I have heard several conflicting theories about going into starvation mode when someone is not eating enough calories for their activity level. There are people that say this is correct and there are others that argue it is B.S and say that a person will still lose weight even if they are not eating enough calories. What do you think? (I would rather ask a bunch of professionals such as yourselves than read any more comments in a bogus comment feed).
I suspect that you’re referring to the so-called “hypothalamic set-point” theory. Theory is the key word. The reality that such a physiologic response occurs in response to hypocaloric dieting is certainly debatable. I try to keep an open mind and trust in my education and experience.
It is my opinion that the literature is correct in suggesting that if total energy(calorie) intake is less than energy output weight loss will be the ultimate result. However, this negative energy balance and its physiologic effects are significantly impacted by several factors.
If calorie intake (with proper distribution of the six basic nutrients) is sufficient to satisfy resting energy metabolism (RMR) needs and the negative balance is a result of exercise (primarily cardiovascular and resistance training) and activities of daily living the weight loss will be primarily from lipids stored in adipose cells (the body’s primary energy reserve.) Lean body mass (LBM) will, for the most part, be maintained. If total weight loss is more than 40-50 pounds LBM will decrease since that muscle is no longer needed to support the body’s weight.
If the negative energy balance is a result of inadequate calorie intake to support even RMR (starvation) the body will mobilize not only its fat reserves, but will utilize skeletal muscle and organ proteins to generate the glucose it needs for cytoplasmic and mitochondrial ATP production (gluconeogenesis.) This is, obviously, not healthy weight loss.
If your question is focused on effective, healthy weight loss, the take away for me is to suggest to your client(s) that moderate calorie reduction, maintaining an adequate diet of mostly the right kinds of foods most of the time, coupled with
frequent, vigorous exercise will likely be the most effective approach in the long run. Keep in mind that the research is clear in suggesting that maximum effective weight loss over time is 1-2 lbs/wk. Adequate water/fluid intake and plenty of sleep are critical.
The down side to a very calorie restricted diet is well documented. (Sleep disturbances, mood issues, concentration issues, etc.) And the poor long term outcomes of such weight loss are also well documented. (Very low long term weight maintenance, lose of lean mass, etc.) Everyone wants a magic solution. But the real solution is to eat sensibly and exercise properly. The biggest challenge to weight loss/maintenance is that we have become very accustomed to processed and flavor engineered foods. This over activates the body’s normal response to flavor, texture, blood chemistry, etc. It takes time and consistency to achieve weight loss and assume a better lifestyle, but once it has been accomplished it will pay off better than any diet plan.
Education is the way to success. Learning how to eat, exercise, and deal with stress will put your future into your own hands.
Hi Missy! I know your question was already answered above but I’d like to add a simple thought for you.
A starvation diet – very low in calories – will cause weight loss, and ultimately, if it is maintained a get a long period of time, result in death.
People in war torn areas, and places where there is no or limited access to food do lose weight, get skinny, and die.
And people who intentionally starve themselves also die. Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder – a deadly one.
Good health, hunger control, fitness and strength – are all about more than total calories, though. It’s also about getting all the right nutrients so your internal organs are supported and your bones and muscles and brain all maintain good function!
I run online health and fitness coaching challenge few – mostly free – so if you’re interested in joining our group that starts in June please reach out …
Thank you Ida for your answer. To clarify, I am not saying that I recommend or even practice a starvation diet. The reason I ask is because in several things I have read online people who are very to extremely active and eat a diet of around 1200 calories can plateau- or go into starvation mode, which means the body stores all the calories it does intake. I have read several comments that say this theory is correct, while several others that claim it is a totally false theory.
I appreciate your online coaching offer but I am also a certified Health Coach.
I know you already got your question answered. But whenever you see the words starvation and diet in the same sentence – stop reading and run! There are scientific laws and there are theories. The people with the the theories are typically pedaling something – whether it’s a book or a supplement. It’s been going on forever – that’s just how it is.