First I want to say that starvation works!! If you starve yourself you will loose weight. But as this is a very unpleasant way to loose weight and may lead to vitamin, mineral deficiencies and to other health problems as well as making you function sub-optimally this is usually not a good way to approach weight loss. Also after you start eating again your body will be in storage mode and you will experience rapid weight gain. So the only thing that works is to change your life-style and to gradually reduce your weight in a sustainable manner. To achieve this keep on reading my pages and follow the advice.

What happens when you starve?

The biological and biochemical changes that follow starvation are actually quite complicated, involving several enzyme systems and biochemical processes. I will endeavour here to explain it in more simple terms leaving out some of the detail.
I have divided the process into 5 stages as follows.

1. First stage happens right after you have had your meal. You are happy and content and the body is in storage mode.

The gastrointestinal system converts the food that you have eaten into simpler constituents. The 2 main breakdown products are fatty acids and glucose. Glucose is the main energy source of the body. Glucose is stored in the liver and muscle and is your body’s fast access energy. All tissues in your body are capable of using glucose as their energy. Some tissues such as the brain and red blood cells are more dependent on glucose than other tissues.

2. The first thing that happens in starvation is that the body breaks down stored glycogen (which is a storage form of glucose and basically consists of glucose molecules put together in a long chain) to glucose, which is then used by the body. Glycogen is a precious commodity and after 8-16 hours of starvation there is an increased breakdown of body fat. Unfortunately fat can’t be converted back into glucose but is converted into what is called ketone bodies. To spare the use of glucose the tissues in the body start using ketone bodies. Some tissues are unable to use ketone bodies or are slow to adapt to their use, these tissues include the brain and red blood cells. So maintaining a high enough level of glucose in the blood is still of vital importance. It should be mentioned that some tissues in your body use fatty acids as their preferred energy source normally, for example the heart.

3. After about 1-2 days the body’s glycogen stores are exhausted and there is a more rapid breakdown of protein the bulk being in your muscles. This means that you will be loosing muscle bulk and become progressively weaker.

4. After a couple of days of starvation the majority of the body’s energy requirements are met by the stored fat and the body’s glucose requirement is provided by the breakdown of muscle.

5. Once the majority of fat is broken down the energy requirement are met by muscle breakdown but this will rapidly lead to death as vital muscles stop working.

Illnesses associated with starvation.

Numerous diseases incl. vitamin and mineral deficiencies can occur in starvation. These disorders are so many that it’s difficult to cover them all here. There are two diseases that are directly related to starvation, which I will cover here. They are protein malnutrition and total caloric malnutrition.


This is caused by both a deficit in calories and in proteins. It’s derived from a Greek word meaning, “To waste” and occurs as a consequence of starvation. The end point being death as described above but usually these people die from infectious diseases as their immune system stops working properly.


This occurs when there is a lack of protein intake but with an adequate intake of calories usually from fat or sugar. The name Kvasiorkor originated in Ghana and means “ The sickness of the older child when the next baby is born”. As the energy intake is adequate, fat is not broken down and is instead stored. The lack of protein will cause the body to break down protein and this will result in multiple organ failure and muscle breakdown. Because of the normal adaptive processes of starvation are bypassed these people get deposition of fat and my look as if they are well fed.
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