Why Don’t You Lose Weight When You Starve Yourself?

When a proper diet and exercise routine don’t seem to be working, your desire to lose weight just might make you a little desperate. Even though starving yourself sounds like a great way to cut down on your caloric intake, it won’t actually help you to lose weight in the long term!

It’s not safe to starve yourself to lose weight. When your body sees that you’re eating fewer calories, it tries to preserve energy. Your body stops burning calories efficiently and slows your metabolism. Instead of shedding the pounds quickly, your body desperately tries to hang on to the weight.

We know how hard it can be to lose weight. But, the last thing you want to do is stall your weight loss and deprive your body of the nutrients it needs. So, we’re going to go into a little more detail about how starvation doesn’t help.

Why People Starve Themselves

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 2013 and 2016, around 50% of adults tried to lose weight within the last 12 months.

Of those who tried to lose weight, nearly 63% attempted to eat fewer calories.

That’s because even cutting your caloric intake slightly can aid your weight loss goals in the long term.

However, there are small populations of people who take this calorie cutting to an extreme. They attempt to starve themselves to boost weight loss.

Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa, more commonly referred to as just “anorexia,” is an eating disorder characterized by poor body image, caloric restriction, and extreme weight loss.

Bulimia nervosa, or just “bulimia,” is an eating disorder where there are periods of binges (eating a large amount of food in a short period of time) and purges (forced vomiting).

Both of these conditions can also include periods of fasting, intense exercise to trigger calorie burning and weight loss, and the use of laxatives to clear out the digestive tract.

There tends to be a preoccupation with body image and outward physical appearance.

Body Composition Goals

Many people who starve themselves are simply seeking a quick solution to fat burning. There’s an assumption that starvation triggers this “fat-burning mode” that could possibly lead to weight loss, specifically body fat.

Lack of Appetite or Hunger

Sometimes starvation isn’t intentional and is merely the result of appetite loss or a lack of hunger.

Either of these can occur as a result of minor illnesses or serious health conditions, such as the flu, gastrointestinal issues, stress and anxiety, or even thyroid issues.

What Happens When You Starve Yourself

Your basal metabolic rate, also known as your BMR, describes how many calories your body needs a day to survive at complete rest.

With that logic, you might assume that eating zero calories a day means you’re burning the number of calories in your BMR.

While that might be true at first, there’s actually a limit to how many calories your body will burn when you attempt to starve yourself. The positive effects you experience at first will gradually fade and you’ll hit an impasse.

A Limit to Your Weight Loss

Plenty of diets, including intermittent fasting, involve extended periods of not eating (aka, fasting) in order to trigger specific responses within the body.

For the most part, these types of diets will increase your metabolism and boost the rate at which you burn calories. These diets also cause your insulin levels to drop, which forces your body to burn fat and sugar as a source of fuel.

Yet, intermittent fasting usually lasts for 16 to 24 hours at a time, after which you’ll refuel your body with food and nutrients.

“Starvation Mode”

When your body realizes that it’s getting too few calories, it essentially reaches a mode of desperation.

Rather than continuing to burn calories and fat at a rapid rate, your body begins to adapt to the new caloric intake and slows down your metabolism to preserve energy and fuel.

You will still be losing weight, but not as quickly as you might want.

What you are doing, however, is depriving your body of nutrients and wearing away at your muscle mass in order to use it as fuel. And, as your total body weight lowers, the weight loss will be less significant

Increased Hunger

The longer you starve yourself, the more you’re going to experience hunger cravings.

When you eventually can’t stick to the starvation any longer and break, you’re likely going to satisfy your food cravings and then some.

So, you might eventually weigh more after starving yourself and then finally caving and eating a lot.

Loss of Efficiency

Since your body is doing whatever it takes to preserve energy, your body also won’t be performing as optimally as it should.

With fewer calories and fuel, here’s what might happen inside your body.

  • Muscle wasting, as your body is now burning your muscle as a source of fuel
  • Inability to maintain a healthy body temperature
  • Weakened muscles and organs, including the heart and digestive system
  • Psychological issues

So, even though you might be losing weight, you’re also destroying your body in the process. It’ll take a long time for your body to repair itself from the damage you’re causing through starvation.

Healthier Ways to Lose Weight

Since intermittent fasting is practically the only effective way of losing weight through starvation, you’re going to have to lean on other methods to lose any significant weight.

There are much healthier ways to lose weight that don’t deprive your body of nutrients and burn muscle mass.


Most types of exercise will cause you to burn calories. But, some types of exercise are much more efficient at calorie burning than others.

If you really want to lose weight, here are some of the better methods of burning a large number of calories.

Overall, there are plenty of factors that impact how efficiently you burn calories through exercise. Your body weight, intensity, and time performing the exercise will all affect your actual weight loss.


One pound of fat has about 3,500 calories.

Assuming you’re not experiencing any health conditions, you should be able to lose a pound of fat per week by cutting your calorie count by about 500 calories a day.

Now, this won’t work if your body weight has been on an incline as of recently. This will only work if you’re currently at a stable weight or already in the process of losing some weight.

Remember: There’s a point at which you’re cutting too many calories and actually hindering your ability to lose weight.


A lot of people don’t seem to realize just how important getting enough sleep is in relation to health.

Sleep doesn’t just boost your focus and alertness. It also allows your body to repair itself and maintain a healthy weight.

In fact, getting close to 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night makes you less likely to gain weight.

There also appears to be evidence that a lack of quality sleep impacts the hormones in your digestive system, triggering a greater amount of ghrelin and an increase in appetite.

Final Thoughts

While starving yourself won’t exactly help you to lose weight, there are other methods that are much healthier and better for your body.

The best way to lose weight is by cutting your calories (perhaps 500 calories a day), exercising daily or several times per week, and trying to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep on a nightly basis.