Running On Empty: Consequences Of Underfuelling

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We’ve heard the term “Starvation Mode” before. It’s often used to describe the mechanism in your body that keeps you alive, suggesting that when you are depriving yourself of adequate nutrition, your body will gain weight to keep you safe.

This is actually not quite the case.

Firstly, we need to clarify that when people refer to “gain weight”, they are typically referring to ‘fat’ or feeling ‘fluffy’, but what they are really saying is, that they are experiencing changes in ‘body composition’ as a result of not eating an adequate amount of food.

So.. What really happens, when you deprive yourself of adequate nutrition?

Recent studies show that chronically depriving yourself of adequate nutrition (less than 50kcal per kg of Fat-Free Mass) for a period of as little as 10 days, results in as much as 1.7kg lean muscle mass deterioration, irrespective of whether you engage in regular resistance training or sustain a high protein diet of 2.2g per kilogram of bodyweight.

This is just one physiological consequence out of a myriad of functions that are affected as a result of ‘starving’ yourself. Other affected physiological functions that are affected include, changes in menstrual cycles in women, decreased testosterone levels in men and decreased thyrotropin in both genders, which often results in the onset of various health conditions:

  • Excessive Tiredness
  • Decreased metabolic rate
  • Weight Gain
  • Increased risk of Metabolic diseases

In a Nutshell…

Your body doesn’t actually go into ‘starvation mode’. It ADAPTS to its current situation. When you regularly deprive your body of adequate nutrients, it adapts to the new normal of its environment.

That means rationing nutrients to less vital organs (stomach, muscles, skin), and redirecting them towards the more vital organs (heart & lungs).

When your body adapts in this way, your digestive system slows down because it’s using less fuel. You lose muscle definition because those proteins are being directed toward your heart & lungs to keep them working to supply the rest of your body with blood & oxygen. As a result, your body adapts to the low amount of calories you’re now regularly giving it, so anything in excess of that will begin to cause weight gain, exacerbated by your now lower metabolic rate.

Break the Cycle

“I’m in a constant cycle of not eating much (typically weekdays), and then binging (on the weekends). Sound familiar? So how do you break the cycle?

This is a two-part answer.

Part 1: Fix the relationship with your body & food

Part 2: Slowly increase your calories to a sustainable range that will allow you to not feel the need to binge

Part 1 actually has way less to do with food and so much more to do with the lessons you’ve learned in your life that dictate how you perceive yourself (mind & body). This relationship won’t be healed easily or in a short amount of time. AND the good news is that when you start to heal, you open the possibility of truly finding health rather than chasing something that just barely looks like it on the surface.

Part 2 is also a long journey, and some might argue it’s the more fun of the two (I’m pretty evenly split, to be honest). Slowly increasing your calories from that super low number you’ve been surviving off of will allow your body to adapt as you increase. These adaptations may look like:

  • More Energy
  • Better Sleep
  • Improved Sex Drive
  • Mental Clarity
  • Muscle Definition
  • Increased Strength
  • Improved Endurance
  • Better body composition

Those sound pretty great, don’t they? These are all things that are lost when we get stuck in the cycle of restricting and binging or chronically under fuelling ourselves.

You don’t need to be stuck there.

You get to change the way you show up for yourself.

Need Help? Chat to us about our 1:1 Nutrition Coaching.