Like most of my blogs, I began writing this down and articulating my ideas around it because I was triggered by some rubbish in some mainstream media outlet about bull crap ideas about how the body works.
If you type #starvationmode on Instagram you are met with some people trying to educate but with more people ranting about how your body stores the food you eat into body fat.
Let’s go over some basics so we can all make sure we are talking about the same thing and we are clear.
All the food we eat comprises of important nutrients and provides us the energy we need every day to do things. Yes, it is termed as calories (or kilojoules). This word triggers so many people, but it is simply a word we use to equate energy. Like the kilogram or second. It is a measurement and whether you like it or not, our bodies take in this energy and we can account for most of it and what it does.
Yes, there are some amounts lost to heat when we eat, some to poor nutrient digestion and ingestion. Yes, we poop out some too. But since all of these influence that number so independently what we do is instead focus on the total amount of food eaten and total amount of work done (through training or life) by the body.
When you are maintaining your bodyweight then we term this as caloric maintenance. If your body is losing weight, then we term this a calorie deficit/energy deficit and when you are gaining weight it is a calorie surplus/energy surplus. This surplus stores as body fat or the creation of lean body mass (muscle, blood vessels, neurons, etc). If you want to know how different diets help you achieve this read this article.
Starvation mode is defined as “your body not getting enough food and because of that starts storing it as body fat to protect you from dying”.
My usual rebuttal for such a ridiculous statement is “Why are there starving kids in this world that aren’t obese if that is the case?”
But since that isn’t overly helpful, I want to clear up a lot of the concepts around it.
I mentioned before that you need to be eating in a calorie deficit before to lose weight. Whether done subconsciously or consciously if you under eat your body begins to break down tissue stores in an attempt to fill the need for the energy it requires from somewhere.
A lot of people have this misconception that the body is kind of like a light switch and that you flick the switch on and off for a lot of the body’s functions. Think of it more like a dimmer than an On/Off switch. You can turn the intensity of the light up or down. Very few responses in the body react quickly, so if you go from eating no food for 5 hours and then eating a meal you aren’t immediately anabolic. It is a process that takes time.
If your body has to take that energy from somewhere then one of the sources, it takes from is fat stores. When you spend more energy than you intake this causes weight loss, preferably fat loss. Yay.
Now think about everything I have spoken about thus far. We know the body uses energy to maintain its weight. We know that to lose weight you have to eat less than you take in. By definition you can’t be eating food and storing it as body fat if you’re in a calorie deficit. The term states you must be losing weight due to an energy deficit. If you aren’t losing weight, then you aren’t in an energy deficit.
Sometimes this is hard to grasp and frustrating because the amount of food you are eating is low. As a feedback and protective measure your body fights back hard against fat loss. There is no benefit in being good at losing weight as that makes you susceptible to dying. You could be eating 1200 calories and still be gaining weight or worse body fat. That sucks, trust me I get it better than most.
One of the ways in which the body protects itself against is through Metabolic Adaptation.
This is the closest thing to starvation mode but it’s not the same thing.
What this means is that your concept of what you need to be eating versus what you are eating is different. There are ways to improve this and that’s where we come in.
Diet Smart, Not Hard.