The majority of us could stand to lose a little weight. Weight loss can improve our physical health, appearance, and mental/spiritual outlook.
I know that when I loss weight and eat healthier that I feel better and have much more energy. I sleep better and have a better outlook on life.
But does our body and brain agree that weight loss is a good thing?
One of the common concerns I get from patients in regards to diet and weight loss is that they will enter the so-called "starvation mode."
It is true that both our brains and bodies respond to weight loss by trying to conserve energy by reducing the number of calories that we burn. We can also feel hungrier and lethargic.
This normal response of the body is often called "starvation mode."
Whenever we limit our calories our body adapts to try to keep us at a stable weight. This stable weight is different for all of us and may change over time.
It is also key to remember that as we lose weight our calorie expenditure will also decrease just based on the fact that we are lighter. It requires less energy to move a smaller frame. Most people also lose some muscle mass with weight loss which also decreases our basal metabolic rate.
So how can we overcome "starvation mode"?
The more and more I work with patients and learn from my own experience I have come up with a few tricks to limit starvation mode.
1. Lift Weights or High Intensity Exercise: Resistance training has been shown to help limit decreases in muscle mass and our metabolic rate that can come during weight loss. Strength training can also increase our metabolic rate when we are not losing weight.
2. Taking Breaks: Our bodies respond quickly to changes in our environment. If our body senses a consistent caloric restriction then it may respond by decreasing our metabolic rate. One way to possibly combat this is to eat normal calorie amounts for short periods followed by periods of caloric restriction.
3. Fasting: The more and more I have practiced and studied fasting I have come to see it as a powerful tool in the weight loss and/or health arsenal. Some studies have shown that fasting can actually increase our metabolic rate as opposed to decreasing it. This may come as a surprise to some but it actually makes sense. Our bodies know that we cannot decrease our metabolic rate to zero. Our bodies also know that if we are "starving" that we need to have energy to find food. This means that our metabolic rate will increase. There are various types of fasting which can help including intermittent and sustained periods of fasting.
Starvation Mode is Real!
The bottom line is that starvation mode is a real phenomena but the fear of starvation mode should not stop us from trying to live healthier.
Fortunately, there are helpful strategies that can assist us during our weight loss journey. I am happy to help guide you through this process. Before considering any diet or weight loss regimen please consult your personal physician.
When I told my wife that I was thinking of doing a 7 day fast she thought I was crazy. Now that I have completed the fast she still thinks I am crazy.
To me honest I probably am.
Actually, fasting is one of the most ancient practices there is. When purposeful fasting has been done anciently and modernly it has primarily been done for religious reasons. Outside of religious reasons the main reason for fasting was due to lack of available food. For this reason our bodies are adapted to store excessive energy as fat. When fasting for 24 hours or more our bodies quickly exhaust available supplies of glucose and transition to converting fat into Ketone bodies which our body can use. This process can be mimicked to a certain degree by eating a very low carbohydrate or Ketogenic diet which I have done for the majority of the last year and a half.
While I have done plenty of 24 hour fasts in the past I have never purposely exceeded 24 hours. This is probably because I didn't see a compelling reason.
However, since I started to research more and more into fasting I began to incorporate various fasting strategies into my daily routine. This included predominantly intermittent fasting which for me meant eating during an 8 hour period of the day and fasting for the rest of the day. This type of fasting has proven to be beneficial for lowering insulin and blood sugar and for weight loss.
Recently, I came across some excellent literature pertaining to longer fasts. Interestingly, fasting actually down regulates protein catabolism meaning that the rate of muscle breakdown decreases. It can also dramatically lower insulin and blood sugar and perhaps even detoxify the body. Fasting can also be great for weight loss.
There are numerous types of fasts. These include complete fasting, water fasting, juice fasting, and many others.
I did a water fast which means that I consumed nothing but water. I also added some electrolytes but no calories of any kind. I might add that prior to the fast I was eating a low calorie low carbohydrate modified Ketogenic diet.
And here is what happened.....
My starting weight was 168.5 lbs. For the first 3 days the predominant symptoms I experienced were dry mouth, hunger (particularly after 3 pm), irritability, and slight weakness. I was less thirsty than usual and drank overall less water but maintained adequate hydration and urination (clear to slightly yellow). Days 4 through 7 were punctuated by decreased hunger pangs and increased muscle weakness especially on Day 6. I also developed some dizziness (orthostatic) and constipation. I also had slight muscle twitching but no real cramps. I felt the best on Day 7 of all the days with the exception of the weakness. I had only planned to go 7 days because my starting weight was already low. I actually went a total of 7.5 days.
Throughout the diet I consumed a small amount of salt, magnesium, and potassium.
My finishing weight was 159.8 lbs. This means that I lost about 8 lbs. A typical weight loss with fasting can be up to 1-2 lbs per day depending on your weight and basal metabolic rate.
I am now 3 days out from finishing the fast and I feel back to normal. Since I have started eating food again I have noticed that I have to drink a lot more water than during the fast. I no longer feel weak. This took about 3 days to get better completely. I finished my fast by eating light foods, fat, and a lot of lime juice. I gradually worked up the volume of food and felt only occasional stomach cramps. Otherwise, I did not notice any serious problems with re-feeding which I was really concerned about.
I also learned more about when I feel hungrier and am more apt to be tempted by food such as when I am bored or unoccupied and food is readily available.
Overall, the experience was challenging and rewarding. I would recommend fasting as a healthy option for most everyone. In a minority of cases there are some individuals that should not fast and I would recommend medical supervision for those doing longer fasts.
For those that would be interested in medically supervised weight loss or have questions feel free to reach out. My contact information can be found here.
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