Does it exist?
I ran a poll on my Instagram last week that was conflicted. A lot of people still believe that starvation mode exists. By definition, let’s just say that starvation mode is when you’re eating so little calories that it’s preventing you from gaining weight or making you gain more weight.
That’s completely false.
What I think a lot of people are learning is that while starvation mode may be false there’s something that’s very similar to it which is called metabolic adaptation.
What is Metabolic Adaptation?
Let’s say you have a 250-pound male who wants to lose 50 pounds.
We need to calculate his basal metabolic rate and he’s not overly active. He has a desk job and he works out three times a week on average.
That would put his basal metabolic rate at anywhere between 2700 to 3200 calories
That’s where it’s starting off at just to get a baseline. Once he starts tracking consistently, we can monitor if these numbers are accurate.
Say he loses 30 pounds and he’s down to 220lbs. He is 30 pounds lighter than when he started and that is going to affect his basal metabolic rate.
His body is starting to adapt to the lower calories that so what that means now in order to get past this plateau of 220, he has two options:
- Increase his calorie output by doing more
- Decrease his calories even further
He is more likely to suffer from metabolic adaptation (or what’s colloquially known as “starvation mode”) if he keeps dropping his calories.
Time has passed and he’s gotten down to 200lbs. He reached his goal weight!
To get there he ended up at around 2000 calories per day. This is his new BMR (basal metabolic rate)
His body has adapted over time from losing all that body fat and now that he weighs less, his body needs less energy to function.
Now his metabolism is the lower does that mean now he’s never gonna be able to lose body fat again?
Does that mean that he’s in starvation mode or he’s eating so little he can lose fat?
If he wanted to get even leaner he would have to do is you increase activity or decrease calories.
A third approach that has become more popular of late is a reverse diet approach.
That is when you get to a point where:
- You don’t want to decrease your calories anymore because your metabolism has adapted to constantly dieting
- And you don’t really have the energy to increase your activity level anymore.
You’re going to slowly increase calories. This might mean 100-200 calories a week depending on how
your body is reacting to the increase.
Obviously you want to bring your metabolism back up so you can eat more food and comfortably maintain the same weight but you don’t want to put body fat back on.
Now back to our example. He wants to maintain his weight at 200 pounds but he wants to eat 2500-2700 calories without gaining any body fat.
It will take some patience but really you can approach it in 2 ways:
- Add in 100 calories each week until you reach your goal.
- Add 500 calories right away and adjust accordingly.
Depending on how lean you are and how little you’re actually eating, this approach might work better for you.
What I like to do with most people is just slowly ramp their calories back up. It takes a little bit more time but you have you still have more control over your food and you’re less likely to put on body fat.
There is no such thing as starvation mode
If you’re eating that little you’re gonna be losing body fat. If you think your metabolism is adapted that much you can take a diet break (which I’ll get into another blog).
If you feel like you’re not losing body fat, take a look at how long you been dieting for, how many calories are eating, and how long have you been eating those calories.
Take all of these into account before you automatically assume that you need to cut calories again because it could just be an accuracy problem.
I would recommend increasing your steps per day before you go slashing calories like crazy.
Really take a look at what’s going on and how accurate you’re being with those calories.
Maybe you need a diet break.
Maybe you just need to slowly ramp up your calories for a little while.
You’re stuck for a reason and it could be a metabolic adaptation.
Or it could be just a lack of accuracy of tracking and consistency.