Starvation Mode

Myth or Permission to Eat More?

Photo by petra cigale on Unsplash

Whoo! In all the years that I’ve been watching weight loss trends, there have been changes in “popular” ways of eating. Then? Atkins. Now? Keto. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the varied opinions on “Starvation Mode.”

I’m not eating my BMR, because I’m not hungry. Am I damaging my metabolism?

I’m eating between 1,000–1,200 calories per day and I’m not losing weight. Do I need to eat more?

I must be going into “starvation mode” because I’m obviously not losing weight with a restricted calorie diet.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase, here.

Our bodies need enough energy to do what it is that we need to do. And by energy, I mean calories. We have to be thoughtful of the calories that we eat, daily, however.

My husband and I just had a discussion about how someone who just ate 2 hours ago could be hungry again. His stance? “It’s all in their mind.” My stance? “Nope. It depends on what they ate two hours ago.”

I actually won that one.

The example I gave was of one person who ate 200 calories of chips for lunch one day and was hungry two hours later and the same person who ate 200 calories of salad (without whole-fat ranch, a butt-load of cheese and processed turkey chunks) the next day, who was still satisfied two hours later.

Starvation Mode can best be described what people think that they are in when they feel that they aren’t eating enough calories, and this is hindering their weight loss.

Let me ask you this: How do anorexics become bone thin? If they aren’t eating enough, why aren’t they as big as houses? I am just asking the question, here. The answer to this is because they are literally starving themselves. They are not dealing with “starvation mode.” They’re dealing with actual starvation.

Here’s the thing…

Let’s say I’m on a 1,200 calorie per day diet, which is an extreme calorie deficit at my 170-ish, 5'7" frame.

Now let’s also say that I’m eating 1,200 calories of crap; Chips, pastries and/or fried/processed foods. After a day of eating that, how likely do you think I’m going to be energetic enough to walk on the treadmill after work or get up early the next morning to lift the weights? Let’s be honest. I’m going to have zero motivation, never mind the zero energy I’m going to have because of the shitty food I ate the day before.

I understand that our bodies compensate for the reduced calories. The less we weigh, the fewer calories we need to do what we need to do. I get that our metabolisms adjust accordingly, but none of this puts us into that mythical “starvation mode.”

Because I don’t speak science, my only other choice is to speak common sense.

Here is my take on things:

If you choose to eat 1,200–1,500 calories worth of crap during your day, you aren’t going to have the energy to do anything after work except crash on the couch after nuking your kids some pizza rolls or bagel bites for supper, and you’re damned sure not going to get on the treadmill after those eight exhausting hours of sitting at your desk.

I’m not judging. The prior paragraph was me six, seven, eight years ago.

Now, let’s substitute those 1,200–1,500 crap calories with lean proteins, healthy fats and good carbs. Now we are satisfied after eating a couple of eggs and some oatmeal for breakfast, a salad with a chicken breast or two cut up into it (dressed with some extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar and some Mrs. Dash to season it up), followed by some fruits or vegetables for a snack, mid-afternoon. Dinner might be some grilled fish of your choice of veggies.

Can you get up early the next morning to workout? Maybe not with a smile on your face, but more than likely, yes!

See what I mean? You can still eat reduced calories and have enough energy to do what you have to do during a given day.

At the same time? Don’t over-reduce your calorie intake for your height and weight. That will just make you sluggish and irritable. I know this from personal experience, because while I wanted to think that “less is more” in weight loss? It’s not.

What are your thoughts on this?

Julie Cusimano Wall is the author of Random Musings From a Type-A Workaholic, a contributor at “The Ascent,” Central Transport Supervisor at a local hospital, Neither Left- nor Right-Leaning, tender-hearted and an extremely outspoken advocate for people that don’t get to experience privilege.