The Myth of “Starve Mode” And Why You’re Really Not Losing Weight

You’ve likely heard someone mention “starve mode” when it comes to their inability to lose body fat while eating very low calorie.

When we take closer look though though, this idea begins to come apart at the seams.

The idea of “starve mode” is that when you eat few enough calories the body will put those calories you do eat directly into fat storage as a survival technique, which will  stop your fat loss.

If starve mode was a real then nobody would ever starve to death because their body would start storing body fat, this doesn’t happen though.

When you’re on lower calories and the scale has stopped moving thought there are a few things to explain why this is happening.

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Why You Can Lose Fat But Not Weight  

The first is that losing body fat and weight are not the same thing. Body fat is a part of your weight but so is food in your GI system, water, bones, muscle, organs and much more.

You can be losing body fat, but not see the scale reflect that same change because of water retention.

When you diet aggressively on low calories it can be very stressful for the body, and when added to other life stresses, you’re more likely to retain a good amount of water weight, not fat.  

This means you can still be losing body fat, but it will be masked on the scale by the amount of water you’re retaining if you’re too stressed and in an aggressive dieting phase.

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You Don’t Burn Very Many Calories

Another factor to think about is you might have to diet on much lower calories than you think to lose body fat.

People have a tendency to dramatically overestimate the amount of activity they get on a daily basis and assume they burn far more calories at the gym than they do.

I get it this sucks and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in reality I’m just trying to help you better understand the situation you’re in.

To chalk it up to starve mode is a disempowering way to look at this situation, but if you realize that you burn many calories each day you can make some modifications to you nutrition, and lifestyle to help.

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Body Size and Activity Level

There generally two reasons why you’d burn less calories per day that someone else, and the first is that you’re a smaller individual in which case your bodies just requires fewer calories at rest or during activity.

The second is that you likely have a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, and I’m not talking about trips to the gym, but all the activity you get outside the gym on a day to day basis.

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Calorie Awareness

So now that we have that aspect covered let me say something you may not like hearing even more… you’re likely eating more than you think you are.

Humans are notoriously bad at reporting their food intake, and studies have found that people unintentionally under report their food intake by upwards of 40%, which pretty significant!

All of those forgotten snacks... handful of nuts here, small granola bar there and a lick of the peanut butter spoon can add up very fast when you don’t account for them, let alone the growing portion sizes that we as a society eat.

These food inaccuracies are especially damaging to your fat loss if you’re someone who already has to diet on very low calories to lose body fat to begin with.

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The “Forgotten” Foods

When you have to diet aggressively to lose body, and you’re stressed and not seeing results you’re more likely to have some late night overeating, or binges that take place.  

I’m not saying this from a place of judgment, because everyone has their own food triggers.

I’m being honest about how those unreported instances late at night can impact your fat loss results if you don’t burn many calories throughout the day.

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Your Body Adapts To Burn Less

Lastly as you diet and lose weight the body adapts and becomes more efficient, and burn fewer calories throughout the day and during exercise.

This is the bodies way to balance out the energy equation you’ve tilted in the direction of fat loss.

If you’ve lose weight you’ll automatically burn fewer calories because a smaller body is going to require fewer calories to maintain.

You’ll also burn fewer calories by simply moving less throughout the day in the form of less walking, more sitting, reduced fidgeting and other unconscious movement that will decrease.

When you go to the gym, you likely weren’t burning a ton of calories to begin with, but now in a calorie deficit the body strives to burn less during workouts too as a way to be more efficient with the calories you’re eating.

As you can see “starve mode” isn’t real, and in many cases it can be a very disempowering assumption when you stop losing fat.

On the other hand there are a number of explanations as to why of you will have a more difficult time losing body fat the deeper you get into a diet.

This doesn’t mean that you are powerless though and there are changes and modifications you can make to both your nutrition and lifestyle to make this process less on a march through the sludge.

In Part 2 of this blog we’re going to take a closer look at some of the hormonal, metabolic and psychological risks of going too low of calories for too long.

If you’ve always felt like you get stuck a month into a diet, and can never break past that plateau click HERE to apply for coaching and let’s work towards getting you better fat loss results that fit your lifestyle.