Starvation mode is a myth.
Yes, you read that right—it doesn't exist. No matter how many times you’ve heard it and from however many sources-- it simply is not true. It’s what my friend Blake refers to a “bro-science” (as in “Hey, Bro, I heard… [insert latest health claim here]”).
Your body requires a certain amount of calories to maintain weight—if you fall below that , you lose weight. Period. If you fall way below that, you will continue to lose. There is no magic number of extremely low caloric intake where your body will refuse to lose weight.
But please keep reading!!!
However, if you consistently take in fewer than your basal metabolic rate (you can find this out through the Bod Pod or I can calculate it for you) you are setting yourself up to fail. For starters, periods of severe caloric restriction almost always lead to periods of overeating, which makes weight loss virtually impossible. Also, your body is an amazingly adaptive organism. If you consistently take in very few calories, your body will adjust to this by becoming very efficient. Simply put, you will burn fewer calories to accomplish just about anything, making weight loss virtually impossible. Taking in fewer than 1200 calories a day makes adequate protein, vitamin and mineral intake impossible to achieve, as well, meaning your overall health status declines (the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do!) and your body burns muscle for fuel—muscle is metabolically active tissue, so this causes your body’s calorie-burning power to decrease even more.
So now what? Well, if you are not losing weight but your caloric intake is at or below the minimum, the answer is not always “eat more.” More often than not, there is an error in your estimated intake or you are overcompensating for restriction by overeating on other days. My suggestion, in this case, is to stop counting calories. (Yes, you read that right.) Focus instead on listening to your body. Eat at regular intervals throughout your day, and include a protein, lots of vegetables and a little bit of quality carbohydrates (fruit, sweet potato, beans, brown rice, etc.). If the scale is stuck, focus on your healthy habits (the things you can control)… work out regularly, eat intuitively and nutritiously and avoid the scale for a week or two. Keep a log of your food choices, but don’t count the calories—just use it as a tool for mindfulness.
Karen Lacey, MS, RD, LDN