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Starvation mode – Your body will starve and you’ll lose all your muscle.

By November 8, 2011January 13th, 201714 Comments

Starvation mode?

I feel like I harp to much on this subject, but when I get annoyed, I tend to rant. The inspiration for this post has come from yet another load of bullsh*t to hit the airwaves today. I promise this is the LAST time i’ll bring it up. Let’s put it to rest once and for all.

I can handle a point of view, an opinion and reams of drivel in small doses, but when the comments section of any given post supports the aforementioned meaningless drivel, you realise that “wow, there are still people out there believing this crap!” It f*cking irks me to the point of frustration.

Show me someone that hasn’t been eating every 2-3 hours who looks like a starving third-world child. Go on, I DARE YOU.

Show me someone that’s in starvation mode. Someone that is truly losing muscle every milli-second they don’t eat. They are probably losing muscle as I type these very words. That’s of course unless they are eating right now. Right?

Their body is saying “WTF! where’s my fricken PROTEIN hit mofo! That’s it… I’m gonna have to shrink your biceps. Soz.” Because everyone knows the human body’s inner-monologue sounds like a pre-pubescent ass-clown projecting snoop-dog.

Starvation mode? Use me as an example

Please do. Look, I haven’t eaten breakfast since January 1st this year (other than when I’m on vacation). According to Broscience® and a miriade of fitness magazines, I should either be dead, have the metabolism of an 80-year-old woman or at least resemble Pee-Wee Herman in the off-season. Sorry to burst a series of bubbles – it just isn’t true.

Lets dissect the article…

I’ll go through the ‘claims’ it’s making and let’s see if I can offer an alternate perspective (I bet I can).

Here are just a few of the negative consequences of skimping on calories (apparently):

Slowing metabolism. The last thing you want to do when you are trying to lose weight is to slow down your fat-burning mechanism, but eating too few calories does just that. You’re giving your body no choice but to protect its vital functions by conserving energy when you under-eat. This is why people who are undernourished tend to feel cold and lethargic.

Ok, so this may be true if referring to the study in the 1950’s on subjects with a 50% calorie deficit over a period of 6 months who dipped their metabolism by 40%. One caveat here, it was WITHOUT any weight training or exercise. Slight problem there. The ‘cold and lethargic’ bit is just absurd. I train in a fasted state 4-5 days a week. Am I lethargic? Hardly. Cold? If I don’t wear pants to the gym then yes.

Psychological deprivation. When you are calorically deprived, hunger becomes tough to ignore and cravings intensify. It’s next to impossible to stay in this state for long. Before we know it, we make up for under-eating with compulsive eating or bingeing followed by weight gain.

Oh, it’s next to impossible is it? With a bit of will power and restraint, anyone can put down the fork for a good 16 hours. Believe me – I do it every day. I get cravings sure. Cravings to kick the ass of the article’s author.

Fatigue and lack of energy. Not eating enough calories decreases our energy levels so we feel weak and unable to exercise, further slowing metabolism and weight loss.

Wow, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this one. I train without eating every morning and seem to have more energy than when I eat. And the last bit after the comma about slowing metabolism. Again, I want to punch you in the face.

Breakdown of muscle. Muscle burns calories, but not eating enough calories can break down muscle mass. The more muscle we have, the more calories we can eat without storing fat. If we’re eating so few calories that the body has to break down muscle to function, we’re setting ourselves up again to gain rather than lose weight.

Sure muscle burns fat even when at rest. But do you know how little? VERY little. So little that it isn’t even worth worrying about. For each pound of lean muscle that you gain, you will burn an extra 12 calories per day. If you gained 10 pounds of lean muscle mass, you would burn an extra 120 calories throughout the day.

I’ll stop it there…

There isn’t much point in going any further, but as you can see, this kind of article still seems to be flooding mainstream media almost daily. Old information and myths that have been circulating for years are constantly being quoted as ‘fact’.

To sum it up

If someone ever bullsh*t’s you hard enough that you ALMOST believe the hype, flip them one of my gym douche-bag cards or at least the directions to this website and tell em I sent you.


Burgess NS. Effect of a very-low calorie diet on body composition and resting metabolic rate in obese men and women. J Am Diet Assoc. 1991 Apr;91(4):430-4.
Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101. Epub 2009 Nov 30.
Enhanced thermogenic response to epinephrine after 48-h starvation in humans. Am J Physiol. 1990 Jan;258(1 Pt 2):R87-93.
A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):981-8.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More posts by Clint Nielsen

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Nice post. Sometimes you have to stop doing what everyone’s telling you to do to get the results that you want.

  • Darrin says:

    Amen, brother. You need look no further than nutrition science to see what nonsense rages when science goes bad. Eat when hungry, stop when full.

  • smokinZOMBi says:

    great post!

  • Trey says:

    Nice. I’m going to have to link this article to my coworkers. I told them I was doing IF and not eating until lunch time and they look at me like I had 3 heads. I’m the fittest one in the office, but I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to nutrition and exercise apparently.

    • I’m not surprised about your coworkers reactions Troy, I remember Michael Johnson being interviewed on Desert Island Disks and talking about his running technique.

      He said that he was the one being told he needed to change his technique so that he could go faster!

      He was like, ‘hang on a minute, I’m the fasted guy in the world, I haven’t been beaten for over 4 years and you’re telling me I’m the one that needs to change his technique!!!!’

      Keep on the IF my friend, if it works, it works. And boy, does it work!


  • Clint,

    Amazing that this myth is still spreading. The only people who need to worry about starvation mode are people who are actually starving.


  • Niko says:

    I argee with everything that you have said, in fact I have been using IF for the past 5 weeks with good results, The only danger I see is people with poor eating habits will see IF as a quick fix to their shitty diet. I know that’s not what you are suggesting, but people are always looking for short cuts. The truth of the matter is I think you nutrition should be in order before you try IF. I am currently fasting once a week for a 24 hour period. Outside of this fasting time, I am eating 6 clean meals a day. I feel it’s the combination of my good clean eating habits coupled with the IF that is getting me the results.

  • Nice job tearing this apart one point at a time!

  • Paul d says:


    it is one thing when a smart well read guy like Martin berkhan challenges diet myths. This blog was fucking dismal and you missed the point, and to top it off your arguments were piss poor. you are onw of many people who follow leangains? Why attempt to repeat what has been done to death and has been done well by others? Rant over

    Paul d

  • paul says:


    Not interested in resorting to personal insults, and no, I did not write the article.

    Within reason I am happy to post my details to overcome the view that I am relying on anonymity.

    Point 1 from the article.

    Slowing metabolism. The last thing you want to do when you are trying to lose weight is to slow down your fat-burning mechanism, but eating too few calories does just that.

    I am not sure why you selectively cited this part of the article when your intention was to actually critique the article. Do you agree or disagree with this statement. Reading what you said, are you suggesting that under only extreme conditions (way below BMR) that calorie restriction leads to a slow down in metabolism? Are you also suggesting that by exercising under an extreme calorie restriction you will not suffer any downstream slowdown on metabolism? What about a mitigating factor such as cortisol. In addition, why do people recommend refeeds and cheat days following calorie restriction to boost leptin? Why is there a metabolicuptick (albeit small) in the window following a refeed or cheat day?

    “The ‘cold and lethargic’ bit is just absurd. I train in a fasted state 4-5 days a week. Am I lethargic? Hardly. Cold? If I don’t wear pants to the gym then yes”.

    What on earth does fasted training have to with calorie restriction? You can eat above maintenance and still do fasted training, right. Your point has nothing to do with calorie restricton.

    Keeping it up Clint.

    Paul D

    • paul d says:


      Congratulations. Been married for over 10 years, hope it all goes well.

      I have read your blog for a while, and thought this was a crap post.

      You certainly have better things to do.

      Me also, have to put my two kids to bed with my wife.

      Hope you stay lean over the wedding feasts (;

      Paul D

  • Mike OD says:

    Great article…the starvation mode line is something that makes me want to hit my head against the wall everytime I have to listen to it. I’ve never seen so many overweight people starving themselves. (sarcasm there of course).

    True story…I even had to explain to one person that starving children in 3rd world countries have distended bellies from edema…not fat.

  • Sandy R says:

    I know this is an old post….just stumbled across it on a search. Great post! I wish everyone would get off the starvation mode kick and just eat less. Every doctor will tell you eating less will make you lose weight. Have they been wrong all these years? I don’t think so. THANKS!

  • Muhammad Fawaz says:

    err… I like your videos and all but I think you kiiinda overreacted a lil in this article. i guess what that ‘bullshit website’ was talking about was the typical case of a fatass starving himself to get lean, then caving under the stress and overdoing his cheat meal or whatever.
    in fact, i think that article, and your opinion, are actually the same thing: you need an intelligent plan and discipline, and if you stick to it it’ll probably benefit.

    old post, i know, but haha what the heck. cheers mate! :)

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