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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Weight Management arrow Is Starving Yourself Effective for Weight Loss? A Complete Guide

Is Starving Yourself Effective for Weight Loss? A Complete Guide

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: April 7, 2023
5 min read 1354 Views 0 Comments
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is starving yourself effective for weight loss

The recent social media boom has changed the world. However, in some cases, its impact is negative. For example, the increasing concern about self-image and body fat.

Moreover, the psychological impact of the unrealistic social media standards leads to extreme weight loss measures.

Additionally, young individuals think it’s taboo to have body fat or gain weight. So, they might go for weight loss by gaining fat-free mass.

Some might even attempt significant weight loss by starving themselves. 

But what happens when you try to lose weight by extreme measures such as starvation?

Does Starving Help to Lose Weight?

The simple answer is yes, you will lose weight with starvation diets. However, this weight loss is only from your lean muscle.

And since it is primarily protein mass, this form of weight loss isn’t ideal and is quite unhealthy, depriving you of strength and weakening the functional parts of your system.

What Happens to Lean Body Mass When You Starve?

To understand the effects of weight loss through starvation, you must first understand your body. Your body has two main constituents – body fat and fat-free mass. The latter is everything except for body fat.

According to research, participants who utilized starvation diets for weight loss did lose body weight overall. They also did, however, lose 5% of their lean body mass.

If they maintain a protracted condition of hunger, lean muscle and organ muscle can be reduced by 20%.

Similarly, mouse research discovered that starvation decreased lean muscle mass. However, body fat levels were the same in mice on a regular diet and obese mice on starvation weight-loss diets.

Individuals who lose weight by starvation lose a large proportion of lean mass, including water plus organs. Nonetheless, such drastic measures can be extremely harmful to the body because of reduced bone density that might eventually make you more predisposed to injury.

In general, your goal to lose weight by starvation doesn’t help you lose body fat. Instead, you catabolize lean muscle mass.

What Are the Differences Between Starving and Intermittent Fasting?

To put it simply, intermittent fasting is a much healthier alternative to losing weight since it does not require you to deprive yourself of food but rather choose a specific time frame of when to eat a healthy diet throughout the day. 

Although there are different types of fasting, including the Warrior diet or eat-stop-eat where you only consume calorie-free beverages for 24 hours, the main idea is to go back to healthy eating and maintain an adequate calorie intake throughout your eating window. 

Such a varying eating routine might seem complicated, but with the right tools by your side, intermittent fasting is much easier – and recommended – to maintain than a starvation diet.

Why Is Starving a Bad Choice?

To lose body weight, your body must be on a low-calorie diet. However, a high-calorie deficit does not automatically imply that you will lose weight and maintain it in the long run.

At first, you may lose a significant amount of weight by starvation. However, it will be mainly water weight and lean body mass, which will prove unsustainable and, worse, extremely unhealthy. 

First of all, it will slow down your metabolism. Then, the body adapts to calorie shortage over time by decreasing your resting metabolic rate (RMR). It achieves this through adaptive thermogenesis (metabolic adaptation).

In order to conserve even more energy, your body becomes less efficient at burning calories. Thus, as your metabolism declines, it will result in weight gain instead.

Additionally, calorie restriction can deter you from your diet and cause a binge eating disorder.

What Are the Side Effects of Starving?

Below are some other side effects that arise from long-term starvation:

  • Faintness
  • Cardiovascular problems 
  • Dry mouth
  • Cramps
  • Potassium deficiency
  • Hair thinning
  • Drop in blood pressure levels

Considering these side effects and overall risk to your body, starvation is not a sustainable weight-loss method nor a healthy perspective of a picture-perfect body. 

How to Lose Weight Without Starving Yourself? 

Besides intermittent fasting, there are other proven ways to reduce body fat without depleting your muscle stores or calorie deprivation.

#1 Start exercising

Since a lot of weight reduction depends on your calorie balance, you should aim to burn more calories than you consume. So, instead of restricting what you put in your body, focus on enhancing what you burn.

You can either go for a workout plan or simply pick out your favorite physical activity. 

However, it is vital that you invest at least 45 minutes daily in physical activities. You can even go for low-impact cardio, such as walking, to start. Later on, you can switch it up to a light jog and full-fledged running.

The key to exercise is to stay consistent, even if you have to start from small steps.

#2 Try the keto diet

The keto diet focuses on attaining a state of ketosis, where your body shifts its fuel from carbohydrates to burning fat for energy. Consequently, it can metabolize your stored body fat.

Instead of starvation, a keto diet comprises foods that are low in carbs and have sufficient fats. With a proper diet, keto leads to fat loss, fat-free mass, and lean tissue. 

#3 Start clean eating

Most of your weight gain is thanks to eating processed foods that comprise a high sodium content. 

These foods are not dense and carry empty calories. Also, almost all your fast food falls on this list. They don’t fill you up and instead deliver excessive calories.

In comparison, consuming items rich in fiber and whole grains will help satiate you. This is just one of the various clean eating tips. Moreover, it’s a more effective way to regulate energy balance instead of ultra-low caloric intake.


Does starving shrink a stomach?

Your stomach is continually growing and contracting to make room for meals. It is not possible to regularly modify its physical dimensions by eating differently or in tiny amounts.Starving will not cause your belly to contract over time.

How to stop yourself from starving?

Opt for protein and fiber-rich items in your diet. Also, keep yourself hydrated and mind your portions. In case you are in need of a balanced meal plan, you can consult a nutritionist or dietitian or choose a personalized diet app that would do all the work for you.

A Word From Our RD

Overall, it is advisable not to opt for starvation diets for their evident drawbacks to health but rather choose much healthier and sustainable alternatives such as intermittent fasting.

With intermittent fasting, when you pause eating for some hours, your body doesn’t have food to use as fuel.

Consequently, it shifts to your body’s stored food reserves for energy, where your body utilizes all of its glucose reserves from your last meal.

Next, it converts fats to ketone bodies and gains energy. You can simply select a plan that you find doable. Initially, you can go for a 16-hour fasting plan where you eat for 8 hours, and for the remaining time frame – you fast.

In the end, all that’s left is to choose what seems better for you: depriving yourself of foods you enjoy and potentially harming your well-being OR eating your favorite meals in a set eating window with various benefits to gain.


The best method for dropping fat doesn’t have to be extreme. Instead of rushing and harming your wellness, try incorporating sustainable methods – such as intermittent fasting – to efficiently reduce fat mass. 

Quick and dangerous weight loss is not worth the short-term satisfaction, nor will it lead to desirable results in the long run. 

Instead, try following our guide to upgrading your lifestyle and habits. This type of weight loss might take its time, but it will be for your own betterment. 

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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