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Will Intermittent Fasting make you enter ‘Starvation Mode’?

Will your body start storing fat and losing muscle?

“If you don’t eat for too long, the body goes into self-preservation mode. Unclear when the next meal will come in, it starts saving it’s stored fuel reserves (fat) and starts converting proteins (muscle) into energy.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this in one form or another.

Something on the lines of -“Don’t starve yourself or your body will go into Starvation Mode and all your efforts will yield the opposite result”

And at first glance it sounds logical too — right?

Well, I must confess, I fell for it. I’ve been guilty of peddling this ‘starvation mode’ theory for a while now. Without getting into the scientific depth of it.

But then, 3 weeks ago, I started 16/8 IF.

That’s not-eating for 16 hours every day. In an attempt to lose weight. Primarily fat.

But how could that work? Wouldn’t 16 hours of ’starving’ myself, put me into this scary ‘mode’? And wouldn’t that lead to fat-preservation, not fat-loss!

I’d hit someone (myself) if that’s how it panned out.

I needed to, atleast theoretically, be absolutely sure of this before I jumped headlong into IF.

So I did the research. And found that ’starvation mode’ isn’t a real thing in the modern world. It’s the colloquial usage of the term that did us all in.

Allow me, hence, to bust this stupid myth today in 5 common sensical ways. This is me atoning for my sins. Of having contributed to the spread of this spurious theory.

And like I’ve been doing for the past 2 weeks, at the end I’ll share what I’m seeing in Week #3 of my own IF journey. But first, this —

Myth Buster #1: Why does the body store fat?

We all know this. Fat stores are the body’s fuel for hard times.

Our hunter gatherer ancestors used to find a lot more game during the summers when they ate and became fat. And then during harsh winters, they stayed indoors and the body used up these fat stores to keep them alive and active in the absence of regular food.

Right?

If yes, then the myth is already busted. If ’starvation mode’ was true, then all the cavemen would, post-winters, emerge from their caves with rotund tummies and stick-thin arms and legs. Because the body should’ve held on to the fat and burnt the muscle.

But why would the body do that? Why would it store fat for such ’no-food’ days and then, when the time came, act ignorant of it’s own plan and go for muscle instead?

Myth Buster #2: Why does the body have muscle?

Let’s stay with our ancestors for a bit more. Remember Grandpa Jo from this article about Legs.

Let’s say Grandpa got all fat and plump during the summers and then winters came and only for a few hours everyday could GrandPa now go out to look for food. Even more than in the summers, he’d need to be active and strong and alert in this short window, if he were to return with some meat.

Now, if after 36 hours of no food, Grandpa’s body would start using muscle (and not fat) to get it’s energy, then that’d leave grandpa weaker and less agile. Which would substantially reduce his chances of landing a kill. Which would mean no food for another day. Which, in turn, would mean even lesser muscle. Which…you get the point.

This is the kind of behaviour that would piss Darwin off. Why would the body do a thing so detrimental to it’s own survival?

Myth Buster #3: Ramadan

The age-old muslim month of fasting.

Also the longest standing human study of IF. For me infact, this was the proof that finally converted me.

Whenever I speak to Muslim friends of mine, they all confirm 3things:

  1. The first few days are tough. They feel quite hungry.
  2. The body adapts in about a week and then energy levels are back to usual (in many cases better)
  3. No matter how much they eat after sunset (and they eat a lot), they rarely see anyone gaining weight or looking fatter after Ramadan.

I rest my case.

I’m kidding. My strongest, most common sensical revelation is left.

Myth Buster #4: Ever seen a fat man die of starvation?

Close your eyes and tell me what you see when I say starvation?

Do pictures of starving adults from German concentration camps come to mind? Or of malnourished kids from Africa and India?

Auschwitz Prisoners

Ever seen someone who doesn’t look like this, die of starvation? Ever seen a fat guys die of malnourishment? Doesn’t the question itself sound silly!

Because how can he! There is so much nutrition left for his body to consume before it decides to shut down bodily functions and kill itself.

Which brings me to my last point. And the reason why this confusion started in the first place.

What is Starvation?

It’s not the same as “Oh, I’m starving”

Colloquily, we use the term very loosely. Miss one meal and you’ll hear people say “I’m famished. I’m starving.”

Hate to break it to you, you’re not. You’re privileged, maybe, but not starving.

Starvation — is when the body has run out of both external and stored nutrient and energy sources. That’s when the body, literally, starts eating itself. That’s when it turns to muscle and organs and whatever else it can to convert to life-sustaining energy.

At 3 meals a day, we eat about a 1000 meals every year and 60k+ meals over our lifetime. You really think skipping 1 or 2 meals out of this would switch on such an extreme response?

So here’s my verdict.

Fasting on a fixed schedule will NOT turn on Starvation Mode.

Missing meals at random though, can be potentially harmful. Because the body reacts to patterns and doesn’t know what to do when there isn’t one.

And now, for my IF journey update.

Week #3

Week 2 Results:

Lost 1.1 Kgs in 2 weeks. Weight loss rate ramped up from 0.4 kg in Week 1 to 0.7kg in week 2. Seems like the reduced calorie intake (~1450 per day) is working.

So in Week #3 I ‘m sticking to the same diet.

How I feel

After 2 weeks, I’ve started feeling a lot more IF adapted. Morning energy levels are good, and while the ‘hungry feeling’ comes and goes, it doesn’t bother me much at all. And if it does, a black coffee does the trick.

Basically, I’m beginning to like IF a lot. Let’s see if the results continue.

How do you know you’re losing fat and not muscle?

A very good question someone recently asked me. And it’s true, I’m just checking weight and not body fat. Because my faith on body-fat machine has gone sub-zero ever since it reported that my trainer, a guy with a proper six-pack, has 19.7% body fat.

F*@k you machine.

As you can see I’m quite zen about it. So now I track my weight and look in the mirror to see where I’m shedding it from. And to be sure that it’s not muscle (not majorly muscle), I’m tracking my performance in the gym.

Since I’m still able to hold my max weight ranges (although for reduced number of sets), I’m guessing it isn’t primarily muscle. And I’m liking what I see in the mirror.

So I carry on.

→Read Part 1: Intermittent Fasting 101


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