Staying out of Starvation Mode….

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Just the one I think

Unfortunately in the modern day environment with stress, skipped meals and the poor nutrient value of many processed foods, our bodies can get stuck in a mode of fat storage and starvation.

This can make us insulin resistant, mess with our blood sugars and make us feel downright horrible in spite of living a healthy lifestyle or at least trying to. The core problem comes down to processed foods failing to nourish our bodies leaving us hungry plus stress leaves our bodies literally starving and anxious. If the human body is significantly overweight it is likely to be starving of nutrients and has excess stress or constraints when it comes to food. So how can we solve this?

We need to shunt our bodies out of starvation mode, and this comes down to a few main factors:

  1. Feeling safe
  2. Knowing we have access to food
  3. Moderate exercise
  4. Not fasting for too long
  5. A Nutrient Rich Diet

Once these key needs are met our bodies will go out of starvation mode, our bodies metabolism will rise and it will become very proficient at burning fat rather than storing it which is what our body does in its starvation or stress response.

Feeling Safe - When we feel safe and secure our bodies will be happy to shed fat and function properly. On the other hand when we are under any undue stress whether it is coming from being chased by a tiger or feeling pressure at work they will both set off our fight or flight mode which in turn is a starvation mode. Cortisol (stress hormone) is pumped out and our bodies stop functioning effectively. This will cause us to hoard fat, accelerate ageing and basically stay in this unnecessary mode of living until the stress has passed. The problem comes in the modern world when we are under constant pressure and this can cause us to stay in some form of fight or flight mode for most of the day, which is definitely not a good thing.

The best methods our bodies have to cope with stress are activating the para-sympathetic nervous system which induces a relaxation response and this is the mode we want to stay in most of the day. Signs of relaxation are warm hands and feet, a calm mind, ability to cope with situations and a stable level of relaxed energy. Deep breathing especially through the nose can help induce this mode as well as eating which leads onto the next point.

Knowing we have access to food - Too much stigma is put on meal times in the modern “diet age” with eating late at night or between meals being demonised putting undue stress on our mental state. Food is a life force and if we are hesitant to have a snack or have rules about no food after 7PM then our body will be tricked into a starvation and or stress response as subconsciously we think that food should not be eaten at certain times. Here is a little example of what could happen…… Say for example you have had dinner then something stressful from work comes up a few hours later. Your mind starts racing, you can’t sleep and you feel downright horrible. The simple truth is that something small like a glass of hot milk and some nuts would do a great job at relaxing your mind and help you make a calm decision allowing you to get some sleep, unfortunately you have set a rule of no food after 7PM so the very thing that would take your body out of a starvation mode is barred…… Doesn’t make much sense does it?

“Nothing is so bitter that a calm mind cannot find comfort in it.” -Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

Food has long been known to calm the mind and help decisions. So the point is that simply knowing and allowing yourself to eat good healthy food whenever you like is a psychological key to stay out of starvation and stress mode.

Moderate Exercise - Not too much and not too little. Always the key when it comes to exercise and thankfully not as hard as it seems. The problem with too much exercise is that it will get your body used to an unnatural amount of stimulation which causes undue stress on the body and mind. Let’s say you run for 5 miles every day, without fail. This will get your body used to this amount of movement and it will expect the food to fuel the activity, once you stop this high amount of exercise the body will add weight without fail and probably more weight than you had before starting an exercise regime….

So how much exercise is good? Ideally we should be able to get to the point at which we can maintain a healthy body composition while eating good food to satiety and exercising when “we feel like it” which will probably come in the form of:

  • Sports (tennis, soccer, basketball etc)
  • Martial Arts
  • Yoga
  • Lifting some weights
  • Long walks
  • Short runs and sprints

What do these all have in common, they are things you want to do and things you will be naturally inclined to do once your body is healthy and out of any starvation mode. Exercise should never be done out of guilt or feelings as if it needs to be done to compensate for lack of movement or feeling lazy.

Not Fasting For Too Long/Often - Currently there is a load of buzz going round the web about IF (Intermittent Fasting) which supposedly has a host of benefits from everything from blood sugar regulation, nutrient absorption and weight regulation. I have no doubts that these claims are true and that the odd fast can do the body a load of good, unfortunately they can also do a load of damage if not timed correctly or done when you are already stressed or run down. Don’t forget fasting goes about its “benefits” through putting stress on your body.

My take is that before you mess around with fasting or are skipping meals then get the following nailed:

  1. Sleep Well
  2. Eat Well
  3. Practice Stress Reduction

If you have those three factors firmly in place and are feeling great, then mess around with things like IF. If not gain the main factors nailed by eating nourishing meals and getting loads of rest, basically letting your body know it is in safe and has no reason to cling onto fat…..

A Nutrient Rich Diet – When we eat a wide variety of foods and nutrients and cravings subside you know that you are on the right path to good health. Cravings are a sign of wanting and needing something. Thankfully once we are well fed cravings usually subside and leave us enjoying food rather than craving it. To me the keys to getting rid of cravings are the following:

  • 3 Solid meals per day – Think about what your Gran would feed you.
  • Cut out Liquid Calories Except good milk.
  • No fried foods or vegetable oils.
  • Eat when hungry and to satisfaction
  • Limit Coffee and Tea

Fix your Metabolism and get out of Starvation Mode

If you are feeling any symptoms of stress (anxiety, cold hands and feet, indecision, tired, inability to cope with stress, losing temper easily etc) and you have been confirmed to be in good health by a physician meaning they can’t find much wrong with you. It is likely your metabolism is out of whack and your body is stuck in a fight or flight mode more than a relaxation response. Try some of the methods above and watch your health and life improve.


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  1. Jules - Big Girl Bombshell says

    This is one of the most informative and comprehensive posts I have seen in a long, long time! This SO makes sense for me and my weight issues! I have often talked about the fight or flight mode but this gave me a much deeper understanding of what I can do! Thank you!

  2. Matt Stone says

    Jon Gabriel’s The Gabriel Method is an excellent approach right in line with this post and ZTF in general. The point of the entire book is examining the many ways in which the “Fat programs,” – the hormonal states that lead to fat accumulation and accompany stress, deprivation, nutrient deficiency, and more – are turned on and off. You’d love it Chris.

  3. Luke M-Davies says

    Excellent all-round post Chris!

    I particularly like this point:
    “unfortunately you have set a rule of no food after 7PM so the very thing that would take your body out of a starvation mode is barred…… Doesn’t make much sense does it?”

    I hate to hear people constraining themselves with diet and exercise rules. Yes we can be creatures of habit and routine, and yes healthy habits can be an excellent way to reach your fitness goals BUT – (excuse me if I sound philosophical) life should be fluent and you never know what it will throw at you, so your approach to health and fitness should be flexible too! I think that this ensures longevity and sustainability. I personally could not sustain a no carb diet or some other extreme and unecessary measure!

    On the fasting point, I just want to add I think it is each to their own – I usually go for an 18 hour fast twice per week and put in a 5 miles run in both. I admit that my recovery would probably be improved if I ate after my runs but this is just the way it fits in with my working day, so I stay flexible and rule free and don’t think I must eat because I have just run. Fasting is a very flexible tool for me.

    Loved reading this. Please keep the good stuff coming!


  4. Amber says

    Stress is one of the most hidden factors in weight gain and over all wellness and immunity. Have you read “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers.” It’s a fantastic read on the biology behind the fight or flight hormone parade that occurs when we overstress our adrenals. As a professional dancer and pilates instructor keeping my workouts in a moderate range has always been difficult. I found recently when I was forced to cut back due to travel that I actually lost weight and now move with much more ease. I am happy being “normal” and having thighs that can fit into jeans now! haha Moderation and balance is key. Keep up the clear and fantastic work.

    @ Amber: Thanks for the recommendation on “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers.” I havent checked it out yet but after hearing so much good feedback I may just pick it up…. What has influenced me on the topic of stress and weight is Jon Gabriel’s stuff which Matt Stone mentioned above. His book is great and one of the best mainstream diet books I have read in a while, even if you don’t struggle with weight his work can be very mind opening…

  5. mac says

    Great post! It really made me think about how successful I actually am in terms of my fitness and diet. Yes, I’m thinner and fitter than I’ve ever been, but am I less stressed out about my body and life? NO, probably not. Maybe some of us find new ways to be stressed once we’ve solved old ones? Any thoughts on how to deal with that?

  6. Mike OD says

    Awesome post Chris! So much wisdom and sense all in one. So much of that is lost in modern diets and mainstream mis-information.

    You are also right on about IF and stress. Adding another stress (as that is what fasting is) to the body while it is already stressed, is a recipe for disaster.

    Homeostasis comes into play. Small stressors allow us to respond and be stronger…where too high/excessive/chronic stress takes our health in the other direction.

    @ Mike: Thanks, you have written a very good article on stress anxiety and IF so I got some knowledge from that. It is definitely too easy for our bodies to get caught up in starvation mode. Only once the body reaches Homeostasis will good body composition and health arrive.

  7. Brandon says

    I’ve always been a little leery about Intermittent Fasting. Primarily because I like eating, but also because I’m afraid of knocking my metabolism out of whack.

    It’s very important to analyze everything before jumping on the next fitness fad bandwagon.

  8. Aprilette says

    When I’m stressed, I usually get hunger pangs every now and then.What I do is make sure I have enough fruits to munch on so it won’t pile up as calories on my body.Fruits are sweet alternatives for fattening snacks and junk food.

  9. Francesco says

    Thanks for your article. It’s very easy to read but really interesting. In particular, I like you highlighted the relationship between stress and the ability of the body to burn calories and fat as I think this is really true. It is a matter of fact that everytime I’m a prolonged period of stress, my body shape get lower and lower. The connection between the Mind and the Body is so strict.

    Thank you.

  10. Kiran x says

    Woah.. I am soo glad I came accross this site. I find it to be very informative!! Well done to the author.. lol You have some very good tips and pieces of advice going here!

    Thanks, oh yeah.. I like the image at the top of the page. The sweetie one! lololol xx


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