Are you starving?

This sounds extreme but I am sure so many of you have heard this term used before.

Are you starving, are you new to the term ‘starvation mode’, what exactly does it mean? Starvation mode is a term many of us coaches or those in the fitness industry use. It is meant to describe a state people reach when they have been at a calorie deficit for far too long.

Yes dieting and cutting calories can really work for fat loss (in fact it is the only thing). However when you push this method too far or for too long, you can end up in state of not being able to lose weight anymore. We call this a reverse adaptation. Basically instead of your body burning more, as it should in a deficit, you end up burning less.

Before diving into how this works and how to correct it, let’s first understand why a calorie deficit is important for some and why it works:

Fat oxidation

Being in a calorie deficit allows our body to release fat stores for energy.

Insulin response

Eating in a calorie deficit can make your body more sensitive to insulin, which is a state we want. It means a positive response to glucose and glycogen usage and storage.


A new one to me, but calorie deficits can lower inflammation in the body! Amazing right!

So how does ‘starvation mode’ work then?

When your body starts adapting to this lower calorie intake, it realizes you are losing weight. Also when you continuously eating at a deficit, your body starts to slow down certain processes. Basically, your thyroid levels can decrease, certain food response hormones too and so your metabolism ‘slows down’. But are you starving for real?

You may feel yourself becoming rather lethargic, this is due to energy levels dropping. Your body is trying to save the energy it has. You end up losing out on NEAT calorie burn. The calories you burn from fidgeting and moving around (the reason why some coaches give you a daily step target).

Your body wants to preserve energy and prioritize certain processes so yes you can (and probably will) hit a plateau in a longer term calorie deficit. One downside that I love, the cravings hit! I say love because we all need help with cravings correct? Most people will often drop calories further and try exercise more. To kick start their metabolisms again, but let me tell you that that is not ideal in all cases! If you are already on a very low-calorie plan and feel like you spend all day in the gym then it is time for other solutions:

Take a diet break.

In fact, you could even take a mini gym break. Give your body some time to recover and find balance again. I would say ideally 1 week to 2 weeks on a higher carb plan (towards maintenance calories). This will help drive up your energy levels, fix certain hormones and stress placed on your body. You will find you have more energy to move and may even want to keep training and find new ways you enjoy.

Don’t live in a hungry state!

Why would you want to always be hungry and teach your body to live on less? Find a healthy baseline calorie intake for you and get your body out of stress mode! Time to get to maintenance calories again. I can tell you most of you don’t need to be so low calorie for so long.

Enjoy the finer things in life and live to enjoy and celebrate your body.

Until next time




Isilda Da Costa is a personal trainer and women’s fitness specialist who, if she isn’t at the gym training, is busy researching the most up to date information for growing those muscles. She has combined her love of everything healthy by being a health coach in her own health shop in Swaziland. Follow along on @izzy.healthandfitness

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