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Are you using a starvation diet? Find out the truth behind low calorie diets, why they work, and why you may never want to try one again.
There is a lot of back and forth around starvation mode theories and effects when it comes to weight loss. People in the western world are a part of a huge weight loss market, and industries with a vested interest in selling their products will bend the facts to get buyers on their side. Is starvation mode real? Depending on the diet type being sold, manufacturers will promise a yes or a no, but either way, they promise their diet can succeed all others, and lead to fast, long-lasting fat loss.

When the body is continually lacking nutrients, and calories for energy, there are very real physiological changes that occur. Rather than being a question of whether or not starvation mode exists, it is really a question of how severe the impact can be on the metabolism, and if the effects can be reversed.

Several obesity specialists, including Wadden, Stunkard, Dulloo, Elliot, Stipanauk, and many more have published peer reviewed articles on their research, essentially concluding the same thing. Decreasing energy intake leads to a severely reduced metabolic rate, and leaves the metabolic rate extremely low even after increasing the energy intake to a normal level to maintain body weight. It is considered by many of these experts to likely be a defense mechanism to protect the body from further loss of body weight.

It is difficult in this day in age to do longitudinal studies on starvation diets for ethical reasons. In the early 1940's and 50's, there were a few studies which examined cravings for food, and what is known as food seeking behaviors to study how people's eating habits changed with reduced intake.

Food Seeking Behaviors

Low calorie diets are essentially starvation diets. Controlling overall intake, and counting calories to keep them at a minimum has been shown to increase 'food seeking behaviors'. One of the most immediate hormonal responses when decreased food intake is a change in the level of the hormone leptin. There has been a lot of research on this hormone, and many refer to it as the starvation response, itself. Leptin levels decrease when fat stores begin to decrease, which sends a signal to the brain which begin the starvation response. It is the decrease in leptin which triggers the whole process, increases appetite signals and decreasing energy consumption and production.

With this, the hormones in the hypothalamus which are responsible for hunger begin to fire more rapidly than ever before. The body is sending a warning and constant reminder to eat, which increases food seeking behaviors.

Maintaining Weight Loss

Once the crash diet is over, weight is likely to have been lost. In many cases, it is a lot of water and muscle mass, along with some fat. If a weight training program was being followed regularly, some of the muscle loss may have been curbed. Most interestingly, the changes that occurred while in starvation mode persist long after the diet is over.


Both a decreased metabolism and an increased hunger response persist. This is the primary reason that crash diets really don't work. 90% of people to try these diets will regain the weight that was lost, along with a few more pounds. While it would appear to work, they really don't allow an individual to maintain their weight loss in the long term.

A dangerous marketing tool that many of these company's use is the allure of losing weight fast. There are no shortcuts to increasing physical activity and eating well. Though it may be a slower process, the weight which is dropped will likely be fat rather than muscle, and far easier to sustain for several years to come.