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Why Starvation Diets Don't Work

We all know somebody that barely eats and still seems to always struggle with their weight. Why is that? Each person is unique and has their own struggles, but often it boils down to they are not fueling their body properly, so it can’t work properly.

In the 1920’s there was a book written called “Diet and Health: with a key to calories”. This was one of the first modern books written about dieting and tracking calories. It introduces the idea of a calorie deficit; meaning eating less calories than your body is burning each day. Dr Lulu Peters wrote this book as the ideal feminine body as changing from voluptuous to a slender less curvy shape. (Another day we should talk about how the female body has trendy shapes and sizes! Why is this a thing?!) To simply explain the book, Dr Peters suggested that a female should consume 1,200 calories a day and no more than 1,500 if you were very active. There was no real science to back this claim, however, as women were desperately trying to slim down to attain the “ideal” body, the idea stuck. Women all over the nation were convinced that if you consumed 1,200 calories a day, you would reach your perfect weight. Never mind the constant hunger, the fatigue, the terrible tasting low calorie snacks… this was all a part of being thin! Raise your hand if you’ve been a victim to this diet theory….

Now, let’s talk about why this doesn’t work for long term weight loss. If tomorrow, you started consuming 1200 calories a day you would absolutely begin to lose weight. This amount of energy intake would be hard to sustain for a long period. Besides leaving you hungry at each meal and tired at the end of the day; it would probably lead you to start obsessing about food and possibly send you into a shameful binge eating session that would undo the deficit. Not to mention, if you were to continue in a big deficit for long enough you could slow your metabolism down.

We all have a basal metabolic rate, our BMR, and this is basically the energy your body burns just to keep you alive. This doesn’t mean alive like moving through our normal daily routines of working, keeping up with the kids or exercising. No, this is the amount of energy your body would burn just performing its internal functions while you laid in bed and stared at the ceiling all day. Each person’s BMR is unique to their own body, but generally it is more than 1,200 calories. For the average female, it is just over 1500 calories. It’s no wonder why you would be so hungry eating 1200 calories a day!

The human body is smart, and it is designed to stay alive despite the challenges we throw at it. Even if you are mentally strong enough to power through and stick to those 1,200 calories, your body will begin to adjust the way it functions. After an extended period, if the body is not provided with enough energy, it will begin to feel unsafe. In times of famine, humans can sustain life on less food because our bodies will begin to adjust the amount of energy they burn. Internal processes such as digestion and absorption of nutrients will slow down so that the body can make the best of the small amount of energy being supplied. While most of us in America are lucky enough to not worry about famine, our bodies physiologically cannot tell the difference between famine and dieting. This means that not only will our metabolism slow down, but our body will also begin to hold onto the calories we eat and store them as fat. The idea behind this is that the body is not sure when there will be enough food to go around, and it needs to hold onto this energy in case things get worse and it needs to use that stored energy later.

Here is where things get worse. While we are incredibly lucky to have this built in survival tool; when it comes to dieting… it can really work against us! If you have been eating a (very) restricted number of calories long enough for your body to feel threatened, once you begin to eat a “normal” amount of calories, chances are that you will gain more weight than you lost in the first place. It can take weeks or even months for your body to feel safe again and to stop storing energy as fat rather than using the calories to fuel other processes in the body. This is why there are many people that barely seem to eat at all, but still struggle with weight loss; their bodies are trying to keep them alive! The best thing you can do for your body is to fuel it with whole foods and a proper amount of energy so that it can work with you towards your health goals and not against you.

If all this seems like a lot to process, or if you are struggling with not seeing the progress you would like to see, even though you keep cutting calories; reach out to us at Grace Savory & Sweet. We have trained nutrition coaches on staff that would love to help you work towards your goals in the healthiest way possible!


**All topics covered in this blog are for educational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your physician**


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