Ever been on one of those starvation diets? You know, the ones where you shed pounds super fast in the beginning, but then it gets tougher and tougher to stick to the diet due to the intense hunger pangs?
You’ve probably come across those popular diets that advocate crazy-low calorie intake. They tell women to eat only 800-1,200 calories a day, while men get 1,500-1,800 calories. They promise rapid weight loss at first, but they’re a recipe for disappointment in the long run.
Honestly, starving yourself to lose weight? It’s a big no-no. There are at least 9 reasons why those starvation diets just don’t cut it when it comes to achieving sustainable weight loss.
Table of Contents
- Starvation Diets Slow Your Metabolism
- Starvation Diets Lower Your NEAT
- Starvation Diets Reduce Your Exercise Capacity
- Starvation Diets Lead to Muscle Loss
- Starvation Diets Lead to Excess Hunger and Cravings
- Starvation Diets Reduce Thyroid Hormones
- Starvation Diets Increase Cortisol
- Starvation Diets Decrease Testosterone
- Starvation Diets Cause Weight Regain
- The Solution: Moderate Diet
Starvation Diets Slow Your Metabolism
When you drastically cut back on food, your body will sense starvation. So, it kicks into survival mode, activating what’s called the starvation response. Basically, it’s a bunch of tricks your body plays to protect itself from starvation. One of those tricks is slowing down your metabolism and burning less fat.
That’s why when people start a diet, they often see quick weight loss in the beginning. But then it gets tougher to shed those pounds because their metabolism slows down. The fancy term for it is “Adaptive Thermogenesis”. If their activity level stays the same, they’ll burn less fat than before.
Starvation Diets Lower Your NEAT
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the calories you burn while doing everyday stuff that isn’t exercise. Think walking, working, shopping, driving, and all that jazz.
When you’re on a starvation diet, you’ll feel sluggish or tired. That means you’ll be less active. When your activity level drops, so does your NEAT. And when your NEAT goes down, you’re burning less fat than before. In simple terms, hungry people just aren’t as active, which means they’re not burning as much fat.
Starvation Diets Reduce Your Exercise Capacity
Starvation diets and great workouts don’t go together. If you want to perform exercises effectively, you’ve got to fuel up with enough energy. Starvation diets will zap your energy. And that will mess with your strength, focus, and overall performance during your workouts.
Starvation Diets Lead to Muscle Loss
If you starve your body, it will try to find ways to conserve energy. One way is by breaking down muscle because it burns energy. Muscle also adds extra weight that your body has to carry around. Lean individuals with low body fat have a higher risk of losing muscle, but it can happen to anyone.
If you go on a diet without resistance training, you could lose a good chunk of your weight from muscle loss. The risk of losing muscle becomes higher if you eat too little protein. Even if you’re getting enough protein and hitting the weights, going on a starvation diet could still cause some muscle loss.
Starvation Diets Lead to Excess Hunger and Cravings
It’s totally normal to feel a bit hungry when you’re cutting calories. But starvation diets take hunger to a whole new level. You’ll find yourself dealing with these ravenous cravings that make sticking to the diet a real challenge.
Now, hormones play a big role in how hungry you feel. But your desire to eat can also be influenced by your environment and emotions. People tend to want what they can’t have. So, with a diet that severely restricts your calories, you’ll find yourself battling this longing for foods you can’t have. It gets even tougher if you’re constantly surrounded by tempting foods that taunt you.
Starvation Diets Reduce Thyroid Hormones
The thyroid is a small gland in your neck. It releases two hormones that control your metabolism, i.e. triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). So, if you mess with your thyroid hormones, it can affect your fat-burning capabilities.
Now, starvation diets could reduce your T3 and T4 hormones. When those hormones decrease, your metabolism slows, resulting in less fat-burning power.
Starvation Diets Increase Cortisol
Starvation diets can seriously stress you out. Think about it, you’re constantly fighting off cravings, dealing with constant hunger, and obsessing over calorie counting. All that pressure can really mess with your emotions and stress levels.
When you’re stressed, your body pumps out cortisol. It’s a hormone that gets released during mental and physical strain. And guess what? Cortisol makes it harder for you to build muscle. So, going on a starvation diet hampers muscle growth and makes it tougher to burn fat.
Starvation Diets Decrease Testosterone
When you drastically reduce your calorie intake, your testosterone can take a hit too. From a survival standpoint, this makes sense because testosterone is the primary male sex hormone. How can you feed any offspring if you can’t feed yourself?
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2000 supports this point. The researchers found that most participants who cut their calorie intake by 1,200 calories per day while dealing with tough workouts, a lack of sleep, and thermal strain experienced a decrease in testosterone to nearly castration levels.
Most studies suggest that cutting calories by 20% below your maintenance level won’t mess with your testosterone. But if you go super hardcore and keep slashing those calories, then your testosterone might take a hit.
Starvation Diets Cause Weight Regain
When you hop on a starvation diet, you might see some quick weight loss at first. But eventually, that weight loss will slow down, and your hunger will skyrocket. At this point, most people throw in the towel. Some end up binge eating because their hunger is off the charts.
That’s awful because the diet makes it easier to gain weight. You can end up with more body fat than when you started this diet. After that, you’ll be tempted to jump on another crazy diet bandwagon that slashes calories aggressively. And it starts the yo-yo cycle all over again.
This cycle of weight loss and regain is called weight cycling. Many people battle this for years, even their whole lives. It wreaks havoc on your metabolism, making it less effective with each round. So, you end up gaining weight easier even though you’re eating less than before.
The Solution: Moderate Diet
So, we’ve talked about why those crazy starvation diets don’t work for weight loss. Biologically, they mess up your body’s ability to burn fat and build muscle. And mentally, it’s nearly impossible to stick to a starvation diet for long. You’re bound to give up when you hit a plateau and your hunger goes through the roof.
That doesn’t mean you should ditch the idea of going on a diet. If you want to shed those pounds, you’ve got to create a calorie deficit. That means eating fewer calories than you burn. The key is to choose a moderate approach, not some extreme crash diet.
I suggest aiming for a calorie deficit of 15 to 30 percent below your maintenance level. Let’s say you’re an average gal with a maintenance level of 2,100 calories per day. A 20 percent deficit would mean cutting 420 calories, giving you a daily goal of 1,680 calories. And for you guys out there, if your maintenance level is around 2,800 calories per day, a 20 percent deficit would be 2,240 calories per day.
Of course, these numbers aren’t set in stone. There may be situations where a larger deficit is necessary. For example, a severely obese person who needs to lose fat quickly for their health. But for most of us, a moderate approach is the safest and healthiest way to go.
Sasha Lizaveta is a fitness enthusiast and content manager at BadassBodyProject.com. She advocates a conservative yet effective approach to fitness. She believes in the power of gradual changes to achieve long-lasting results. When not working out or creating content, she can often be found engrossed in books, playing with her cats, or travelling.