Is starvation mode real, and can starving yourself lead to weight gain? The short answer is no. Starvation mode, also known as “metabolic damage”, or formally “adaptive thermogenesis”, occurs when the body takes in less calories than it burns over an extended period of time. It is a natural physiological response to reduced calorie intake, where the body reacts by slowing the metabolism slightly to save energy and require less calories to operate.
Contrary to how it sounds, “starvation mode” is not an on/off switch. It’s a spectrum where your body will burn less calories if maintaining a caloric deficit over a long period. This amount varies from person to person. The difference in metabolic rates will vary slightly based on how much you are restricting your calories. If you’re consistent in your restriction amount, this metabolic change alone will never lead to weight gain.
Weight gain can occur, however, if starvation mode makes the dieter uncomfortable to the point where they budge on their diet. A lowered metabolism is often accompanied by fatigue or extra hunger. This can be frustrating and lead to backslides in weight loss for those who struggle with motivation.
While starving yourself won’t make you gain weight, it deprives you of essential nutrients needed for your body to function properly. This can’t be made up for by simply taking a multivitamin. These missing nutrients include a lot of proteins, fats, and/or carbs that energize various parts of your body. To avoid starvation mode but continue losing weight, it is recommended to eat no less than 1200 calories per day. When eating this little, ensure you have a variety of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to stay properly nourished. This will help you avoid starvation mode which causes you to lose less weight overall. Also, consider exercise to lose weight without having an extreme caloric deficit.