We’ve heard this term “Starvation Mode” before. It’s used to describe the mechanism in your body that keeps you alive, suggesting that when you are depriving yourself of adequate nutrition, your body will gain weight to keep you safe.
This is actually not the case.
Technically, you can’t make energy out of nothing, so your body doesn’t produce the weight that it gains. There is, however, something actually much more complex at play here. Let's pause for a second and take a look at the human body.
The human body is incredibly complex… but it’s not complicated. There are thousands of systems in the body, each working in sync with others to allow you to live your life, and breathe every breath. The human body is constantly working to keep itself in homeostasis; That is, the normal functioning level for all organ systems. That means our bodies are constantly fighting off infections, viruses, and other pathogens to ensure we are safe, requiring this complex system to coordinate, utilize available energy, and work as efficiently as possible to bring us back to homeostasis at all times. This means it is constantly adapting to its surroundings in order to maintain internal homeostasis.
So why is this important for this conversation? Well, aside from the fact that the human body is an insane machine and is so cool, this actually plays a huge part in why starvation mode doesn't actually exist.
Your body doesn't actually go into starvation mode. It ADAPTS to its current situation. If you deprive your body of nutrients, it adapts to the new normal of its environment. That means rationing nutrients to less vital organs (stomach, muscles, skin), and redirecting them towards the more vital organs (heart & lungs). When your body adapts in this way, your digestive system slows down because its using less fuel. You lose muscle definition because those proteins are being directed toward your heart & lungs to keep them working to supply the rest of your body with blood & oxygen. This adaptation only negates the Starvation Mode argument if you’re looking at it in terms of the body producing its own fat (which doesn’t happen).
If you look at “Starvation Mode” in a different light, it does actually make a little bit more sense. Because your body adapts to the amount of food you give it, if you chronically eat less food, your body will adapt to utilize less food. That means anything more than that normal level of nothing will be considered excess.
So let's break that down a little more to drive my point home here: If you are constantly living in a cycle of restricting your food until you can’t do it anymore and then binging because you can’t stop yourself, this is for you. Your body has adapted to the low amount of calories you’ve given it, so anything in excess of that will cause weight gain. If your binges are short-term, the weight likely is just water weight. However, if you are constantly in this cycle of restricting and then binging, your body will continue to hold onto excess fuel to save for the predicted time when it won’t have those nutrients coming in somewhere in the future.
Okay, so how do we break the cycle?
This is a two-part answer.
Part 1: Fix the relationship with your body & food
Part 2: Slowly increase your calories to a sustainable range that will allow you to not feel the need to binge
Part 1 actually has way less to do with food and so much more to do with the lessons you’ve learned in your life that dictate how you perceive yourself (mind & body). This relationship won’t be healed easily, or in a short amount of time. AND the good news is that when you start to heal, you open the possibility of truly finding health rather than chasing something that just barely looks like it on the surface.
Part 2 is also a long journey, and some might argue it's the more fun of the two (I'm pretty evenly split, to be honest). Slowly increasing your calories from that super low number you’ve been surviving off of will allow your body to adapt as you increase. These adaptations may look like:
Improved Sex Drive
Those sound pretty great, don’t they? These are all things that are lost when we get stuck in the cycle of restricting and binging. You don’t need to be stuck there. You get to change the way you show up for yourself.
Check out the Mindset blog for more on how to change your mindset, and help you help yourself.
Love this post? Let me know on instagram! @arielle_bloom and @nc.fit
Arielle (aka Coach Bloom, or just Bloom) is a L-3 coach and has been in the fitness space for over 8 years. She is also a nutrition coach, dropping knowledge bombs all over social media with the hope that one day, everyone will eat their veggies and protein, drink enough water and move their bodies.