Is 'Starvation Mode' Real?

Many Americans are intimately familiar with the quest to lose weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around half of American adults are trying to lose weight at any given time, often by exercising or trying to eat healthy. That being said, diets can be tricky, and some people may find it easiest to just cut down their calories. To be clear, this may be helpful as long as you stay within a healthy range, but going below the recommended range can be unhealthy and dangerous, since it will deprive you of the nutrients your body needs to function properly (via Harvard Health Publishing). Few people would argue with that, but a far more debated question is whether or not restricting calories can actually be counterproductive when it comes to losing weight.

Most people know starvation mode as a phenomenon in which the body starts holding onto fat for survival purposes. Experts tell Insider that this can happen, but generally only in extreme situations in which a person is deprived of nutrients for a long time, an example being when a person has anorexia.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

This is how starvation mode works

Registered dietitian Joy Dubost told SELF that when a person is starving after a long period of time without sufficient calories, the body will gain energy by breaking down protein reserves, often muscle.

"And of course with the lower amount of muscle mass, your metabolic adaption is changed. So when your metabolic rate declines, you don't require as many calories and you stall any weight loss, your body is just trying to cling on to what it can in order to survive," adds registered nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert (via Insider).

Experts emphasize that starvation mode only happens in extreme situations and is unlikely to pose a problem for most people's diets. However, studies have found that people's bodies will burn calories more slowly the more a person loses weight, especially if the weight is lost quickly (per The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology). According to the CDC, people who shed only one or two pounds each week are better at maintaining their progress.

Another problem is that many people tend to overindulge after a few days of severely restricting calories, which will counteract weight loss efforts, says Emma Storey-Gordon, who holds a degree in sports and exercise science (via Insider). She suggests setting a reasonable goal that will allow you to lose weight without leaving you tempted to overcompensate for missed calories every few days. Performing strength training and getting enough protein will also help keep your metabolism up as you lose weight.