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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Weight Management arrow Can You Lose Weight by Not Eating – What Do Health Experts Say?

Can You Lose Weight by Not Eating – What Do Health Experts Say?

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: April 7, 2023
6 min read 1404 Views 0 Comments
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Fasting for a while can help you lose weight, and it has some associated health benefits. However, is the same true about starving? Read on to find out the truth behind starving and why it is not good for you.

can you lose weight by not eating

You have probably heard countless times that you need to be on a calorie deficit to lose weight. Though this saying is true, it does not fully encompass a healthy approach to losing weight.

Some people might think that they will drastically lose weight if they stop eating. Well, how true is this? Can you lose weight by not eating?

We will discuss the effects of starving on the body, why it is not a good weight-loss strategy, the effects of going on a prolonged fast, and whether losing weight by not eating is possible.

Is It Possible to Lose Weight by Not Eating?

Unfortunately, there is a lot more involved. As you stop eating, your body goes into starvation mode. The body’s metabolism reduces for it to only utilize the little food available.

Not eating to lose weight almost always backfires as the body needs some calories to burn calories. If you don’t eat for a long time, you will eventually lose weight, increasing the risk of health effects such as heart failure, muscle loss, hair loss, fainting, and brittle bones.

This approach to losing weight is also likely to give you an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa. It’s best to maintain healthy eating habits for long-term weight loss.

What Is Starvation Mode?

When you over-restrict your calorie consumption, your body goes into starvation mode. This is where your body’s metabolism reduces for the body to utilize the little amount of food left in the system.

When you consume enough food, the body uses it for fuel and sometimes turns to body fat for energy. However, during the starvation mode, the body breaks down lean muscle tissue to hang on to its energy stores.

By starving, you are also consuming fewer calories than recommended, increasing the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol, which is unhealthy and makes it harder to stick to a low-calorie diet. All this makes it impossible to lose weight by starvation.

What’s the Difference Between Starving and Fasting?

Fasting refers to limiting food consumption for a specific period, whereas starvation refers to consuming no food over a prolonged time.

Intermittent fasting works by limiting the eating periods, lowering the overall amount of food consumed and forcing the body to burn body fat.

Intermittent fasting is beneficial to the body, but starving can lead to several health complications as it deprives the body of the nutrients necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Another critical difference between intermittent fasting and starvation is the severity of the symptoms experienced.

People who fast only experience minor and short-term side effects compared to those starving themselves. These side effects include fatigue, hunger, dizziness, and lightheadedness.

However, people who starve can experience nutrient deficiencies like scurvy and other serious health complications like hypotension, heart disease, brain dysfunction, and even death.

What Happens if You Starve Yourself but Drink Water?

The body undergoes some changes to adopt when you starve but drink water. Usually, your body breaks down food to glucose for energy. When you do not have access to food, the body will deplete its glucose stores in 8 to 12 hours.

After depleting the glucose stores, the body moves to fat stores and starts depleting the stored fat in the form of glycogen. Once the body completely metabolizes the glycogen stores, it breaks down its muscle mass.

Below are some of the changes in the body to help it deal with starvation.

#1 Metabolism slows down

When the body is in starvation mode, the metabolism reduces for the body to utilize the little food reserves it has. This will be counterproductive for weight loss, as the body needs to burn calories to lose weight.

Studies also show that starvation over a very long period also lowers the resting metabolic rate, which remains low even after consuming more calories, making weight loss more difficult.

Other effects associated with a low metabolic rate include low blood pressure, abdominal pain, thyroid malfunction, general body weakness, increased stress levels, and organ failure.

It is best for people experiencing prolonged starvation to slowly ease into eating again under a doctor’s supervision to minimize the risk of heart conditions, swelling of body tissue, or developing an eating disorder.

#2 You may feel dizzy and tired

During the starvation phase, you are likely to feel dizzy and tired. You will also experience severe headaches. The brain runs on glucose that comes from the foods you eat.

When you restrict calories too much, it makes your brain energy deficient, and you might feel light-headed, dizzy, and have unexplainable headaches.

You will constantly think about food and feel deprived. Periods can become irregular for females as the body lacks enough fats to produce the hormones responsible for triggering the menstrual cycle.

#3 Poor mental well-being

As earlier stated, the brain runs on glucose. Therefore, even modest dieting can affect the brain’s activity as it is not adequately fueled. Most people who undergo prolonged periods of starvation experience spikes in stress and depression and are largely irritable.

The brain’s chemistry changes also lead to anxiety problems and mood disorders. A person also becomes socially withdrawn and may experience comprehension, judgment, and concentration issues.

It is best to avoid starvation and eat a proper diet rich in proteins and healthy fats for the effective and optimal functioning of the brain.

Does Starving Yourself Make You Lose Weight?

Though you may lose a significant amount of body weight when you start starving, it is hard to maintain this weight loss over time.

When you consume too few calories, it also triggers your body’s survival mechanisms to adopt severe calorie deficits, which affect your weight loss plan in the long run.

When you consume fewer calories than recommended, the body is in an unhealthy state that it desperately wants to get out of. Therefore, the body will quickly start storing fats to restore the lost weight once you stop starving and start regular eating patterns.

Not Eating After a Workout to Lose Weight: Is This a Good Practice?

It is not good practice to avoid eating after a workout for weight loss. After a workout, it is best to eat for the body to focus on muscle building and weight loss. You can either eat before or after a workout.

If you are not up for a meal after a workout, you can eat a low-fat snack like chocolate cake, nuts, or whole grains. Eating healthy meals after exercising replenishes your energy stores and helps in maintaining muscle mass.

Eating a well-balanced diet will not only help you lose weight but also has other health benefits such as improved fitness levels and reduced risk of diseases.

Your body needs a well-balanced diet, not only for losing weight but also for your overall health.

Does Starving Cause Weight Gain?

Starving yourself primes you for gaining weight. It negates all the progress your body made during the starvation phase. For people losing weight through starvation, the blood hormone levels of leptin, the hormone that signals your brain that you are full, decrease.

Since the low leptin levels do not signal the brain correctly, a person is likely to consume more calories, leading to increased weight after the starvation phase.

During starvation, the body is used to running on its reserves for fuel. Once you consume calories, the body’s natural reaction is to store them up in preparation for starvation. Extreme weight loss through starvation is therefore unsustainable.

A Word From a Personal Trainer

Starving yourself for weight loss is not recommended as it is unhealthy and unsustainable.

When you deprive the body of enough calories, your metabolism reduces, and the body struggles to function correctly.

Starvation leads to loss of muscle tissue which is counterproductive for weight loss. Your mental health will also decline, and though you will lose weight at first, you are likely to gain it back eventually. The best strategy for weight loss is combining a healthy diet and exercise.

If you struggle with weight loss and establishing proper eating habits, it would help to work with a licensed professional trainer and a healthcare professional for the healthiest and most reliable weight-loss method.


As earlier discussed, it is not recommended to try losing weight by not eating. The best way to lose weight is to adopt sustainable habits such as intermittent fasting combined with a healthy diet.

With this strategy, you can lose weight over time without starving yourself.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: April 7, 2023
6 min read 1404 Views 0 Comments

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