'Starvation Mode' - It Doesn't Exist
But Metabolic Adaption Does...
Starvation mode – you’ve probably heard of it. Often described as that terrible condition where the body retains any energy that comes into it, because “it doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from.”
While this makes sense in theory the problem is that it’s all been given the wrong title and consequentially, it is now very misunderstood. The correct term is metabolic adaptation. While it sounds trivial or nit-picking to focus on the name, let me explain.
Firstly, this adaptation has nothing to do with starvation. Eating 800 kcals per day is less than you need, but it is also 800 kcals more than many people who are genuinely starving. ‘Under-eating’ would be a more suitable term for this scenario.
Secondly, it isn’t always related to food intake and/or starvation to begin with. Metabolic adaption is the result of a sustained energy deficit. While food intake is a component of creating a deficit, so is exercise output.
Food intake may be ‘sufficient’ based on estimates and equations (this is glorified guesswork anyway) but exercise output is causing a large energy deficit. Therefore it is entirely plausible (and evident) to see metabolic adaption on energy intakes of 1300 kcal . You can’t tell me that someone consuming 1300kcal is starving, can you?
Finally, this response isn’t a ‘mode’ than can be switched on or off. Adaptation is a much better description, because that is exactly what happens. Over a period of sustained energy deficit (usually while chasing weight loss) the body will respond by down-regulating hormones that are important for maintaining metabolism, because there is an imbalance of energy in and out.
This adaptation is actually a good thing for maintaining life. In periods of sustained deficit (such as starvation) your body could keep you going by becoming super-efficient and shutting down non-essential functions. As you can imagine, this isn't something you should voluntarily put yourself through.
These adaptations aren’t inevitable and they certainly can’t be switched on – or off – for that matter. They key to maintaining fat loss is to look beyond the scope of calories in/calories out. Maximising fat oxidation is a good place to start, which we know can be done through training and exercise.
Efficient training is also beneficial, as this can enhance EPOC and maintain the spike in metabolism. However, don’t go and complete HIIT training five times a week. This training provides as much stress on the system as resistance training (which is basically HIIT with weights). Too much stress and they body won’t recover, which can actually lead to greater metabolic adaptation.
Am I already metabolically adapted?
Unfortunately there is no test or tell-tale sign of metabolic adaptation. A few of the things to look out for are sustained low-energy intake, inability to lose fat while on a restricted energy intake and large alterations in weight from excessive intake.
But don’t jump the gun. Many people put their inability to lose fat down to ‘starvation mode’ or metabolic adaptation when in reality, they don’t exercise enough/at the right intensity, drink too much and don’t know their current routine.
It sounds harsh - but this is a good thing. All they need to do is change these habits slightly and things will get going again – that’s much easier than a reverse diet!
What do I do?
Reverse dieting is one option, but recommendations will always be case-specific. I would highly recommend consulting with someone who understands this concept and can provide you with recommendations. I understand the desire to avoid paying for advice (I’m still sometimes guilty of this in building my business) but if you are dedicating time, money and effort to get no results, an expert opinion is exactly what you need!
The Integrated Insider’s will be receiving my five ways to minimise metabolic adaption. If you program these into your fat-loss programming in the future, you will get better results from your hard work! Jump across to the webpage to sign up.