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Am I eating enough to lose weight? Starvation syndrome explained

27/07/2021

Weight loss is probably the most popular health goal out there and over the years, there have been numerous weight loss diets advertised as the be-all and end-all which require individuals to follow extremely low calorie diets that often cause more harm than good.

Regularly following diets that are very low in calories may lead the body to think you may be in danger of starving. As a defence mechanism your body cleverly conserves energy and your ability to lose weight may be disabled.

What is Starvation Syndrome?

Also known as semistarvation,  Starvation Syndrome is a survival mechanism in which the body goes through metabolic adaptations to protect itself from starvation such as slowing down your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This occurs when the bodystarts to identify that it doesn’t have enough food or energy to keep it’s main organs functioning optimally so it starts to prioritise more important systems like our heart, brain and lungs.

What are the symptoms of Starvation Syndrome?

There are a number of different signs that your body has switched to a form of starvation mode to protect itself and make sure there is enough energy to keep you alive!

  1. Slow metabolism & increased fat storage
    This may be easily recognisable as it will be extremely difficult to lose weight as the body will be holding on to try to conserve all the energy it has.
  2. Not identifying hunger or satiety cues
    The body uses these cues to let us know it needs to be fueled or that it’s had enough. When we ignore these cues for long enough, the body doesn’t bother signalling to us anymore. This can actually lead to losing control over food consumption and overeating.
  3. Always feeling cold
    Thermoregulation is our body’s system of keeping our temperature at a normal 37 °C. Keeping our bodies warm takes a decent amount of energy. But when we are not giving out bodies enough energy, keeping you warm is no longer a priority!
  4. Slow heart rate and decreased blood pressure
    When we are in a state of starvation, the body goes into a type of “low power mode”, essentially turning off non-essential functions and keeping essential functions working at a lower rate. This is why in Starvation Syndrome, our heart doesn’t have enough energy to pump at full power which decreases our heart rate and blood pressure
  5. Psychological changes
    Feelings of depression and anxiety are common amongst people suffering from starvation syndrome as well as having a hard time focusing. It is also common to be constantly thinking about food and your next meal. This sometimes even comes in the form of obsessively counting every calorie before eating it.If you relate to any of the points listed above, I strongly urge you to see a healthcare professional. Although these symptoms are scary, they are completely reversible with proper nutrition and  refeeding management with a Registered Dietitian.

 

How can you prevent Starvation Syndrome?

You can prevent your body slipping into this state by ensuring that your food intake meets your body’s basic requirements. This can be a little tricky if you are thinking about weight loss when you are aiming for a calorie restriction. The key here is understanding a healthy calorie deficit for your body that will optimise fat loss and not risk you experiencing starvation syndrome where you body is actually at risk of resisting weight loss. The DNA Way methodology allows you to uncover your variation of the  UCP1 gene that will guide you with your perfect energy deficit for healthy weight loss in addition to a diet 100% personalised to your unique needs. You can read more here about the UCP1 and calculating your calorie requirements for weight loss.

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