Starvation Mode – Why You Probably Never Need to Worry About It

Starvation mode is a term that gets thrown around loosely.

Many people believe that too little protein or too few of calories in a day will cause loss of muscle mass. What if I told you that it is extremely difficult to go into starvation mode until you get down to 5% body fat(10% for women)?

Brad Pilon and John Barban have given me permission to give you access to the first 15 minutes of one of their paid recordings: “Starvation Mode”. Brad and John discuss surprising findings of a military study, where they purposely tried to get the soldiers to lose muscle and get into starvation mode. They found it took extreme conditions to reach this point.

starvation mode

[Just a cool vintage restaurant sign. This reminds me of something you would see on a road trip in Nevada or Arizona on a 2 lane highway, hours from the big cities.]

Brad and John Show You How to Get Into Starvation Mode?

These guys take an interesting approach. They show you exactly what it takes to reach starvation mode. By showing how difficult it is to reach starvation mode, they destroy a lot of muscle loss myths.

Once you listen to this, you can relax and not stress out about losing muscle when you are dieting and exercising to lose body fat. As you will see, you don’t even need to begin to worry about this until your reach crazy low body fat levels. Here’s that recording:

How to Get Into Starvation Mode

[Click on this old school cassette tape. Using sophisticated computer technology, my blog will play this bootleg in fancy MP3 format.]

My Notes From the Starvation Mode Recording

All of this is covered in the recording, but I wanted to put some of this in text as well. You can also right click and save this recording and listen on your computer or iPod.

I’ll post my notes below like I typically format my blog posts.

Why Are Brad and John Examining a Military Study?

Brad and John mainly look at a military experiment done by Karl Friedl. They point out that the military has less restrictions and can push people much harder than they can in a typical university study.

There is no way this stuff would get approved by a university, but no problem for the military.

In their words…To find limits to what the body is capable of, you need to dip into military research.

Step 1 to Get Into Starvation Mode—> Start Out Lean

Karl Friedl used fit and athletic soldiers with an average body fat of 14%. This is what John Barban calls “4 pack lean”.

There were guys as low as 6% body fat and as high as 18% body fat. Think along the lines of a fit and muscular soldier to get an idea of the participants of this study.

Karl Pretty Much Tortured These Guys for 8+ Weeks!

Karl had these guys eat between 1,000-1,200 calories…but burn upwards of 6,000 calories per day with crazy activity levels and sleep deprivation.

So deficits in the 3,000-4,000 range on some days. Average deficit was 1,200 calories per day. They trained like mad and also went through extreme sleep deprivation.

Here’s what happened during the 8 weeks (avg height 5’9″):

  • At Start… 167 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.4
  • 2 Weeks…156 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.44
  • 4 Weeks…152 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.45
  • 6 Weeks…146 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.50
  • 8 Weeks…140 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.52

Note: Adonis Index refers to the shoulder circumference divided by the waist circumference. As an example, my shoulder measurement is 50 inches and my waist is 33 inches. If I divide my shoulder by my waist I get 1.51. The ideal Adonis Index is 1.61.

The video below explains why a 1.61 ratio is pleasing to the eye in not just body proportions…but in art, architecture, etc.

[It is interesting to note that so many things follow the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio. This video claims that even many cereal boxes are made with these proportions to be more pleasing to the eye…so the cereal companies can sell more cereal.]

In This Experiment, They Were NOT Trying to Preserve Muscle

The important thing to remember in this study was that they were trying their best to beat these guys down.

They weren’t doing things that normal people would do while dieting, like proper resistance training. Here are some of the tactics they used to try to get into starvation mode.

  • Severe Caloric Restriction
  • Severe Amount of Exercise
  • Severe Amount of Mental Stress
  • Extreme Sleep Deprivation

Began to Lose Lean Body Mass Between Weeks 6 and 8

At around the 8 week mark a lot of guys who were in the 5%-6% range could not drop any more body fat. This is when they began to lose lean muscle.

The guys who started out the leanest, reached their limits at week 6. These were the guys who lost the most amount of lean body mass.

They Didn’t Lose Muscle Just Because They Were at 5%-6%

They lost muscle because they were still having days where they were running at a 3,000 calorie deficit. Once someone reaches their lower limits of body fat percentage it makes sense to eat close to maintenance levels.

This strong calorie deficit at this low body fat level also caused extreme hormone disruptions: Testosterone dropped, thyroid issues, mood changes “starvation mode”.

Why People Think Their Metabolism is Slowing Down

People with more fat available to oxidize…can oxidize more body fat per minute.

The less body fat you have, the less you can oxidize per minute. So as you get closer to your lower limits of body fat, the slower you will burn what body fat you have. This is why those last 4-5 pounds come off slowly, NOT because you are wrecking your metabolism with an aggressive diet.

Most People Never Need to Worry About Starvation Mode

Most likely, starvation mode isn’t happening to anybody reading this. The average person thinks starvation mode happens between meals.

It isn’t about not having enough calories. It isn’t about not having enough protein. It only effects people at their critical low body fat mass.

You have to be in a massive deficit and already at your critical low body fat level. You are “6 pack ripped” before ever getting to starvation mode.

79 thoughts on “Starvation Mode – Why You Probably Never Need to Worry About It”

  1. Starvation mode is horrible. You feel cold all the time, become constipated, dizzy, depressed and have little energy.

    I’ve restricted my calories and over trained. 1500kCal with running a couple of miles per day and doing 3 hours intensive martial arts 3 times per week. I lost fat and a lot of muscle and became underweight very quickly. I had to stop exercising after becoming injured and frightened of weight gain I cut to 1000kCal. I had anorexia nervosa and was unaware of it until I became too ill to work and my doctor referred me to a psychiatrist.

    At the start of my eating disorder I was 29 years old and I’m male which just made it more difficult to accept as it normally happens to adolescent girls.

    I’m now 31 and in recovery for the second time. Recovery isn’t easy and has many nasty physical and psychological side effects. After loosing >25% of your body weight (I was a healthy weight at the start!) it becomes impossible to eat normally. At the start, eating more than 1000 was hard work, then when I managed to get to 2500kCal, I ended up binging lots and would sometimes vomit which is what often causes bulimia. Lucky that didn’t happen. After relapsing for a few months I just sucked it up and binged on well over 6000kCal per day to get better.

    Diet safely, please don’t put yourself on a starvation diet. The problem is it’s often too late as one of the symptoms of starvation is body dysmporphic disorder so you fail to see the weight coming off until it’s too late.

  2. I found it interesting how one of the ‘failures’ of this diet is that someone lost one pound of muscle for every 6 pounds of weight they lost. This means if I weigh 210lb 1and am at 13%bf, then I can lose 30lb of weight, get myself to 6% bf, and only have lost 4lb of muscle, which I could put back on easily in a months or two, while the fat would take longer (as long as I exercised and ate correctly), so I could theoretically within three months lose 15lb of muscle and how equal or greater stength then before. BTW, these tests that they did on those poor rangers… They averaged 3.6h of sleep and wrecked themselves… I am sure if someone had the goal of actual weight loss they could do it much more effectively

  3. After already losing 50 pounds due to a prior sickness, I did a 40 day fast, only consuming water. I could tell when my body entered true “starvation mode”, as I could smell my body consuming my muscle mass to stay alive. <- If this has happened to you – and you can't NOT notice the stench – then, yes, you've entered starvation mode.

  4. The only one person here who understands anything is Edward . This article makes no sense whatsoever. After a few days on very low calories your energy drops down and you start loosing muscle . If you do not know what your doing and keep going , you will lose more muscle and less fat. To do this the right way , takes a little bit of knowledge. Loosing fat but keeping muscle is an art …if it was as easy as going into lots of training and very low daily calories anybody on the street would look like a model and we know that’s definitely not the case (:

  5. Great read! I always have several rules that I always follow to prevent metabolic slowdown :
    1) Never eat less than 1,200 calories per day
    2) Cycle calories from day to day
    3) Never aim to lose more than 2 lbs per week
    4)Have one refeed per day, eating at maintenance level of calories.

  6. Starvation mode is a stupid myth created by companies which want to sell you useless supplements. Our ancestors didn’t eat every three hours and most of them were probably looking better than most bodybuilders and fitness experts. Check Martin Berkhan’s blog “Leangains” to educate yourself.

  7. Pingback: Is it bad to fast after overeating? | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page
  8. I knew it! How else could you explain all these “crazy” celeb dieting and getting in shape in no time!?

    I remember how I traveled to Europe with just the right amount of money to eat a little during the day. I had to carry my heavy baggage with a bunch of clothes all around Vienna, Paris; running -with my baggage- to catch the train, the plane, etc. After only 3 weeks, what I had been trying to get in the gym happened: 6 pack abs. No proper workout, no ab crunches, no nothing. I just stopped eating so much. Obviously I’m a skinny guy so I didn’t have to shed a lot of fat.

    I didn’t get any side effects afterwards. Just some skinny ass abs and a happy girlfriend 😉

    So diet, diet, diet!

  9. If it were possible to just starve yourself for long periods of time and not lose muscle mass till you got to 5% body fat everyone would just stop eating go on the elliptical an hour a day and eventually get six pack abs. Obviously that doesn’t happen – you just end up looking skinny-fat and become a twig that can’t lift 5lb dumbbells if you do that. And I have personally dieted badly by over-restricting calories combined with large amounts of exercise – I lost 52 lb of weight but 8lb of it was muscle. I went from 30%fat@240lb to 14%@185lb – so nowhere near sub-10% body fat and my training and diet was nowhere near as extreme as this. I think IF can be used in a smart way in short 24 hour periods as long as it doesn’t create an overly large calorie deficit – Intermittent Fasting is completely different ball game from Extended fasting with respect to muscle loss though – Just my 2c !

  10. This article is very interesting. I have to admit I am just a little tiny bit skeptical… I am a 34 year old female trying to get my body back in shape. I am about 28% body fat… yeah I am a little chubby. I have been on a very low calorie diet for the last 6 weeks (first 3 weeks only consuming 500 calories a day, didn’t have the energy to workout, the last 3 weeks increased intake to about 700-800 a day with moderate cardio) … lost about 20 pounds so far… the first week was awful, i was so hungry had no energy felt like crap. Lost 10 pounds but i know a lot of that was water. In the last 2 weeks I have been stalling but have not felt hungry whatsoever even on 600 calorie days. I was starting to wonder if my body was going into “starvation mode” and that my metabolism had adjusted to my low caloric intake. I am now considering increasing my calories up to 800-1000 and skipping cardio and just weight training. I was worried that I am losing muscle mass which is going to just hurt me in the long run and I will end up fatter than before. Anyone have any ideas for me? I am eating clean, mostly just eating lean proteins, small amount of high fiber carbs and fruit and veggies. I would like to break through this plateau and do what will serve me best in the long run.

  11. Thanks for the article guys!!! My acupuncturist recommended fasting… I have NEVER had more energy in my life as a result!! And my body is definitely not starving!!!

  12. I’m 13, 5′ 2″ and about 110. I have a little bit of fat covering my abs and i dont know what the best way to get rid of it. The reason i ask is because we are going to splash town for a field trip and i want to be able to show off my abs, last year i flexed the whole time and no one noticed but it killed my stomach. i dont know if i should count calories and do lots of running and bike riding for cardio to lose the weight or what

  13. Thanks for the info! This definitely made me consider how much I am putting in my body. I’m trying to track my eating, so I stay healthy and eat when I need to. Even if I am on the go and busy.


  14. Pingback: Starvation Mode Myth « Veggies and Pearls
  15. It made me realize that doing any weight-loss method excessively will only bring harm to my body. Thank you for posting this.

  16. Hey,
    Recentely discovered the site and love it. Enjoyed the initial abs blueprint videos. There was a graph in the video on eating that talked about Eat Stop Eat and Pilon’s method. The graph was free fatty acid levels while fasting. It seems to say adapted from Klein et al 1998 or 1993. Anybody know where I can get a copy of that graphic or graph?? Or maybe where to get a copy of that research study? Thanks!


  17. Pingback: Diet experimentation – Week 5 End (Day 32) | Big Transformation

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