Starvation Mode: Are You Eating Enough?

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Starvation Mode

About a year ago, I reached out to a real estate broker to help me find an apartment rental in NYC. As we were walking down Lexington Avenue in Gramercy, the conversation changed from real estate to fitness.

The broker mentioned to me that I looked like I was in good shape, but I could tell he was holding something back. After I told him I was a fitness professional, he confessed that he had been trying to lose weight for months and was even exercising 5 times a week (cardio, and strength training). He hadn’t lost a pound in months and was at a standstill.

I began asking him some questions about his exercise program, which wasn’t great, but it didn’t sound to me like the problem. So the conversation turned to what he was eating. Can you take a guess? He wasn’t eating 4,000 calories a day as you might imagine, or even 3,000 calories. It turns out he was eating less than 1,000 calories a day! He’d many times skip breakfast, have a salad for lunch with some lean meat, and a small dinner.

Because he was eating so few calories, his metabolism had slowed to a crawl. His body was deep within starvation mode and it was nearly impossible for him to change his body because his metabolism had slowed from chronic calorie deprivation.1 2

I estimated he would burn around 2,700 calories if his metabolism was functioning normally. There is some debate as to how large of a calorie deficit one should have in a fat loss program. You may know that a 500 daily calorie deficit equals 1 pound of fat loss per week, and a 1,000 calorie deficit equals 2 pounds of fat loss per week (in theory).

The better way to think about creating a calorie deficit is as a percentage of your total calorie burn, such as 15-20% (25%-35% on the high side). So if you are a small woman who burns only 1800 calories per day, a 1000 calorie deficit is far too high, because that means you will be eating only 800 calories. The smarter approach is to create a 20% calorie deficit, or 360 calories less than you burn, which puts you around 1440 calorie intake per day. The leaner you get, the more advisable it is to create a smaller calorie deficit as a percentage of your calorie burn. For more on calorie intake, check out “How Many Calories Should I Eat To Lose Weight?.

I ended up running into the broker at an event at Tavern on the Green in Central Park about two months later. He told me our conversation, “changed his life”. Fast forward another couple months and I learned in an email that he dropped 31 pounds of fat in 4 months (from 185 to 154 pounds at a height of 5’7”)! He had achieved the lean physique he always wanted.

So if you are in the camp of either constantly skipping meals, or not eating nearly enough (starvation mode), I hope you understand eating more of the right foods helps increase your metabolism. The key is to find balance between exercising and healthy eating, while tracking your progress to see what works for you.

References

  1. Kalm LM, Semba RD. They starved so that others be better fed: remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota experiment. J Nutr. 2005;135(6):1347-52.
  2. Doucet E, St-pierre S, Alméras N, Després JP, Bouchard C, Tremblay A. Evidence for the existence of adaptive thermogenesis during weight loss. Br J Nutr. 2001;85(6):715-23.
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71 Comments on “Starvation Mode: Are You Eating Enough?

  1. Aleks Kopec
    April 27, 2010 #

    Marc, great article. I think that professionals who tend to be too busy to exercise as often as they like skip meals in order to compensate for that. On a related topic, I would like to hear your thoughts on whether it is better to eat more earlier in the day during breakfasts and lunches and have lighter dinners in the evenings. Should there be a “pyramid” of calorie intake on a daily basis?

    1. Marc Perry
      April 27, 2010 #

      Hey Aleks, I think having a big breakfast, moderate sized lunch, and small dinner is a smart strategy, especially if you tend to eat large dinners. It goes along with the saying, “Eat breakfast like King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a Pauper.” I personally prefer having my meals in roughly the same calorie range while adding in a couple snacks throughout the day. It’s more manageable and your hunger will be satisfied all day long. I suggest trying them both out to see what works for you.

  2. dave
    April 27, 2010 #

    great post. It is interesting to see how eating too little can actually be very counter productive.

  3. Darryl K
    April 27, 2010 #

    Would aiming for a continuous 20% calorie deficit have negative impacts on metabolism? If so would you advocate one day a week of ‘overeating’ for a metabolism spike (or is that counterproductive)?

    1. Marc Perry
      April 27, 2010 #

      Hey Darryl,
      I think it really depends on your genetics, your metabolism, and your exercise/fitness level. So for example, a beginner with a lot of weight to lose could probably get away with eating a 35% calorie deficit for a few months. Someone who is leaner, however, might slip into starvation mode relatively quickly, possibly even after only a week (which is what happens to me). Cycling calories with a couple days of not overfeeding, but hitting maintenance level calories is a more advanced technique that works for people who are already lean, but need to get leaner. Many natural bodybuilders use this technique actually. In fact, some bodybuilders will stagger their calories to prevent adaptation. It works, but it’s not really a practical strategy for most people. I hope that answers your questions. I hope to address this in more detail in another article!

  4. Leila
    April 27, 2010 #

    Yes, from experience I know that what you’ve written is all too true! Assessing caloric deficit as percentage of total calorie burn is indeed key.

  5. Alicia
    April 27, 2010 #

    Wow, I knew that not eating breakfast was not good for your metabolism, but I did not realize exactly how big of an effect it had. That is an amazing example. I will definitely try much harder to eat breakfast every day. Thanks for the post!

  6. Hank
    April 27, 2010 #

    Now I must eat more. Good calories plus exercise is the key.

  7. Mary
    May 2, 2010 #

    Skipping meals does not work, I know, I have tried it. Eating healthier meals throughout the day does make a difference.

  8. Maria
    July 23, 2010 #

    Well what about slim young ladies or just slim people… Who eat a whole lot and gain no weight… And does not exercise at all… I’m talking eating at least 6 times per day… At all odd hours of the morning and night…. What’s your advice on that?

    1. Marc Perry
      July 25, 2010 #

      Hi Maria, yes there are some slim people who seem to eat a lot, never exercise, and stay slim. There are people who are at the tail of the genetic bell curve and in my opinion, don’t worry about them, or compare yourself to them. Some people have abnormally fast metabolisms, less fat cells etc. than other people.

      I would argue that many of these “slim” people you speak about who seem eat whatever they want usually don’t eat that much food. At the end of the day, these people are not eating more calories then they burn. In addition, they are probably more active than you think. For example, take Europeans who in general, seem not to exercise, yet they stay thin. In reality, they control their portions, generally eat real food, and they do have a more active lifestyle then the average American. In my opinion, eating frequently can help control overeating, so many slim people who you may come across that eat frequently mostly likely have small portions throughout the day. You can check out my article on frequent eating here: http://www.builtlean.com/2010/05/14/eating-frequently-stop-overeating-increase-energy/.

  9. Laura A
    October 22, 2010 #

    I think this is a good article. If I weigh 155 pounds what kind of calories should I be consuming. Since I work out 3 times per week?? thanks, L

    1. Marc Perry
      October 22, 2010 #

      @Laura – Here’s an article on how to learn more about your calorie burn, so that you can arrive at your target calorie intake:

      http://www.builtlean.com/2010/03/14/how-to-calculate-your-calorie-burn/

  10. Abe
    January 12, 2011 #

    Hey marc. I have a similar problem but im not sure of what to do..I am 18years old, 5′ 3″ (wont be growing because growth plates are closed)and weigh about 140lbs. I play basketball for about 2 and a half hours 3 times a week and lift weights 2 to 3 times a week. I am pretty active. i eat about 1200 to 1300 cal a day. i have muscle. i just want to get rid of some fat. do you think my body is in starvation? if so what can i do to help it and start burning fat.. i’ve been trying to lose weight for a while now. nothing seems to be working. please help.. thanks

    1. Marc Perry
      January 16, 2011 #

      @Abe – It’s hard for me to really analyze exactly what you are doing without having a longer conversation, but based on the information you provided, it seems like you are close to getting the pieces together. In my experience, most of the difficulty with losing fat comes down to nutrition, assuming you have a decent strength training program. The calorie level sounds fine, but the quality of the calories you are eating as well as the macro-nutrient breakdown (protein, carbs, and fat) are important. I prefer a 35-30% protein, 40-50% carbs, 20-25% fat.

      In addition, the timing of the meals can have an impact, so eating let’s say a 300-400 calorie breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, with a snack or two in between is ideal, so that the spacing is roughly 3-4 hours in between eating. There is a lot of debate that meal frequency does not increase metabolism, but from my experience (and thousands of fitness models/natural bodybuilders), frequent eating of small meals/snacks is a great way to optimize your ability to lose fat. One other thing to mention, when I’m looking to get very lean, I create a spreadsheet that represents a day of eating where I outline my breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks and fill in the calorie levels and macronutrient breakdowns so I know exactly what I’m eating, but this is a more extreme approach.

      Best of luck and thanks for leaving a comment.

  11. Abe
    January 17, 2011 #

    I eat mainly turket breast and chicken breast. I eat lots of salads and fruits and veggies. Like everyone else the junk food is in there as well. But i even tried eliminating the junk food and nothing happend. i even ran on a treadmill 2.5mils a day and nothing. im getting very frustrated and it seems nothing is working. i have no idea what to do.

    As for my workout i never really work my lower body. could it be that? i do bench press, dumbell press, dumbell flys, barbell curls, dumbell curls, pushups, situps, crunches. a bodybuilder told me that if i started working my lower body and keep doing what im doing the fat should come off because the thigh is the biggest muscle which would help a lot if i build us muscle in it..

    1. Marc Perry
      January 18, 2011 #

      @Abe – As I write in my 10 Cut report (the free report I give you when you sign up for my weekly newsletter), lifting with legs is very important. I still believe getting the nutrition right in terms of calorie level, timing of calories, and calorie breakdown is the difference.

  12. Abw
    January 19, 2011 #

    Well I never eat breakfast except on weekends because I’m in college. I have class at 8:30 am so there’s no time. I usually eat my first meal around 3pm. then I eat my 2nd mean which is also my lasy at around 7. Could you give me some type of way to go about everything. Also if u could email me it would be great because I could talk to you privately.

    1. Marc Perry
      January 20, 2011 #

      @Abe – Your eating schedule sounds like a major challenge. Check out this post: Do You Eat Like a Sumo Wrestler?. If you would like to set up a phone consultation with me, you can contact me here. Best of luck!

  13. Ann
    May 26, 2011 #

    Marc – thanks for your article. I have been trying to detox with all green foods and lose about 10 pounds in the process. My body has not been able to lose more than 3 pounds and it simple stops. I can’t break the weight, no matter how much I exercise or restrict my diet. I imagine that my body IS in starvation mode. I appreciate your article. I am going to try to increase my food intake to 1200 calories and do some modest exercise, maybe 30 minutes 3 times per week. Is 1200 enough for me? I am 38, 5’4″ and weight 135. Thanks!

    1. Marc Perry
      May 28, 2011 #

      @Ann – Getting stuck in a fat loss plateau can be frustrating, but it sounds like you have the right mindset, which is key. In terms of how many calories you should eat, 1200 sounds reasonable for a woman your size. For more detail, you can check out my article How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight?. I think it will be helpful for you. In addition, 30 minutes of light exercise 3x per week is not much, but of course it’s A LOT better than nothing. I would consider either increasing the intensity of the exercise if you are only doing it for 30 minutes, or complete 5x per week for 60 minutes if you want to go lighter with the exercise. Also remember that strength training can help increase your calorie burn for up to 48 hours AND it helps you maintain your muscle, which helps keep your metabolism higher. Strength training can seem daunting, but to make it easier for you, do a squat, lunge, push, pull, and twist each workout for 4-5 rounds. Just an idea. You can check out a circuit training workout I put up here: 20 Minute Circuit Training Workout.

  14. Toni
    July 1, 2011 #

    This is so true about not eating enough. I have friends who constantly say to me that they can’t afford to eat breakfast because of the calories. I tell them that their metabolism needs to be revved up particularly in the morning where you “break-the-fast.” Plus, I read that women (don’t know about men b/c I’m female) who are breakfast eaters weigh something like 10% less than women who skip breakfast. I always eat three meals a day and I’m not overweight.

  15. Derek
    January 15, 2012 #

    Marc,

    There’s a lot of great information on your site–I’m certainly enjoying it!

    Meal frequency has always intrigued me as there are differing “schools of thought”. What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting and the success guys like Martin Berkhan and Rusty Moore have had staying lean while maintaining muscle mass?

    1. Marc Perry
      January 16, 2012 #

      @Derek – I am familiar with LeanGains etc. and have read a decent amount about intermittent fasting and tried it myself. The short answer is that I find it MUCH easier to control my calories eating 3 small meals and 1-2 snacks than gorging myself 1-2 times per day. By the way, if I’m not mistaken, Martin tracks his calorie intake even though he eats a lot of food. We can argue until the cows come home about whether small meals and snacks versus intermittent fasting is better for satiety, but in my experience, small meals/snacks makes it easier to control calories (you have a much better sense of the calories you are eating if you are eating small, simple meals) and is customary with most cultures, so it’s not difficult to implement. In addition, I’ve found eating breakfast can have a profound impact on one’s ability to lose weight (which is supported by a lot of research as well as empirical evidence). At the end of the day, if you eat less calories than you burn, you will lose weight regardless of the meal frequency. With all that said, if you enjoy intermittent fasting and find it easy to implement, then go for it!

  16. Marie
    January 27, 2012 #

    I had thought that if I just figure out how many calories I need to eat to sustain myself at my ideal weight, and stick to that number every day, that with exercise, my body would have to adjust to that weight. But it’s not that simple, though? That is, if I figure out with a BMR calculator that for me to maintain my goal weight (of say 130 lbs. at 5′ 6″ and 27 years old) I need to eat 1794 calories, I can’t just limit myself every day to about 1700 calories, exercise and assume my body will adjust?

    1. January 27, 2012 #

      @Marie – As you mention the body is very adaptable (it’s a homeostatic organism) so yes, your body should adapt to that number of calories and keep your weight roughly the same. You can always validate this with weighing yourself once a week at the same day/time. I’m a big fan of Monday Morning Weight Ins.

  17. February 6, 2012 #

    Very interesting. I am having problems dropping weight, but I am a big guy (270) have dropped 15 pounds since new years (1 month) and feeling better with a combination of P90X and Insanity doubles. But not sure where to be for the calories so I lose. I am not looking to gain muscle just wanting to lose weight. I am eating between 1300 and 1800 calories a day. And I just don’t think that is enough calories. Anyway saw your article/post and thought i would say thanks for talking about this.
    Mark

    1. February 6, 2012 #

      @Mark W – Awesome. Happy it has been helpful for you. Keep up the good worth with the exercise!

  18. February 7, 2012 #

    I have read that everywhere.
    Consume 500 calories per day and spend 2000 = Starvation Mode ?
    And you will not burn any fat.

    HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE ?

    lets say i consume 500 calories per day.
    I run for 1 hour and i spend 700 calories.
    I hit the gym for 2 hours and i spend 1000 calories.
    How is possible not to lose weight ?
    WHERE I AM GETTING ALL THIS ENERGY IF NOT FROM BURNING FAT ?
    IF MY BODY IS IN A STARVATION MODE THEN WHAT I AM BURNING TO DO THE RUNNING AND THE GYM ?
    IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

    1. February 7, 2012 #

      @Martin – That’s a really good question. We are talking about the law of thermodynamics after all. Your metabolism can vary significantly as a survival response from long periods of semi-starvation. How much is difficult to say. For someone eating as little as 500 calories per day, weight should go down over time, but you will definitely be losing muscle. Starvation mode describes the concept where your metabolism drops because of semi-starvation. In some cases weight is still lost, but a lot in the form of muscle, and in some cases when the lowered metabolism is balanced out with a reduced calorie diet, no weight is lost. I think you really need to understand the difference between losing weight (muscle + fat) and losing just fat, which is what every one wants!

  19. Kohlie
    February 11, 2012 #

    Hi Marc, you really seem to know what you’re talking about! I think there might be something wrong with me due either to my body being in what you call, “starvation mode” OR over exercising OR maybe even a combination of both, haha. Let me lay out the scenario of my life. I’m 17 years old, female, 5″4, and 107 lbs. I’d say I’m pretty physically active, I do Insanity workouts for around 40 minutes 4-5 times a week. In addition to these cardio workouts I also do a series of 4 strength exercises consisting of 20 reps for each leg AND 9 ab exercises consisting of 50 reps. I don’t keep exact track, but if I had to throw an estimate out there I’d say on average I eat under 800-900 calories per day. Before I started my body transformation process, I weighted in around 125 lbs. (I’ve been working out and eating less for about a year now.) I take multivitamins and Hair, Skin, & Nails vitamins every day. Overall, my body is great, the only downsides are you can kind of see my ribs and my arms are slightly stick-like. But here’s where my major problem arises, I’m facing many negative side effects, such as fatigue, irritability, mood swings, over-emotional tendencies, an extremely diminished libido, binge eating, and constant worry about gaining weight. Plus, food is constantly on my mind. It feels like I’m always struggling to simply not eat. I chug down diet pop and coffee all day just to satisfy my cravings for actual food. Please let me know your honest and professional opinion on what’s causing all this and how to fix it. I hate feeling like this all the time. Thanks so much, Kohlie.

    1. February 19, 2012 #

      @Kohlie – I sent you an email with my response, which I would rather not include in a public forum for your privacy.

  20. Tim
    February 13, 2012 #

    I thought if you were eating 1000kcal a day and doing cardio, surely you would lose weight whatever as it is impossible for the body to conserve that much energy!
    If you were going for a really low calorie diet and not dropping weight, then surely it is because it’s making you feel drowsy all day, in other words not in the mood to exercise.

    1. February 14, 2012 #

      See my reply to Martin.

  21. Amanda
    February 15, 2012 #

    Hi, Marc:

    Thanks so much for your suggestions related to starvation mode; it’s really quite helpful. I find myself in a curious position in that I’m about 15 pounds from my ideal weight, which is extremely attainable given my current training regime; however, I find that weight loss is a secondary benefit rather than my main impetus for keeping with a healthy lifestyle. Currently, I run 4 miles daily, box 1-2 hours a day for 3-4 days/week, 1 hour spin classes 3x/week, and do interval strength training for 45min-1 hr sessions 5x/week. Much of what I do is conditioning for boxing, but I’ll be honest and say I just really love challenging myself and keeping healthy. The caveat to this training schedule is that I have to eat more during the day (which is an unfortunate hit to my grocery budget – ha) and while I do want to cut the few extra pounds, I don’t want to lose any muscle nor – and more to the point – compromise my performance by consuming to little. Currently, I eat breakfast/lunch/dinner with 2 snacks (no added sugar, all complex carbs, white meat, veggies/fruit, healthy fats only) sometimes three snacks during the day depending on the growling of my stomach and generally no more than *cringe* 1,600 calories (1300-1600, pending the day and the scheduled workout). My BMR is probably hovering around 1,400 calories a day not taking into account any exercise nor potential assumptions related to increases in metabolic rate given my workouts.

    You recommended a calorie deficit range from 20% to about 35%. My question to you is: given my current training, where do you think my deficit should fall within that range (If it’s useful: I’m 29, 5’1” and female)? Closer to 20%? And what do you think of having a high calorie day be on rest day? Do you have an opinion as to if that might help with recovery? Any advice as to keeping my energy level on point would be useful.

    Thank you in advance!
    Amanda

    1. February 16, 2012 #

      @Amanda – Sounds like you have a very intense training regimen and a sensible eating approach so congrats! Here are the answers to your questions:

      Given my current training, where do you think my deficit should fall within that range (If it’s useful: I’m 29, 5’1” and female)? Closer to 20%?
      That’s a tough one. The methodical approach would be to start at 20%, then measure your weight. If it was going in the right direction and you were losing around 0.5-1lb per week, then you could keep that level. If however you were not losing any fat, then you could increase the calorie deficit to 25-30% and see what happens. We all have different metabolisms so you have to figure it out for yourself.

      And what do you think of having a high calorie day be on rest day? Do you have an opinion as to if that might help with recovery?
      I don’t think cheat days are a great idea on non-workout days unless you eat very low calories during the week. Some argue cheat days can increase the pace of fat loss, whereas in most cases, it simply adds to your weekly calorie intake and does not increase the rate of fat loss. I do think however given how active you are you can be strategic about your carb intake. So one a day when you are not exercising a lot, you can take down your carb intake and on days you are very active, you can up that amount.

  22. John E
    February 17, 2012 #

    Hey Marc, I’m 20 years old. I’ve been Weight Lifting and exercising for about 4 years now steady and 1 1/2 years hard Physique training. I’m also starting my Personal Certification Classes soon. I understand why you believe that with on the boarders of “Starvation Mode” is a bad concept as it seems but I believe it is and our body has the ability to harness it. But you must be mentally capable to handle the training.

    I read your article and you do have a point of “Percentage of your Total Calorie Burn”. How someone should match your intake to your body weight. That is a training method that WILL work to loose fat but it is much slower, with the training and the addition of only giving your body essential necessities to live.

    By having a 500 calorie day intake, with only around 200 carbs throughout the entire day it creates a perfect use of your metabolic system. Now you give your body less calorie and carb intake and adding only essential amino acids, extra protein intake with essential greens (veggies and fruits), main intake of omega fats 3,6,9,5,7 and adding natural metabolism boosters and appetite suppressors (Green Tea/Matcha) which are natural thermogenics. I can boost my metabolism to 300% +. Others and myself have a whole belief of cutting body fat just like your “In theory”. And it will work for ANYONE.

    It’s funny, a similar story to the one you shared at the end of your article. My story: I had surgery and had trouble walking for around 5 months. I went from 157lbs, in good shape, to slight belly with 191lbs (roughly 34lbs of body fat). Starting training again and using this training style, including supplements, dropped down to 154lbs in total of 6 weeks or 45 days. Compared to the 31lbs weight loss in 120 days (est) or about 16 weeks. That Is 2.666667% times faster than your method.

    There are limits to the human body than can be broken.

    1. February 19, 2012 #

      @John E – Very happy to hear your results, but I would strongly disagree in that I don’t think the method you used is healthy, nor is it advisable for others to follow. Eating 500 calories per day for long periods of time provides insufficient vitamins and minerals to the body to help promote optimal health and functioning. To rely on supplements (which are supposed to “supplement” the diet) as the foundation of the plan is a losing strategy over the long run. Finally, it doesn’t matter how fast you lose weight, or fat, what matters is how long you keep it off and that you can sustain a healthful lifestyle that provides your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to support and happy and fulfilling life. One more thing, the fact you said it will work for anyone tells me you don’t have any experience working with other people, because we’re all different and have different responses to food and exercise.

  23. Amanda
    February 19, 2012 #

    Thanks, Marc! I really appreciate you taking the time to provide your input on this topic. I’ll test these out in the weeks to come and make adjustments as needed. This is really helpful, so again, thank you!

    Best,
    Amanda

  24. John E
    February 23, 2012 #

    Thanks Marc for your input and I do see your side to the method. Goodluck, glad to have inspiration like you.

  25. Brittany
    February 26, 2012 #

    Hi,

    Really fantastic article, thanks! I’m a 26 year old female, very active & always on my feet. I race road bikes and do triathlons & would like to lose about 5 or 10 lbs before race season begins. I weigh 147ish & am 5’8″. With my training now (cardio & strength) I burn about 1,200+ calories a day. I usually eat 1,700-1,800. I am not losing weight & am aware that this is probably not enough to be eating, but how should I go about eating more, what’s types of things should I eat? I am vegetarian & am extremely conscious of getting enough protein. I also eat all whole grains and tons of greens, and limited fruit and no other sugar.

    Help!!! :)

    1. February 27, 2012 #

      @Brittany – from what I can gather, doesn’t sound like you are in starvation mode to me. 1700-1800 is a decent amount of calories for an active women looking to lose fat. Just to be on the safe side you can try to increase your calorie intake to 2500 for a few days, which is likely around the total amount of calories you are burning each day. Generally speaking, I find people overestimate their activity levels when measuring cardio activity. Over time, the body burns less calories when doing things like bike rides etc. because of aerobic adaptation. Simply put, your body gets used to it. Also, I would seriously consider supplementation as you may be deficient in Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Vitamin D. Finally, if you are not strength training, that can be very helpful. Taking out some of the grains might also help as well. Oftentimes, you need to choose performance, or fat loss, I recommend not doing both at the same time. So if your 4 months out and want to lose fat, then focus on fat loss primarily for one month, then get back to emphasizing performance. Having one primary goal will get you better results than having two.

  26. Laura
    February 29, 2012 #

    Hi Marc,

    I have been having a read through your site and your comments and its really nice that you are trying to help people. I was wondering if you could offer me any advice. In the past i have done crazy things to lose weight, the worst thing was a low calorie diet where i would only eat 500kcals a day which i did for almost 2 years. Obviously as soon as i started eating normally again i put weight on very quickly. Since then i seem to always be battling with my weight. I have for a while now tried to have a healthy lifestyle rather than going on another silly diet, but feel i am some what stuck, the only way i can ever see lower figures on the scales is if i eat hardly anything again and i don’t want to fall back to my old ways. I am 5ft 6in and weigh 10st 4lbs. I was eating approx 1000 kcals a day but after reading many articles i have increased my calorie intake and am currently eating around 1200 kcals a day. I exercise 5 times a week and use a heart rate monitor to track my calorie burn, it ranges from 500kcals – 700 kcals depending on the workout i have done. Can you advise where i am going wrong as the scales just stay the same. Am i eating enough? i have calcualted my BMR at 1457, does this mean i should be eating at least 1457 kcals? If i am not eating enough what is the best way to increase this, i am worried that if i up my calories i will gain weight. Any advice would be much appreciated, i would love to have one day where i dont have to worry about my weight. Thanks :-)

    1. March 10, 2012 #

      @Laura – What is your weight again? It looks like you listed your weight as 104lb? If that is your weight, I wouldn’t want to lose any more!

  27. Kristen
    March 2, 2012 #

    Hi Marc! I have been dieting off an on for about 5 years now, with no success… I was diagnosed with PCOS and insulin resistance almost 3 years ago. I was put on a no-carb diet and 1500mg of Metformin a day. This resulted in a pregnancy (much desired) and about 15 lbs of weight loss just before. After my pregnancy, I got back in the gym and started a 1200 calorie diet- more calorie counting than watching nutrients (think Weight Watchers). No luck in weight loss. Fast forward 2 years and I ended up having a hysterectomy. I am 28 years old, 5’3″ and weigh 152 lbs. I am on synthetic estrogen. I was told that the PCOS and insulin resistance problem would disappear after my hysterectomy. I have been in the gym at least 5 days a week (circuit training and cardio) and eating an athelete’s type diet (40-40-20) for about 8 weeks and have lost a total of 1 lb. I am beyond frustrated! I have been burning approximately 3000 calories (Body Bugg/Polar heart rate calculated) on work-out days and 2200 on non-workout days. I consume approximately 1400-1500 calories a day. I was 125 lbs before having children and my body went crazy.

    I don’t know if I am in starvation mode or if perhaps 40% carbs is too much for me. I desperately want to loose this excess weight (have maintained a healthy weight all my life, save the last five years)…. I’ve talked to doctors and they all say the same thing- eat less and exercise more… Not sure if that is the answer or not! Any help/advice you could give would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!

    1. March 10, 2012 #

      @Kristen – It sounds like you are in the small minority of cases where simply “exercise more and eat less” advice is not working. The other part of the equation is hormones, which can affect everything. If you were my client, I would recommend you contact holistic specialist who could test your hormone levels and consider supplementation options. It sounds like you may have vitamin/mineral and hormone imbalances. At the end of the day, your health is more important that your weight. They are different, but related. Health means you are living your life without disease and pain. That’s gotta be your #1 priority. With that said, if I were you, I would be more focused on improving your nutrition habits than trying to lose weight. For example, if man made it, don’t eat it. Ideally, you should be eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods and as many veggies as possible. In terms of supplementation, you may want to discuss that with a nutritionist, or your doctor. My guess is a greens supplement could help. Sorry I’m not answering your question directly, but it’s frankly beyond the services I personally offer in my own training practice and I would refer you out to someone else. I do plan on discussing some of the hormone issues in more depth, but it’s a very long and convoluted topic!

  28. Spencer Miller
    March 4, 2012 #

    I have been doing a diet plan of 50% protein, 30% carbs and 20% fats. For awhile I was eating about 1400 calories. I have not seen any fat loss. Do you think I am in starvation mode? Also do you think I could be eating too much protein? I have read online that too much protein is turned into fat. What percentages of protein, carbs and fat do you eat?

    Thanks

    1. March 10, 2012 #

      @Spencer – There is no exact science with macronutrient breakdown, which is the breakdown of protein, carbs, and fat. I personally am around 30/40/30 protein/carbs/fat, but we all respond differently to food. What you should figure out is whether a higher fat diet and lower carb, or a lower fat diet with moderate carb makes you feel better. Think protein should be around 30-40% in general on a fat loss program. The macronutrient breakdown is less important than the total calories you are eating. Check out this article if you have not done so already: How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight?

  29. Jena Leisher
    March 6, 2012 #

    Hello!
    I have recently dropped my weight from 135 down to 110. This has taken me since june to do. I started to run everyday and the pounds seemed to come off. I have never been a person to eat big portions of food so the only thing I changed was eating healthier portions and running everyday. Since I have been running everyday I have seemed to eat alot more. Although the weight my seem small I am only 5 feet. I am trying to get to my goal of 100. I used to run everyday but now that I am busy I only get to about 3-4 times a week. What should I do about how much to eat? Some days I only find myself eating 600 calories a day when I am trying to control what I eat and on other days I find myself eating 1600. What would be a good calorie goal to keep trying to lower my weight. I just want to make sure that I do not mess up my metabolism by eating too little calories but I want to make sure I lose weight. By the way im a vegitarian
    Thank you so much!

    1. March 10, 2012 #

      @Jena Leisher – First, I’m happy to hear you are exercising consistently and working on your nutrition. I’m happy to hear you dropped 25lb, but do you know how much was muscle? It’s critical to do at least some strength training as you lose weight, or you will either plateau, or just lose a bunch of muscle. Strength training will also help keep your metabolism higher. For more info, check out this article and read my Get Lean Guide.

  30. Jeff
    March 15, 2012 #

    Easiest way to lose weight. Eat a protein rich diet and eat every 2 to 3 hours, 200 to 300 calories at a time. Add some sort of exercise daily which results in the burning of about 500 cals, and voila 1-3 lbs per week will be shed.

  31. Sandy
    April 19, 2012 #

    My question is if you have been in starvation mode for a very long extended period of time how do you increase your caloric intake. I weight train 4 times per week, do medium to high intensity cardio after weight training, HIIT training one day a week on off weight training days, and Vinyasa yoga one day a week, then rest days on Sunday. However, I haven’t lost any weight. After doing some research I realized I wasn’t obtaining enough calories per day. I am 5’8 and 165lbs female and have gained weight with the following activities. I believe my body is holding on to everything it can to sustain my activity level. I was only consuming around 1,300 to 1,600 calories per day. Everyone tells me I look great and it’s all muscle not fat. However, my clothing size hasn’t changed. If I was denser in mass my clothing size would decrease as well. Apparently, I need to get it up to 2,310 minus 20% or 1,900 calories per day to obtain weight loss and get into a fat burning mode; correct? If so, how do I achieve this without gaining weight but lose weight?

    Thank you.

    1. April 23, 2012 #

      @Sandy – I wish I could answer your question, but it sounds like you need to trouble shoot the right calorie level. I’ve seen women with your activity level and body size lose body fat consuming 1500 calories per day. One thing to keep in mind is that hormones can have an impact, which is impacted particularly by carbohydrates, sleep, stress etc. A hormone analysis is beyond the scope of anything I’ve mentioned yet on my site, but I will eventually tackle it. Anyways, wish I could be of more help, but again, just stay positive and consistent. One other possibility to consider is maybe you think you are eating 1500 calories when maybe you are eating quite a bit more. Good luck!

  32. Matt
    April 25, 2012 #

    Oh dear… perhaps I’m having the same issue?

    I used My Fitness Pal to track an average day of eating, and I’d generally eat about 1,400 calories per day – I figured my eating was relatively balanced and healthy, but after reading up on it, I’m starting to think that it’s not enough?

    At the moment, I’m going to the gym at least once a day, sometimes twice (an hour of cardio – bike/cross trainer per session, burning approx 600 calories per session).

    Should I be eating more?! Am I in starvation mode?
    I’m 77kg, 178cm, 28yo, and wanting to lose about 4 more kilos to get rid of my belly.

    I thought if I ate healthily and worked out as much as possible, I’d lose weight quickly, but after reading the above, I’m not so sure. I’m certainly not ‘starving myself’ as such?

    Hope you can help because I’m completely confused.

    1. April 29, 2012 #

      @Matt – I wouldn’t go much below 1800 calories, especially with how much you are exercising. My guess is around 1800-2000 calorie intake per day is fairly aggressive, and you may even be able to intake around 2200 and still lose body fat. Losing body fat is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, especially as you get leaner. The last few pounds are the hardest and take longer. The idea is you want to preserve your muscle while losing only fat. Shoot for 1lb of fat loss per week, anything more than that is probably not a good thing.

  33. Cameron
    May 7, 2012 #

    Hi!

    I am a 23-year-old girl, 5’2″ and weigh about 112-113 pounds. I do intense cardio (I’ve had to switch from running to HIGH resistance elliptical in the past months due to a minor knee issue) 5 or more times per week. On workout days I burn about 3,000 – 3,500 calories and on non-workout days I burn 2,200 – 2,500 (I still make sure I stay somewhat active even when I can’t make it to the gym). I am NOT trying to lose weight, but in the past 2 weeks I have put on 3-4 extra pounds and do not feel as toned. My exercise program is not new to me, but it’s possible I have been a bit more hardcore the past couple of weeks because I just have been in one of those moods where I never want to leave the gym! Also, the 112-113 pounds has been my stable body weight for years, so I am not rebounding from any rapid weight loss. Anyway, I ALWAYS make sure my calories burned are greater than the calories I eat. I do not aim for a specific deficit because I am only trying to stay healthy. However, I probably only end up eating an average of 1,500 – 2,200 calories per day (which would be too much I think if I didn’t exercise), and technically some days I’m only eating 50-60% of what I burned. Is it at all possible I’ve been slowing down my metabolism this way? Would it be better for me to try and eat something like 2,700 calories on those days I burn 3,500 or more? I already make sure I eat breakfast and snack ALL day long. I try to drink enough water and watch my sodium intake. I don’t understand this minor weight gain I’ve been dealing with!

    1. May 12, 2012 #

      @Cameron – given your size, burning 3000-3500 sounds very high. That’s roughly what a 200lb man who works out intensely 5x per week burns. Maybe you are exercising 3 hours per day, i don’t know, but the amount of calories you burn is very dependent on your total body mass of which fortunately you have very little. Again, I’m not seeing your workouts, but burning 2500 calories for a woman your size is very significant in a day and 1500-2200 calorie intake sounds very reasonable to me, especially the 1500.

  34. Van
    May 19, 2012 #

    Hi there!

    I stumbled upon this article while googling a reason as to why I absolutely cannot lose weight… I’m hoping you could help me out. Everything in the article makes sense and I’m wondering if it explains MY difficulty with losing weight. To start off, I just want to say that I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa three years ago, and have since then recovered, but when my weight came back, more came with it. I’ve been trying to HEALTHILY lose about 5-10lbs. I am 21 years old, 5’4″ and 130 lbs. ALL of my weight is distributed on my stomach… My arms and legs are very thin. I run everyday for 60-70 minutes on the treadmill at various speeds and inclines. (and sweat a lot!) Even though I run like crazy though, my weight doesn’t budge. My diet is mostly lean proteins, I eat a lot of grilled chicken, turkey, fish, etc… No red meat. No fruits. I keep my carbs below 40 grams a day – getting them from veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots… I NEVER eat bread, noodles, crackers, potatoes, junk food, etc… I started keeping a food journal two weeks ago and my daily calories usually add up to 500 calories… which is where your article interests me. Perhaps my restrictions are doing the opposite? I’m terrified to increase calories to test your theory. I’ve read elsewhere that after “starvation” you will keep gaining and your metabolism is totally screwed. Could you clear this up for me? Also – your program… you only show results from men, are women able to take part?? I’m very interested in trying it, seeing as my diet isn’t doing anything for me. It’s time for a change, and I want to do it right!!

    1. May 24, 2012 #

      @Van – Sorry to hear you are experiencing these issues. I do know for sure that eating 500 calories per day is not sufficient. Your body will not get the nutrients it needs, so that’s certainly not a healthy way to lose body fat. I recommend the following:

      1) See a nutritionist/dietitian who has experience helping people get lean and lose body fat, not the type that works with obese ladies. Even a nutritionist that has coached bodybuilders/fitness models would be ideal.

      2) You can get your hormones checked out to see if any supplementation may be helpful. I am not a huge fan of supplements, but in cases like yours they can make a pretty big difference. You can ak your doctor about adrenal tests etc. You may also consider consulting a credible naturopathic physician as well.

      My program can be used by both men and women. From a marketing perspective, it’s easier for me to focus the program on men and use the type of language that attracts men. I think you have some eating issues you should get under control before trying my program. I wish you luck and hope everything works out well!

  35. Miggy
    June 5, 2012 #

    Hey, I’m trying to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time. I’m 6’1 and I’m 228lbs. I do basketball almost everyday and go to the gym every other day to lift some weights. My weight before is 245, from doing these activity I’ve lost some pounds without diet and starving myself but lately I’ve tried dieting eating w/o rice (asian) and when I went to the gym seems like I have no energy and while in the gym I’m starving and I can’t do my normal routine. Any advice for weight loss and diet for me?

    1. June 7, 2012 #

      @Miggy – I don’t think carbs are evil, but limiting their intake can sometimes make it easier to control calories. I would strongly suggest to track your calories for a few days to better understand your eating habits. Also check out this Top 10 Fat Loss Foods post.

  36. Lisa
    June 11, 2012 #

    Hi Marc,

    I’m 5’2 122 pounds, 21 year old female. I’m trying to get down to my goal weight of 115 pounds. I workout about 6 times a week running (5 miles), spinning, gym machines, kickboxing, etc. I eat 1400-1500 calories a day 3 meals, 2 snacks. I feel fine all day but I notice at night I feel hungry. Is 1400-1500 calories enough to avoid starvation mode? Is feeling a little bit of hunger okay?

    Thanks!

  37. June 11, 2012 #

    @Lisa – Sounds like you aren’t far away from your goal weight, which is great. 1400-1500 calories sounds reasonable and I would be VERY surprised if it was not enough to sustain your activity while still helping you shed some fat. From my experience, as low as 1200 can work well for even active women who are in the 120lb range. Hunger is a very complex topic because it is affected by so many things (the quality/type of foods you eat, how much you eat, hormone levels, sight/smell of food, body fat levels etc.). I think some hunger is absolutely ok and hunger is actually a very normal human trait. Think 5,000 years ago we always had access to food? Nope, so hunger is actually quite natural. Losing fat is changing your body, and your body doesn’t want to be changed, so it may be a little uncomfortable as you reach your ideal weight. I would recommend focusing on foods that have a very high satiety factor and if you do get very hungry at night, eat some turkey.

  38. Koby
    June 11, 2012 #

    Hi Marc,

    I think it’s more appropriate I leave my revised comment here as this is my problem. I’m 31/female/5’10/347lbs. The reasons for getting to this weight are numerous, but one of my biggest problems is not eating enough and/or going on meal replacement diets that restrict intake to 1000cals.

    Over the last 15years, I’ve listened to every expert tell me to stop eating so much, and exercise more, to the point where my general intake each day is 1300-1500cals (that’s at a stretch, and is accurate as I have tracked), and I exercise 5-6/week, an hour each time – HIIT + weights 3 days and swimming 2-3 days (at one point last year I was consuming 1000cals/day, and execising 3hrs/day!). According to your “How to Calculate Your Calorie Burn” article, I’m probably burning 3486cals/day (based on my weight at 45% fat (which is what my scales say)). If I use you maximum deficit of 35%, I should still be consuming 2266cals/day, which means I’m still under by a fair amount.

    So, my problem is – when someone is used to under-eating for so long, how do I increase my intake so I don’t feel nauseated/guilty (having this voice inside my head saying not to eat too much doesn’t help!)? I tried Weight Watchers last year and had to stop because they were constantly telling me to eat 53pp/day, and I could only manage 40, and that was including nuts, etc.

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

    Thanks, Koby

    1. June 14, 2012 #

      @koby – I don’t think I’ve come across a case like yours before, but it does happen. It sounds to me like you have some metabolism/hormonal issues that are causing havoc with your weight loss. The first place to start is if you are getting any less than 6 hours of sleep a night, start getting at least 7, preferably 8 per day. Second, consider drinking plenty of water, preferably one full glass at each meal and snack and also when you workout. Third, I would consider going up to 2000 calories per day for 2 weeks and monitor your weight each week. Worse comes to worse, you may gain a few pounds, but more likely, it may be helpful for you. I’m not a huge fan of starvation diets because they are simply unhealthy; it’s not possible to get the right nutrients without supplementation. Finally, some people are much more sensitive to carbohydrates than others. You may consider trying to get your calories mostly from lean meats, vegetables, nuts/seeds, oil/healthy fats, with some fruit and little starchy carbs (i.e. pasta, potatoes etc.). Of course, I’m not a nutritionist, but this is what I’ve found to help people who are experiencing a weight loss plateau of have a similar profile as yourself.

      1. Koby
        June 14, 2012 #

        Thanks for your input Marc. My sleep patterns can be irratic – I’ve worked night-shift the last 7 years. I generally drink 2L water/day and 3 cups of green tea. I’ve cut out all diet coke/coffee (which I did drink a fair bit of). Just another couple of questions –

        1. I’ve had my thyroid checked, and it’s okay. Is there any other hormones I should ask my doctor to check? (My fasting glucose is 4.6, blood pressure was 117/88 at last check, and total cholesterol 5.5, so nothing wrong there).
        2. If, from my three main meals, I can get my intake to around 1500 with the diet you suggest above, would a protein shake for two snacks be something I could use to bump up my intake? The one I have is a meal replacement, but if I added a cup of skim milk to it, it would be 235 cals, 15.2g protein, 30.5g carbs.
        3. I have only started exercising again after 12mths of dealing with a bad back injury. Since I’ve started exercising, I’ve been trying to increase my intake, and I’ve noticed that I’m starting to lose cms (4cm from my chest, 2cm each from my waist and hips in one week) but the scales haven’t gone down. Could I be retaining water from the increase in exercise/strength training?

        Thanks, Koby :)

      2. June 18, 2012 #

        @Koby – I’m not able to prescribe specific foods, or a meal plan as I’m not a registered dietitian, or licensed nutritionist. I would prefer a cup of greek yogurt, or an apple to two protein shakes, but that’s me. I think it is possible that you are possibly retaining water if you are losing cm, which is what ultimately matters. From what I can tell, just keep on exercising and take up that calorie level and you should do well. Losing weight is a marathon, not a sprint!

  39. amy
    June 20, 2012 #

    This article just sounds like BS to me! An urban myth!
    On what science are you basing your “starvation mode” theory? If the man (who I don’t believe even exists!) seriously ate that much and did that much exercise and didn’t lose weight, I would suggest he had some serious medical issues, none of which are related to starvation mode. It’s just not physically possible. Good luck trying to sell whatever you are selling!

    1. June 21, 2012 #

      @amy – the starvation mode is not BS, it’s well documented by scientific literature.

      Here are some of the studies to look into:

      -Ancel Key’s Minnesota starvation study
      -Doucet, et al 2001. British journal of nutrition. “Evidence for the existence of adaptive thermogenesis during weight loss.”
      -Biochemical And Physiological Aspects of Human Nutrition by SM. Stipanauk, professor of nutritional sciences, Cornell University (WB Saunders company, 2000)

      I think I do need to update this article by listing more references and improving upon it. In fact, I have a project to update 10 articles with this being one of them that I’ve written (out of 170, so not too bad) that need to be updated. In the meantime, this article will give you a bit more clarity on the subject of starvation mode – http://www.burnthefat.com/starvation_mode.html.

  40. Jessica
    June 20, 2012 #

    Hi Mark, I’m a 14 yr old girl (5ft8 and 122lbs) and the past 3 months I’ve lost 8lbs but I’ve been feeling really tired and weak and I’m getting fatter although I’m getting lighter. I play intense volleyball 4-6 times a week for 2 hours each time and i have a personal trainer for my vertical once a week for an hour(his training is very intense, i lose 3lbs of water weight!). Today I ate
    1 cup of oatmeal + honey + milk + cranberries
    3 scrambled eggs
    Sandwich with 3 slices turkey + lettuce
    1 apple
    Organic stone field yogurt with fruit at the bottom
    1 fiberOne bar
    and I did a 20min moderate intensity workout in the morning. I have vball 7-9 tonight, and I was wondering if I need to eat more before? Although I ate 1:30 hours ago, I was starving and ate the fiberOne bar :/

    1. June 21, 2012 #

      @Jessica – First, i would make sure to verify that you are gaining fat despite losing weight, which I find hard to believe. This would imply that you lost almost all muscle, which is very unlikely. Consider measuring and keeping track of your body fat percentage to verify your concerns. Our minds can play tricks on us. I’m not a registered dietician, so I am unable to give you a specific diet plan, or meal prescription. What I can tell you is to add up your calories you are eating and see if they are roughly equal to your total calorie burn. For figuring out your calorie burn, check out this article – How to Calculate Your Calorie Burn and also Best Free Online Calorie Tracker and App | Part 2. As an athlete, my guess is you should not feel hungry. Finally, the more concerning thing is your low energy levels. You may consider checking in with your doctor to see what he/she says. Good luck!

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