Are you starving to lose weight?

Are you going with out food ?

Weight loss is associated with numerous physical and mental health benefits which are really beneficial for the body.

However, your brain, which is more worried about keeping you from starving, doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

When you lose a lot of weight, your body starts trying to conserve energy by reducing the number of calories it burns and you will feel lazier and increase cravings with moods.

These effects can cause you to stop losing weight and may make you feel so miserable that you abandon your weight loss efforts and regain the weight.

This phenomenon, which is your brain’s natural mechanism to protect you from starvation, is often called “starvation mode.”

The body will respond by going into a metabolic damage which is its natural response to long term calorie restriction by adapting to a natural physiological response.


Calories in, calories out

Obesity is a disorder of excess energy accumulation.

The body puts energy (calories) into its fat tissues, storing it for later use.

All weight loss diets cause a reduction in calorie intake. Some do so by controlling calorie intake directly (counting calories, weighing portions, etc.),

The body and brain can respond by making you hungrier (so you eat more, increasing calories in), but they can also affect the number of calories you burn (calories out).

Starvation mode implies that your body reduces calories out to restore energy balance and stop you from losing any more weight, even in the face of continued calorie restriction.

The number of calories you burn can change

The number of calories you burn in a day can be split into four components.

  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the number of calories your body uses to maintain vital functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and brain function.
  • Thermic effect of food (TEF). This is the number of calories burned while digesting a meal, which is usually about 10% of calorie intake.
  • Thermic effect of exercise (TEE). TEE is the number of calories burned during physical activity, such as exercise.
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT refers to the number of calories burned fidgeting, changing posture, etc. This is usually subconscious.

The most important hormones are leptin, thyroid hormone, and norepinephrine. Levels of all of these hormones can decrease with calorie restriction.

This is one reason why weight loss tends to slow over time, as well as why it’s so difficult to maintain a reduced weight. You may need to eat fewer calories indefinitely.

Keep in mind that this metabolic “slowdown” my be even greater in some groups that have a hard time losing weight, such as postmenopausal women.

Muscle mass tends to decrease

Another side effect of losing weight is that muscle mass tends to decrease

Muscle is metabolically active and burns calories around the clock.

However, the reduction in calorie expenditure is greater than what can be explained by a reduction in muscle mass alone.

The body becomes more efficient at doing work, so less energy than before is required to do the same amount of work (12Trusted Source).

Therefore, calorie restriction makes you expend fewer calories to perform physical activity.


Weight loss and reduced calorie intake can lead to reduced calorie burning. On average, this amounts to about 5.8 calories per pound (12.8 calories per kg) of lost body weight.

How to avoid the metabolic slowdown

A reduced metabolic rate is simply a natural response to reduced calorie intake.

Although some reduction in calorie burning may be inevitable, there are a number of things you can do to mitigate the effect.

Lift weights

The single most effective thing you can do is resistance exercise.

The obvious choice would be to lift weights, but bodyweight exercises can work just as well.

Studies have shown that resistance exercise, as in exerting your muscles against resistance, can have major benefits when you’re on a diet.

In one study, three groups of women were placed on a diet providing 800 calories daily.

One group was instructed not to exercise, one to perform aerobic exercise (cardio), while the third group did resistance exercise (13Trusted Source).

Those in the groups that either didn’t exercise or did aerobic exercise lost muscle mass and experienced significant reductions in metabolic rate.

However, the women who did resistance exercise maintained their metabolic rate, muscle mass, and strength levels.

This has been confirmed in many studies. Weight loss reduces muscle mass and metabolic rate, and resistance exercise can (at least partly) prevent it from happening (14Trusted Source15Trusted Source).

Keep protein high

Protein is the king of macronutrients when it comes to losing weight.

Having a high protein intake can both reduce appetite (calories in) and boost metabolism (calories out) by 80–100 calories per day (16Trusted Source17Trusted Source).

It can also reduce cravings, late-night snacking, and calorie

Keep in mind that you can reap the benefits of protein by simply adding it to your diet, without consciously restricting anything.

That said, adequate protein intake is also important for preventing the adverse effects of long-term weight loss.

When your protein intake is high, your body will be less inclined to break down your muscles for energy or protein.

This can help preserve muscle mass, which should (at least partly) prevent the metabolic slowdown that comes with weight loss

Taking a break from your diet might help | Taking breaks

Some people like to routinely include refeeds, which involve taking a break from their diet for a few days.

On these days, they may eat slightly above maintenance, then continue with their diet a few days later.

There is some evidence that this can temporarily boost the levels of some of the hormones that decrease with weight loss, such as leptin and thyroid hormone (23Trusted Source24Trusted Source).

It may also be useful to take a longer break, as in a few weeks.

Just make sure to be conscious of what you’re eating during the break. Eat at maintenance, or slightly over, but not so much that you start gaining fat again.

Intermittent fasting might likewise help, although studies have provided conflicting results. Compared with continuous calorie restriction, some studies report that intermittent fasting decreases adaptive thermogenesis, while others show an increase, or a similar effect


Lifting weights and keeping protein intake high are two evidence-based ways to reduce muscle loss and metabolic slowdown during weight loss. Taking a break from your diet might also help.

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