles discussing purely hormonal and genetic causal relationships with BMI.

While the NY Times article is longer and goes into more depth in its discussion, it by no means provides grounds to throw out the assertions by the weight watcher's article, which is aimed at a broader audience and appears to have aimed at brevity for the sake of clarity.  The studies cited in the weight watcher's article have a more direct design towards investigation of the effects of caloric restriction on metabolic rate, where as the NY Times article is more focused on genetic and hormonal influences on metabolism and obesity.

Weight Watchers "research staff" fail science forever because they're falling into the most common fallacy of all, the confirmation bias trap where they pick 2-3 studies that agree with the hypothesis they have and skip all of the rest of the literature that disagrees with their position. 

 The Weight Watcher's hypothesis is that behavioral adaptations to reduced calorie intake that affect calorie expenditure don't exist and that that adaptive thermogenesis as a rule doesn't happen and in the cases where it does the adaptation goes away once you're in a maintenance phase, all three of which have been demonstrated to be false. 

 If you went by the cherry-picked studies in the weight watcher's article you'd come away with the impression that they'd supplied something other than proof of confirmation bias, which is why they fail science forever.

I can see how weight watchers would be influenced to predicate a specific view and have a focus on finding supporting data that would result in confirmational bias.  I will not argue that.

I am also aware that adaptive metabolic response occurs as a result of high caloric restriction, and in the weight watcher's article this is acknowledged if not rigorously or sufficiently discussed.  However WW does assert that it only occurs during the low caloric intake phase, and is absent upon return to normal diet and activity.  This may or may not be wrong and is the basis of argument, where the two cases are 1) the body returns to 'normal' metabolic function over time as is expected for a person of given size and activity level; and 2) the body exists in a different metabolic state than predicted for person of said size and activity level.

Given the references I have read so far there appears to be supporting evidence in both cases, though there are sufficiently complex factors at work that a simplistic explanation is not clear.

However, I will reassert that the basic message of the weight watcher's article is sound if incomplete and possibly biased; "starvation mode" as a distinct physiological event does not exist.  There is an adaptive metabolic response to reduce caloric expenditure in the presence of a deficit, but it scales with the degree of deprivation.  There is not a point where the body turns a switch and goes into starvation mode.  I believe this the common misconception of "starvation mode" which, despite arguing over the finer minutia, is what is trying to be conveyed.

You guys can take it from me... Look at my  previous post and history. I was a FIRM nonbeliever in Starvation mode and still to this day refuse to call the change that occurs by such a misleading name. Melkor is spot on and was from day one regardless of how much I tried to discredit everything everyone said to me about it. I have lost an insane amount of weight since Jan 3rd. I'm down 56.2 lbs.

While this has not happened to me yet, if a person fails to eat atleast their BMR they will fall subject to this. I always eat atleast my BMR and sometimes more depending on if I work out or not. I recalculate my BMR every 10 lbs to make sure I am calculating it for the new me. 

I do agree with the OP that everyone is different however to claim that gross undereating (below your BMR) does not lead to adaptive responses in the body would be a disjustice to everyone. Never eat below your BMR (not only to keep from falling prey to this adaptive response but also to get proper nutrient intake that your body needs). My other advice I give everyone is drink 72-120 oz of water a day and avoid drinking much else. The body does not love man made things mixed with our water (such as diet soda etc, koolaide, etc etc). Just food for thought.. Again what do I know I'm just a big loser :)

Mmm, true - it's why I prefer to use "adaptive thermogenesis" and "behavioral reduction in non-exercise associated thermogenesis" explicitly instead of referring to them by the shorthand "starvation response" as people haven't got all sorts of weird notions about those phrases, unlike the baggage about what does and does not happen in severe caloric restrictions that comes along for the ride when you say "starvation mode".

 At no point does weight loss completely stop if you actually have a calorie deficit, but the NEAT reduction and adaptive thermogenesis can conspire to reduce your calorie deficit to near-zero in an actual human metabolism even if the theory predicts that they should be having a calorie deficit at a given intake.

Ok....help me understand "starvation mode" then....

I am a 45yo male at 5'11". I lost over 100lbs (down from 287) about 4 years ago. I am currently around 183-185lbs. I have been this weight for a few years give or take a pound or two. I am extremely careful about accurately counting calories. Having lost over 100lbs through diet and exercise, I think I have that part down.

Per the site, my sendentary burn is roughly 2120cals. I am a cyclist. For the last two months, I ride 4-5 times a week. Mostly training rides with the occasional time trial race. I usually do 15-30 miles at an average of 18-20mph (no drafting). I have a GPS, I track all my rides, so the speed, times, mileage are fairly accurate. My estimation based on my GPS and this site is that I am burning 1000-1500 per ride.

I eat 1900-2100 daily.  Some days a little more, but I would say 2000 a day is "average".

Let's say that my sedentary burn for the week is 14,840 (2120X7) and my cycling calories burned for the week is 5000 (5X1000), that gives me 19,840 calories burned in a week. I eat 2000, so at 2000X7, that is 14,000 calories intake. That puts me almost 6000cals deficit per week. I have not lost a pound in the past two months. I would like to drop another ten pounds, but I am not sure what is up.

Your body has gotten used to the activity that you are doing and has become efficient at it.  You are not burning the calories you believe you are burning and if you are, your body is holding onto things because you are running on low calories for such high activity.

Also at 5'11' 183-185 you might not get any lower. My target weight is 194 but the chart says I can go down to 178 to be in the middle of the healthy BMI range at 6'.  There is no way I will look decent at this weight. Your body might like the weight you are at with the muscle mass you have and not be willing to go any lower (that's all about genetics)

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