"Starvation mode", regular eating, fasting & stubborn belly fat loss

Hi I’ve read about a few diets. Some say to eat 5-6 times a day and there are intermittent fasting diets - e.g. fasting 1-2 days per week or fasting 16 hours per day and eating normally for the other 8 hours (i.e. not eating extra to make up for the fasting)
From “Eat Stop Eat”:

In some diets they say that if you don’t eat for a while you go into “starvation mode” and fat accumulates on your belly.

So anyway I was wondering what is the best thing to do to lose stubborn belly fat? Is the total calories just what really matters? Regular eating is sometimes said to keep your metabolism going… but does it have much of an effect?

Eat less - exercise more.

That’s how the Army does it to soldiers. If there was a complicated, somewhat cruel procedure that worked better, they’d use that.

But is there any difference to stubborn belly fat loss if you had six meals of 200 calories per day vs one meal with 1200 calories?

Body builders have much much less fat than soldiers… Their tiny amount of fat is why their muscles and veins are so visible. (also they built up their muscles)

Your body burns fat however it likes, you can’t spot reduce. Lower your overall fat percentage and the belly fat will eventually go away. But not everyone can get to that low fat state without unreasonable efforts. If it’s the last place your body wants to burn fat from, you may need to get very lean to get rid of it.

There are benefits to eating 6 200 calories meals vs one 1200 calorie meal, but in the long run the differences are pretty small. It’s not going to change where your body will burn the fat from.

Understand one thing when you bring up this issue, there are two schools of thought and each side thinks the other just doesn’t get it.

The first group is the calories in vs. calories out crowd. They believe every answer is (in-out)/3600 and if you are watching calories and still not losing weight, they accuse you of lying about how much food you’re eating, you’re too stupid to know how to count calories, or tell you to get the fork out of your mouth and go jog half a mile. This group cannot think outside the box that despite empirical evidence and scientific studies that there are other issues in weight control in addition to the magic formula.

The other group goes to the other side and talks about how weight gain is all hormonal. Insulin resistance, cortisol, ghrelin, testosterone/estrogen balance etc. While the evidence is clear via medical studies that these hormones do play a factor in weight gain/loss (to which the above group put their fingers in there ears and say “Nuh-uh.”), there’s no magic metabolism booster you can buy of the TV at 1am in the morning that enables you to lose weight while sitting on your couch eating your Big Mac super-sized meal. At best hormones influence weight gain/loss but you still need to eat sensibly and do some exercise beyond pressing remote buttons.

Expend more calories than you consume and you will lose weight. Hormones have nothing to do with that fundamental truth.

This may be getting into IMHO territory, but for me I’ve found that weight gain/weight loss is very much a matter of how much I eat.

From what I understand the causal link between weight loss and exercise is not as well-established as is popularly perceived. I can only speak from personal experience, but I’ve never noticed any correlation between the amount of exercise I do and my weight. When I was at my heaviest (about 215 lbs, which is moderately overweight for my height of 6’3") is when I swam nearly for several hours everyday.

Here is an article that reviews some of the more recent literature on this topic. It seems that eating more meals slightly raises metabolism during eating but is not associated with any weight loss over time. Skipping meals seems to be a way to reduce calories overall but can lead to binge eating and more calories consumed. It just depends on the person. The question is definetly not settled.

Then explain how a woman can weigh 50 pounds LESS at 9 months pregnant, give birth, go on a post-partum exercise regimen while eating the same and have all the weight put back on in less than 6 months.

Or are you going to do the typical 3600er thing and accuse me of lying or being to stupid to know what I saw.

IANADietician, IANA Fat Specialist except in the sense of demostrating how to ensure I have lots.

There’s a whole series of different arguments, not unlike what St. Cad mentions.

Just after you eat, as the meal is digested, your body reacts - blood sugar rises (if it was that sort of meal) insulin kicks in, some say insulin is “bad” as it tells the body to store anything unnecessary for a rainy day (the old Atkins diet argument). 6 small meals vs. one large one keeps your blood sugar elevated for longer. Meanwhile, starch breaks down to sugar slowly, so instead of getting a blast of sugar in the blood, you get a more gradual rise and fall. Again, 6 small meals means a much longer time with elevated blood sugar.

IIRC, you have to be starving for about 2 days before your body goes into panic mode and starts shutting down unnecessary calorie consumption. This the “starve for only 2 days” diet - you are using up calories from your stored reserves, but avoid the shutdown where your body suddenly can get by on a reduced caloric intake.

(This is also the “theory” of the Atkins diet… that the mechanism that triggers the burn mode - burn calories from fat because we’re not eating any food - is triggered from lack of carbohydrates, while the starvation response - stop burning calories and shut down as much of the body as you can - comes from a lack of protein. Eat only protein - and maybe some fat - and the body will at the same time burn off fat while not severely shutting down it’s normal functions.)

Your body burns calories even at rest. One item I recall said about 1/3 of the calories we burn go to making the brain work - thus, other animals have much smaller brains because maintaining a brain is expensive, and unless it gives a good return on that investment or food is plentiful, it is a luxury that evolution may reduce. It also explains why having a good meal before taking a test is an advantage if you are typically short of nutrition.

Both the brain and the muscles burn energy, even at rest. This is another way that exercise helps. You build the muscles your body demonstrates that it has needed. These muscles burn energy just being there. So exercise helps you even when you’ve stopped. A fit person likely burns more calories.

This is also one of the dangers of starvation diets (and possibly Atkins). When the body goes into starvation mode, one way it prevents a high level of calorie burning, to survive a lack of food, is to stop feeding the rest muscles. Instead they absorb these muscles. If the diet goes too far, the body may be absorbing relatively important muscles, like heart muscle. Excessive starvation diets can result in heart problems among other problems.

I wouldn’t accuse you of lying or being stupid, but I would make the assumption that you didn’t observe the person 24/7. No one is going to gain 50 lbs by following what you just wrote. Something is missing.

Yes, but don’t hormones affect how many calories you expend?

FYI it was Mrs Cad so as close to 24/7 as you can get.
And you’re exactly right that something is missing and we’ve spent 16 years trying to find out what. I think it’s hormones but some woman had a similar case where it was mitral valve prolapse but I can’t find the case for the life of me. MVP fixed and she lost weight. Every doctor we ask says that MVP would never cause these symptoms (although it has in at least one person) and my point is that at least is some people it is not all about (in-out)/3600. It may be rare I grant you but it is not impossible as the calorie counters claim.

As someone pointed out once, nobody came out of the WWII concentration camps fat, hormones or not.

With inadequate calories/nutrition, you will steadily lose weight.
For adequate diets, how much you burn and how much you store depend on a lot of factors, including hormones and other body chemistry that can vary greatly from individual to individual.

These can both be true, and nobody has to be lying or wrong. I hope calories in/calories out people aren’t saying that the calories out part is static, that the base metabolism or how efficiently you process/store the food can’t change. Clearly at 0 calories in, drinking only water you will lose weight (over some reasonable length of time - days or weeks). So the question is what number above 0 is the right number for you to survive and still lose weight. I certainly believe personally that that number can need to be as low as 1000 calories or lower for some people, which is why they may not lose weight on a traditional low calorie diet, but I don’t believe for a second that there isn’t some number of calories they could get down to that would cause them to lose weight. Of course caloric restriction has proven all but impossible for most people to maintain over the long term in the real world, so I’m hoping for that miracle pill.

You are raising two slightly different questions: Fat loss in general and fat distribution.

Is the problem that you have too much fat on your body in general? Or are you happy with the amount of at you have but not with the distribution?

And by “belly fat” do you mean visceral fat? Or do you mean any fat in the area?

There is no way to target where your fat loss comes off.

There is evidence associating stress with an increased proportion of abdominal fat. So it is reasonable to hypothesize that stress might play a role in where fat reduction takes place during weight loss.