Many people are guilty of believing that if they starve for a certain amount of time, they’ll lose weight. On the surface level, weighing starvation with the idea of taking in fewer calories sounds like it makes sense. However, the reality of the matter is actually quite sinister, with starvation proving to be more harmful to your body than any short-term, perceived benefit it may seemingly provide.
What is starvation?
Simply put, starvation is the process of not eating, or severely restricting your intake, for an extended period of time. This intake is below the daily caloric need that sustains your body. What constitutes starvation would differ from person to person, given that each individual’s caloric needs are different. However, a general bracket that nutritionists agree upon is the consumption of 450-800 calories or fewer each day.
How does starvation even work?
Many people opt to benefit from the short-term impacts of starvation to improve upon their outward appearance, completely negating what starvation does on an internal level. To better understand what you’re opting for when thinking of starving, here’s a breakdown of what will happen, should you embark upon this journey:
- During the first stage, your body will try to regulate blood sugar levels by making glycogen in the liver, which can continue to happen for a few hours. After that, however, your body will break down stored fat and protein.
- In the next stage, your body will mainly use stored fat as energy. This may sound ideal, but that is far from the truth. The stored fat is broken down in the liver and is turned into ketones, which will then be used by the brain, alongside any available glucose. This next stage can last for weeks, and during this time, the usage of ketones lowers the need for glucose, which decreases the rate at which proteins are broken down.
- The final stage is where things get dark. At this point in time, your fat stores have been utilized. The body turns to stored protein instead. This will lead to the active breakdown of muscle tissue. Once that protein runs out, your cells will effectively stop functioning.
What are the signs and symptoms of starving?
There are certain signs and symptoms associated with starvation, and you can use this general checklist to determine whether or not you’re confusing a diet with starvation.
- You must keep an eye out for physical signs of starvation. These would differ, based on your age, body type, and overall condition of health. However, if you are resorting to starvation, you may begin experiencing fatigue, weakness, shallow breaths, an increased heart rate, thirst, or constipation. A swollen belly may double as a sign, as may swollen ankles or feet. Some people may experience diarrhea. Additionally, loose and pale skin may be more tell-tale signs. These signs can take a few days to a few weeks to become noticeable.
- When talking about physical signs, you must also be aware of how your immune system is responding to starvation. Generally, starving weakens the immune system, and this can manifest as rashes on the skin, slow healing of wounds, or an overall weak response against potential infections.
- A change in your mental health and behavior is another sign. You may be more irritable, constantly tired, or have trouble focusing on tasks. You may find yourself constantly thinking about food. Your attention span may take a hit as well.
- Many other severe symptoms or effects of starvation can manifest as stomach disease, anemia, hypotension, irregularities in the menstrual cycle, gallstones, electrolyte imbalance, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, diseases related to your kidney, or emaciation.
How else does starving affect you?
While you may experience weight loss in the beginning, starving impacts your body in a plethora of ways that are highly detrimental to your body, and the progress you’re trying to achieve. Do this long enough, and your body may convince itself that the starved state of functionality is the new status quo. All of this is extremely worrying.
As mentioned before, starving acts as an obstacle to your body functioning effectively. The degree of starvation will be a primary determinant, alongside how long you starve. However, with starvation, come compromised immune and digestive systems, slowed growth of hair and nails, and changes in reproductive, skin, and bone health.
Additionally, starving can be counter-productive, leading to a slowed metabolic rate. This, in turn, makes your body less effective in burning calories. With prolonged starvation, your body begins to store fat for energy instead of burning it off. This will eventually lead to weight loss stalls or even weight gain. Long-term starvation can also lead to an extremely unhealthy relationship with food and your body image, possibly leading to the development of eating disorders.
What can you do instead of resorting to starving?
If you’re someone who wants to get healthier by losing weight, start counting your calories and decide on an effective, but healthy calorie deficit. The Healthi app can help you navigate this process by providing tailor-made meal plans and fun, nutritious recipes. This will also help you avoid junk food or processed food items that derail your weight loss plan.
Should you have the time for physical activity, or if you can actively take out half an hour each day, try running, walking, skipping, or the like. Throw in some strength training as well, if you can. Drinking ample water, having more protein, and setting realistic expectations will help greatly as well.
To conclude, losing weight doesn’t have to be hard or uneasy. You should enjoy the process, and make sure it’s sustainable so that it morphs into a habit. Once you crack that code, the need to resort to drastic measures should begin to dissipate.