How to Get out of “Starvation Mode”

Ever since I started my fitness journey, I have thought that the weight loss equation is simply caloric output > caloric input. Things like 1,200 calories, low carbs – high protein diet, and the “eat less, exercise more” approach (THE EVIL!) stuck in my mind for the longest time until I got extremely frustrated one day. Then, I realized I was actually in starvation mode that my body started to save up the calories I was eating. Neither losing any weight nor gaining any muscle. Why? Your body works like a thermostat. When the body is constantly exposed to low energy intake level, it breaks down muscle but not fat to maintain the body temperature to survive.

My signs that I was in starvation mode

  1. Weight is not budging: No matter how little I eat or how much I exercise, my weight remained the same as my body fat continue to increase.
  2. Menstrual Irregularity: I even went to a gynecologist to check on my hormones and iron level, and it turned out to be suffering an anovulatory cycle because of low energy availability. Hypothalamic amenorrhea occurs even you are consuming a “healthy” diet of 1,200 calories and exercising 40 minutes daily. It is all about the hormonal roller coaster.
  3. Lowered body temperature: Caloric restriction eventually leads to a decreasing in thermogenesis because of your thyroid hormone reduction and HPA axis disruption. Low insulin follows next, especially when people are on a very low carbohydrate diet

How I escape starvation mode

There are three phases of starvation mode: metabolic compensation (phase 1), metabolic resistance (phase 2) or metabolic damage (phase 3). No matter which stage people are at, the first step is to either eat less and exercise less OR eat more and exercise more. However for my case, I could not go for the former one because 1,200 calories is my bottom line. Decreasing the stress on your metabolism rate while not gaining weight in the process is the goal. Mine was to up my calories intake by 600 to 1,800 daily calories while keeping my exercise routine (BBG + Vinyasa yoga).

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): the calories your body needs to just sleep and lay in bed (live like a corpse)

Women BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in yrs)
Men BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)

  • Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE): the calories your body need to be active (live like a normal person)

TDEE = BMR x Activity Factor

Sedentary (desk job/ no exercise) → 1.2

Lightly active (exercise 1-3 days/ week) → 1.375

Moderately active (exercise 3-5 days/ week) → 1.55

Very active (exercise 6-7 days/ week) → 1.75

Extremely active (physical job/ training 2x/ day) → 1.9

  • Calories deficit

There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, so reducing 500 calories a day will lead to one pound fat loss in a week. However, if your TDEE is 1,500 only, reducing your daily calories to 1,000 will only cost more damage to your body. So depending on how aggressive your weight loss goal is, reduce 10-30% of your TDEE. Losing 1 – 1.5 lbs per week is an optimal, sustainable pace.

10% → for those with less than 10 pounds to lose and who also wish to build muscle at the same time.

20% → for those that aims for safe, steady weight loss program

30% → for those with “eat less, exercise less” approach

How I ended up with 1,800 calories:
– BMR = 1,452 (see, living like a corpse requires even more calories than what I had been consuming daily)
– TDEE = 1,452*1.55 = 2,250
– Calories at 20% deficit = 2,250*(1-20%) = 1,800 

Macro goals

Still experimenting with P40 F30 C30 and P45 F25 C25, I will have another post updated regarding macro goals. But a general guideline is listed below.

  1. Protein ratio is set at .825 grams per pound of body weight
  2. Fats are set at 25% of daily energy expenditure (Calories*.25/9 = grams of fats) **9 calories per gram of fat
  3. Carbohydrate grams come from the remainder
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