Starvation mode is like one of the many boogeymen terrorizing the world of dieters.
This otherworldly villain possesses the power to slow your metabolism and reduce calorie burning so that you stop losing weight and plateau.
But, is the starvation mode actually a thing or is it yet another misunderstood piece of fitness lore?
How Real is Starvation Mode?
Starvation mode is rooted in human survival.
During periods of food restriction (e.g. famine, dieting for fat loss, etc.), the body experiences an energy shortage. Since it seeks to converse resources, it naturally lowers energy expenditure to make up for the lack of nutrition it is getting.
So, in short, yes. Starvation mode is real. Note: the technical term for starvation mode is “metabolic adaptation.”
But, the important question is -- how meaningful is starvation mode (or to what degree does the body lower energy expenditure and thus hinder weight loss)?
Research indicates that the body is capable of down-regulating (slowing down) energy expenditure by as much as 30%![1,2]
That sounds pretty severe.
This adaptation is typically short-lived, and for the average individual the actual metabolic adaptation is a 5% decrease in basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Something else to keep in mind is that some individuals will experience NO significant reduction in the resting metabolic rate at all while dieting. Keep in mind though this is highly individual and depends on a number of other factors including genetics, age, weight loss level, etc.
Lastly, some other studies indicate that the act of calorie restriction isn’t the driving factor in regards to metabolic adaptation. Losing weight actually leads to the body’s metabolic adaptation.
Essentially, the body has less mass to move/maintain, and, as a result, it doesn’t burn as many calories during the day moving through space.
Starvation mode does exist, but it isn’t as scary as it is made out to be, which means that it likely isn’t the thing that is holding you back from losing weight.
Maintain a calorie deficit & kill your workouts (cardio and resistance-training), and you’ll lose fat!
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