I Ate Too Much! Should I Use a Starvation Diet?
Oh the common starvation diet. It seems so tantalizing, but does it ever work?
You have eaten terribly, you realize it, and now you step back and vow to never do it again.
You say things like, “I will never eat a cookie as long as I live!” You make a blood oath with yourself to never ever look at food again. Your conviction starts so strong. You are stalwart with your new starvation diet plan.
Then after a few hours or days, the cravings are unbearable. It can only go so long before the thought of eating ravages your mind and stomach.
Eventually you crack. And you don’t just eat a little. The starvation diet results lead to your mouth becomes a vacuum and you eat everything in sight. The starvation diet side effects go on. You eat the same crappy food as before, but now you are binging.
This rage snowballs into depression. This replays again and again through the emotional cycle. More stress, more depression, and more love handles.
So what about those that are able to fight through this sad tale? Let’s say you fall under that category. Sure, if you stop eating you are going to lose weight. You keep eating less and less in hopes of fitting into those jeans you love.
The question is at what cost? Is this unhealthy? Do starvation diets work?
There are a few problems with starving yourself. Let’s talk about it.
Starvation Mode Means More Fat
The unfortunate problem with starvation is that your body doesn’t know you are trying to lose fat when you starve yourself and the effects of a starvation diet are rather poor.
Your body goes into what is called “starvation mode”. Instead of losing all fat like you would anticipate happening, your body freaks out and does the opposite.
Your body defies you by preserving the fat stored as potential energy. Your body’s hormones trigger a response that starts pulling around 50% of the energy from your lean muscle, 25% from body water weight, and only about 25% from fat.
Your protein that is stored is actually converted to glucose for energy first before dumping the glucose it already has. Your body is offended by you. It is getting defensive and protective like a teenager you just grounded. It looks at starvation as a mean prank and will do all it can to preserve the fat in your body.
It gets so bad that your body is willing to eat away at your own organ tissue (heart, liver, etc.) over dumping fat (or the glucose in the body). Pretty gross, huh?
As I mentioned, with every pound you lose starving yourself, half of that is lean muscle and only a quarter is fat. You now have a higher percent body fat than before. You become something worse than before: you are the “Skinny Fat Person”.
Now you have less muscle compared to fat, even if the overall fat is less. You may say, “Well I dropped 10 pounds!” My response would be ten pounds of what? This is why it is important to include a tool to measure body fat percentage like calipers and keep checking that in order to see where your progress is at.
There are a few other issues that you could run into with starvation.
Not only does lack of nutrition cause you to fall into the feared starvation mode, but you are putting your body in a dire stage of stress. This stress releases a hormone called cortisol which will likely cause your body to retain more fat.
Maybe the worst thing you will have to face is that without food, you don’t get the nutrients your body needs to keep growing or maintaining health. Your organs shrink or deteriorate. You become more susceptible to disease. The right food can go such a long way toward helping you stay healthy and confident.
Now as we eat more, it will require us to exercise more. As we exercise more, it will require us to eat more. These two aspects are intertwined with each other in a complex organism called “your body”.
The same goes for the other direction. As you eat less, your metabolic rate slows down in order to preserve energy. It definitely makes it harder to work out without those nutrients in food to give you energy.
For some reason starvation seems to go in line with desperation. That desperation with starvation seems to be a “gateway drug” into using pills for weight loss. Most of those pills are dangerous for your heart and other organs. We will get more into it in the series on pills.
No Fun with a Starvation Diet
Here is the kicker…starvation is no fun. Starvation is like the emotional Grim Reaper. No matter how hard you try to hide, he will find you. Scary I know.
You can keep starving yourself longer and longer, but then you start to lose control on what you desire to eat. After a week or two there is a decent chance you will go bat crazy.
It happens to the best of us. We all give in.
Newsflash: You will have to eat again if you like living.
Often this means you turn into this binge eating monster and eat everything in sight. It is as disgusting as a pig at the trough, but you can’t restrain yourself! It isn’t enjoyable. If you do like it, there is probably some masochistic thing going on inside you that you need to figure out.
We were meant to eat, and eat often. So do it.
Sounds Like a Diet You Know?
Have you tried starvation diets like this? Have you spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on a starvation diet, pills and crazy concoctions that were supposed to burn off the fat only to find yourself more overweight? Does this sound like something out of an autobiography of your life?
I am betting some of you may be a tad frustrated about it. Well you should be.
With many of you I am sure you are reading this because you want to lose fat first, and not weight. Your goal should be to do so while keeping your lean muscle mass or as much as possible. Not only does it impact the body composition percentage, but more lean mass can have other benefits.
You work out longer with higher endurance and burn more calories working out. If you are keeping your lean mass, that means you have more nutrients being absorbed in your body to help you live longer.
Your resting metabolism or your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is faster when you eat often. Your body has to do that in order to keep up with more muscle mass. With a faster metabolism you burn more calories while resting.
Your hormones tend to be in a more stable state. Your hormonal balance works together with all of these other aspects to help you lose fat even if you are sitting at work in a boring meeting, at a trade show, or sleeping with your neck cocked in an awkward position on your couch.
This doesn’t mean you have to have a lot of muscle, just a higher percentage of muscle compared to fat. The secret to keeping that lean mass is not by eating less, but actually it often means eating more.
Mind melting, huh?
Here is a starvation diet tip. Calorie restriction can be valuable as a final tweak, but 95% of the results you need, you can get without counting calories. We talked about that the changes you make should be more focused on what you eat first, and not how much you eat. Not only can you get to where you want to be by eating right, but counting calories is such a hard task to maintain.
According to Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat, The World Health Organization preaches that in order to prevent gradual weight gain over time, you should cut out 20 calories a day while getting exercise. Do you know what 20 calories is equivalent to?
- A bite bread
- A swig (or 2 ounces) of coke or beer
- 3 small bites of an apple
- A smidge over 2 potato chips
- One DOTS, which I guess would make it a “DOT”
- That is less than 1% of a daily caloric intake for both men and women.
A pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories. So if you cut out 20 calories a day, which would equate to 2 pounds of weight loss each year, or the 2 extra pounds we gain on average each year according to the WHO (no not the band).
Let me be very clear with you: this is stupid. Please be smart enough to see this so ridiculous. That means if I eat a “DOT”, 3 bites of an apple, or 2 potato chips each day it is basically 10-20 pounds added to your body a year.
Ask yourself does your weight really fluctuate that much? No.
Do you see other people’s weight easily fluctuate that much? No.
And in order for that to be right, that means a crazy amount of calorie counting must be going on with lean people in order for them to stay lean. We are talking about the 1 out of 3 Americans that are not overweight. That is about 100 million in the US alone that must be using rulers and calculators to measure their food. I haven’t met these people, have you?
Think of how genetics work. Just like height, genetics impact how much weight we put on and where we put it on our body. This is why some people gain fat in their gut while others in their love handles, butt, or thighs. This is also why a person can digest the nutrients in a bite of an apple very different than someone else.
The truth is that calories in vs. calories out is not the major component toward weight gain or loss. It is all about our genetics and hormonal reaction to what we eat.
What Studies Say
In 2007, Tufts University did an analysis of many diet trials since 1980. It concluded that caloric restriction diets lead to temporary weight loss at best. 9-10 pounds were lost on average in the first six months. By the end of the first year most of that weight is put back on with caloric restriction continued.
Harvard and Pennington Biomedical Research Center researchers did one of the single largest weight loss trials ever. They compared four well known diets where they had 4 different groups with over 800 subjects. Each of the four groups ate four well-known different diets.
When digging into the data the four diets were not very different when it came to macronutrient levels of protein, fat, and carbs. No matter the diet, all patients were supposed to undereat by 750 calories a day.
They were given well thought out meal plans and training to help make sure they were cutting out the right number of calories by counting labels. On average each patient, no matter the diet, lost about 9 pounds during the first 6 months and then in most cases the weight was regained by the end of the year or during the following year.
Yes they all lost weight no matter what diet they were on, but they also gained the weight back eventually while attempting to restrict calories. Sounds very familiar to the Tufts study huh?
Undereating doesn’t work for more than a few months, if that. And when it does work, that weight loss isn’t necessarily fat loss. This is a dissonance with what your body wants. Your body is telling you, pleading with you to eat. It is ok…it is a good thing.
And let’s say you do lose the weight, the question you should ask is “What now?” Do you keep going back and forth between starving yourself and not? That is a pretty depressing lifestyle. There has to be a way to eat freely, but to eat right.
(Your Name) Diet
You may have heard of this classic saying, “It isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice.” Since there have been so many faulty crash-course “diets” thrown in our faces by ignorant money-grubbers, we have come to the assumption that a diet is something that should be a painful short term process. Then after facing the grueling pain and get the results, you can go back to eating the way you did.
A diet isn’t truly a diet until you can successfully follow it for life. You see we are all on a diet as long as we are breathing and eating. Whether you are having 3 meals of Cheerios or 6 square meals of donuts and Snickers: it is your own diet.
Each day you refine it a bit more by your decisions. I am doing the “Cade diet” and I can make that whatever I want it to be. It happens to be very close to Loren Cordain’s Paleo diet because I can sustain it, it is healthy for me, and it helps me to stay in solid shape. It is an unweighted, unmeasured diet based around animal protein, fat, vegetables, and fruit.
You need to find what diet to build your image in so you can get to “know your body”. The Paleo diet is a good start, so feel free to mold it to fit you and your goals.
You should consistently be eating 3-6 meals a day, depending on the size of meals and your activity level to feed your muscle. Eat until you are full. You will have a better shot of maintaining a healthy diet and reaching your goals.
Again this is something that you should comfortably figure out how to do for the rest of your life, not 30 days of agony filled with pills and lemon juice. You are not going to keep doing it for the rest of your life unless you enjoy it and look forward to it.