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Starvation Mode. 


There’s only one way through this one. We can’t out run it and we can can’t out smart it. Looks like we’re going to have to go through it.


I think of starvation mode as a form of ‘forced self – love’. You’ve pushed yourself hard and achieved great things. And then you pushed yourself harder, and harder, and now you’re stuck. How did you get here? Cutting calories and hard workouts worked for you before so why not try that again? Nothing happens. You tear your hair out and try everything under the sun. At last you realize that there is no quick fix, not really anything you can do actually, to get out of starvation mode. You do nothing, you gorge yourself on food and binge watch Netflix for a few days. Then suddenly, when you have the courage to weigh yourself after all that binging, you’ve lost weight. You’re probably going to get on and off the scales a few times to make sure. How is this possible?!


What is it?


Starvation mode is that dreaded weight loss plateau where there is almost nothing you can do to lose any more weight. You may have even started gaining weight as you’ve been trying harder to lose it! Before we talk about how to fix it, let’s briefly look at the three main causes of starvation mode:


  1. Not eating enough (<1200 calories a day is *very generally* considered to be unhealthy)
  2. Excessive exercise (More than an hour of intense exercise is usually advised against, two or more hours can be considered unhealthy)
  3. Stressing excessively about not being able to lose weight (reasonable goals are key)


If you’re reading this article, you’re likely doing or have done one of these and that’s ok. What we need to focus on now is how we move forward. The thing is, you’re probably super pumped up to keep exercising and losing weight while you’re reading this. While that is wonderful and is probably the main reason that you’ve been able to achieve some weight loss so far, we are going to have to change tactics here. You are forgetting a key piece of information:


There’s another person with you on your weight loss journey.


You are not just ‘you’, the person who goes to the gym and consciously puts in the effort to achieve their weight loss goals. There is also another ‘you’, who you probably don’t think about all that often. Your body. It has different ideas, different needs and a different level of power than you do.


Starvation mode is effectively your body saying ‘Nope, not happy with this. You’d better change what you’re doing or I’m not going to keep going this way’.


But you didn’t think you’d have to accomodate someone else on your weight loss journey. All of a sudden your body has put it’s hand up and voiced it’s opinion and most people’s reactions to this is: “I’ll just push myself harder”, to which your body responds “I’ll just dig my heels in even deeper”. It’s not good for anybody.


In a battle between your fortitude and your body, your body will always win. So, if you want to move forward you’re going to have to appease that other part of yourself which has been working just as hard as your mind: your body. You can’t communicate with your body through words or signs. The only way to communicate is physically, with the actions you take and what you do. So, essentially, ‘How To Get Out Of Starvation Mode’ could also be called ‘How To Effectively Communicate With Your Body So That It Doesn’t Stand In Your Way’. The following list of tips can be thought of in both ways. 


How to get out of starvation mode:



I have been in this exact situation before and I was given a piece of information which I really didn’t like but it really kicked me out of starvation mode. Order a pizza! It’s probably not what you want to hear either. I fought my body for months before I gave in to this advice and I was surprised at just how well it worked. If you’re dieting, especially on a diet like the Keto diet, then a carb rich meal can really kick start your progress after you’ve been without carbs for a while. Regardless, it’s probably a good idea to indulge, both to bring your calories back up to a healthy level and to shake up your body’s routine to get it burning fat again!

Listen To Your Cravings

If you are really strict with your fasting, you might want to take a break. Listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry. It’s especially important to focus on physical intuition. Get to know your body and how it feels when it’s actually hungry as opposed to how it feels when it’s bored and just wants to eat something to keep it busy. It’s a good idea to sort out your cravings too. I find a great way to do this is to focus on when the craving first appeared and how long it lasts. If I see an ad on TV for fried chicken and start craving fried chicken, I’ll wait a few hours before I give into the craving. What happens most of the time is that I completely forget about the fried chicken because that only reason I ever started to think about it was because of the ad on the TV.  My body isn’t actually craving fried chicken, I’ve just reacted to a stimulus.

This type of craving will usually pass if you don’t give it any more thought. If I get a craving that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere, i’ll take it more seriously. If i’m reading a book and suddenly crave fried chicken when there has been no stimulus that has prompted this craving, I’ll give it a few hours and if it pops up again without being prompted, I’ll take it as a message that my body needs a nutrient from that type of food and I’ll give in to that craving.


Eat Better Food

Starvation mode can be caused by sticking to rigid diets and an initial binge can do wonders to bring your body back to normal. However, it’s also important to develop an interest in healthier optoins. If you feed your body better quality fuel, it’s probably going to run faster and stronger, for longer. You could try swapping out chocolate for organic grade coconut based chocolate, potato chips for tasty organic corn chips, or try switching the milk in your morning coffee from full cream to almond milk. Check out the article 20 Easy Healthier Food Swaps to find out more about the importance of healthy food swaps and a list of the easiest swaps to implement.

Take A Break From The Gym

It can be a good idea to take some time off from the gym. Aim for at least four days away from exercise. By exercise I mean anything more intense than a short walk with your dog or very mild yoga class. It can also be a good idea to take a complete break and go cold – turkey on exercising if you can. Starvation mode may have happened because you’ve over done it, so it might be time to stop for a while. It can be really hard to do this if you’ve been focused on exercising for a long period of time, really been enjoying it and enjoying the results. But if you’re in starvation mode, it’s important to take a break. Think of it like the sooner the stop, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to the gym. If you’re only halfway into starvation mode, you might only need three days of rest, which is great! If you’re deep in starvation mode (you haven’t lost weight in a month or more), you may need to take weeks off from strenuous exercise. 


Take Some Time Out For You

It’s also really important to practice wellbeing during this time. Make sure you’re getting at least eight hours of sleep. You might like to try taking up a new hobby. Meditation can be really beneficial for a body in starvation mode as it can help you to relax quickly. If meditation is not for you, you could try writing, painting, reading, bubble baths or taking up a musical instrument. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it gives you time to deeply relax and forget about losing weight for a while. 

Think of your time off as still working towards your weight loss goal. We can’t navigate around starvation mode. Resting can be one of the best ways through it and to the other side of your plateau where you can start losing weight effectively again. You’re not wasting your time off. In fact, you’re probably wasting your time if you keep pushing yourself during starvation mode. 

When Can I Go Back To Normal?

So, when do you know starvation mode is over? Generally when you feel well rested, energetic, sore muscles have recovered and you’ve started to lose a bit of weight. For some people, even one day of rest can result in 1kg of weight loss! This happens to me if I ensure that I relax deeply on a rest day. For others, you may only lose .2kg at a time. Or you may not lose weight initially. Your body may focus on recovering itself and allow you to start losing weight again with exercise in time. That’s the key phrase here: ‘in time’.


Starvation mode is not a quick fix. 


It can be quite a beautiful thing though, this dreaded starvation mode. You could use it to take the time to get to know yourself, care enough to eat healthier, surprise yourself by learning a new hobby or skill and make peace with yourself through meditation. It’s a difficult thing to have self – love forced upon you but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make something beautiful out of it. While starvation mode is feared, it is not impossible to conquer. Use these tips above to help you power through this hurdle so that you can get back to crushing your weight loss goals!

What’s your experience with starvation mode? Have you broken through it before? If you’re feeling overwhelmed with not reaching your weight loss goals, you’re definitely not alone. I’m here to help. Please leave a comment below or send an email through to emily@zenithfitnessandwellbeing.com, I’d love to hear from you!


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