Learn what you really lose when you starve yourself.  How it can actually make you gain weight.

In an attempt to lose weight, people often think that by severely restricting their caloric intake they will achieve their goal. Initially, there is some weight loss, but eventually a plateau occurs and even worse, people actually gain the weight back and then some when they go back to their normal eating pattern. Simply put, significantly restricting caloric intake or starving yourself triggers the body to go into “starvation mode” as a means of survival. This means that your metabolism decreases to conserve energy (ie. your body burns less calories).

Fat, often erroneously, is mistaken as the “enemy” and many try to avoid eating it at all costs.  We all need fat in our diets, however, it should comprise no more than 25-30% of our daily caloric intake.

Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorption of certain vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Fat helps food stay in the stomach longer, helping one to feel satiated and to prevent hunger soon after meals
Fat may help your body produce endorphins (natural substances in the brain that are responsible for feelings of pleasure)
Diets too low in fat may trigger cravings
Provides back up energy if one has to go 4-6 hours without food
Provides insulation under the skin from the cold and the heat
Protects organs and bones
Fat surrounds and insulates nerve fibers to help transmit nerve impulses (nerve impulses are necessary for thoughts, emotions, behaviors, movements, etc.)
Fat is used by the body to make other building blocks needed for hormones and immune functioning


Harder to feel satiated, which may lead to continued eating
Dry, scaly skin
Hair loss
Low body weight
Cold intolerance
Poor growth
Lower resistance to infection
Poor wound healing
Loss of menstruation

Carbohydrates have become almost as evil, in some people’s minds, as fat, making it “in vogue” to eliminate them from one’s diet.  This is unfortunate, as this  macronutrient should comprise approximately 45-65% of our daily caloric intake.  This percentage is necessary for the following reasons:

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel
Carbohydrates are easily used as energy by the body
Integral to the healthy functioning of the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, and the muscles
Important in intestinal health and waste elimination
Carbohydrates replace glycogen stores (necessary for muscle contraction) in the muscle and liver.  Without carbohydrates to replace glycogen, fatigue and less than optimal functioning occurs.

Why does it seem like I’m gaining weight in my stomach?  This may be a question posed by individuals in recovery from anorexia.  When one begins to refeed a malnourished body, weight will often distribute to the stomach first to protect vital organs.  As the body begins to trust that the threat of starvation is gone, weight will distribute more normally.

Metabolism, in its simplest sense, is the rate at which your body burns calories. In a broader sense it is complex network of hormones and enzymes responsible for converting food into fuel, while also determining how efficiently you burn that fuel. Many people think of metabolism as how easily they lose or gain weight.

Surprising to many is that the largest component of your metabolism, approximately 70%, is your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR determines how many calories are needed just to keep you alive and functioning. It is the energy used by your body to perform basic functions, such as breathing, brain health, keeping the heart beating and maintaining body temperature. For example, your brain requires approximately 109 calories per pound and weighs approximately three pounds. This means that 327 calories per day are required to maintain your brain. Other examples include your heart and kidneys, which require 200 calories per pound (approximate weight of an adult human heart is 5/8 of a pound; approximate weight of kidneys is ¼ of a pound). Your BMR decreases as you age and differs from person to person. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is often used interchangeably with basal metabolic rate (BMR), though they are slightly different.

What influences my BMR?
Age – metabolism decreases five percent per decade after age 40
Amount of lean muscle – Muscle burns more calories than fat. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest. (For every pound of muscle you burn approximately 6 calories versus a pound of fat, which burns approximately 2 calories).
Gender – Males generally have a 10 to 15% faster BMR than females, as the male body has a larger percentage of lean muscle tissue.
Heredity – metabolic rate can be inherited from previous generations
Thyroid disorder – hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) can slow down or speed up metabolism (these conditions occur in only 3 and .3 percent of the population)

How do I calculate my RMR?
To calculate your RMR, use the Mifflin-St Jeor equation (may be more reliable than the Harris-Benedict equation)

RMR = 9.99w + 6.25s – 4.92a + 166g-161
w = weight in kilograms; if you know your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms
s = height in centimeters (1 foot = 30.48 centimeters, 1 inch = 2.54 centimeters);
a = age in years
g = gender = 1 for males, 0 for females
For example, the equation for a 30 year old, 120 lb, 5’4 woman would be as follows:
9.99(54.54) + 6.25(162.5) – 4.92(30)+ 166(0)-161 = 1251.80

This means that this woman requires approximately 1251.8 calories to maintain her body’s vital functions and her weight at rest.

The Eating Disorder Connection: Bringing it all Together
Often people with eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa, restrict their caloric intake to below 1000 calories or even 500 calories per day. As illusrated in the example above, this is not even enough calories to maintain their basic body functions. Over time, if this calorie deficit continues, one’s body will begin shutting down.

Also, our bodies are very intelligent and if a continued calorie deficit is percieved, our metabolism will slow down to compensate for this deficit, meaning we are burning less calories than prior to the restriction. This starts a vicious cycle for someone with disordered eating behavior, as the result is that one usually has to restrict even more. There is hope though, after resuming a balanced diet sufficient to meet one’s caloric needs, one’s metabolism will also adjust once the threat of starvation is no longer present and your body begins to trust that it is getting the necessary nutrients.

Exposure to Unrealistic Figures is Driving Eating Disorders in Young People

Although it is often said that eating disorders typically begin during the teenage years and early adulthood, an increasing number of under 12s are now receiving treatment for disordered eating, with figures for admissions increasing more than 100% in less than a decade.  It seems that young girls’ exposure to unrealistic figures may at least partly explain the rise in anorexia and bulimia among tweens, with the ever popular Barbie doll providing a worrying role model.  Although, Barbie’s vital statistics are unnatural and unachievable, this is not appreciated by young girls who try to emulate her figure.

Equally, older girls are bombarded with images of ultra slim models in glossy fashion magazines, which are far from the average woman’s figure and a lot of the time they are significantly underweight.  When teens see these pictures they believe this is how they should look, but don’t necessarily take into account that the images in front of them have been photoshopped.   Television shows also promote unrealistic expectations for body image, with the vast majority of female characters at or below weight recommendations, which only a third of the population achieves naturally.  Finally, young women contemplating weight loss who access pro-anorexia websights, where eating disorders are promoted as a lifestyle choice, are exposed to material that can have a damaging impact on their eating behaviors.

While treatment is available for eating disorders, prevention is always preferable.  To protect young children and women from low self-esteem, which can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, it is essential to raise awareness of how distorted the female figures presented to us are.  Steps to Recovery highlights this in the following article and also considers the link between eating disorders and substance abuse: http://www.stepstorecovery.com/starving-yourself-to-achieve-the-impossible-figure-of-barbie/