It’s mind-blowing how many people will go to the extreme with the intent to arrive at the beauty standards presented on social media and other sources. That aside, losing weight in a healthy way is always a good move and has nothing grim behind it.
If, for instance, we’re talking about fasting, some individuals approach this dietary regime not just for weight loss reasons. Some research suggests some potentially beneficial effects of intermittent fasting on overall health, as long as it’s done safely and under a doctor’s supervision, when necessary.
But what if you stopped eating altogether and entered the starvation mode? You should know that starving is a problem. Unfortunately, people cross the line and starve themselves to attain impressive results quickly. We all know that quick results, especially in weight loss programs, are often not indicators of healthy choices.
There is a big difference between fasting and starving. No matter your reasons for picking this article, you really need to explore these differences with me.
Fasting vs Starving: knowing the difference could save your life.
This article covers the possible benefits of fasting and why it may be an option to boost your health. You will also be able to understand when fasting becomes starvation and how starvation can impair your physical and mental health.
Is starving the same as fasting?
Starving is surely not the same as fasting. Let’s take a look at both terms and uncover the difference.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that includes cycling between “eating” and “fasting” periods. This is when you choose not to consume food for some time each day, or on certain days of the week. You may not eat for several hours or only enjoy one meal a day. There are different Fasting Windows, during which a person abstains from food (11).
Not eating for certain periods typically increases your ketone levels. Ketones are compounds that your liver produces when your body uses fat as energy (11).
The most typical form of fasting is 16:8 where you eat food is during the 8 hours and have no food for 16 hours.
Starvation is when you don’t eat for an extended period of time or have very limited food intake below your body’s daily calorie needs. Your body enters into a large calorie deficit which leads to weight loss, but it won’t be healthy nor sustainable.
Very low-calorie diets are typically defined as consuming 450–800 calories or fewer per day. This isn’t healthy or sustainable long term and may pose serious health risks.
The abstract states that during a period of prolonged fasting your body undergoes a metabolic adaptation, accompanied by exhaustion of preexisting fuel stores. If fasting continues, metabolic decompensation will happen, which ultimately leads to death (14).
To sum up, ‘fasting’ is the intentional, temporary absence of nutrient intake, whereas ‘starvation’ is a prolonged period of inadequate food intake (14).
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How long can you fast before it’s considered starving?
When does fasting become starvation? Typically, having no food for less than 48 hours is considered fasting. If you’re consuming no food for more than 48 hours, you may be at higher risk for harmful effects. While fasting might be beneficial for the body, starving is dangerous to health.
With this in mind, you should focus on more modest fasting regimes and choose the right one for yourself. Plus, make sure you consult with your healthcare provider to make sure you are able to do any fasting regime safely. .
Is fasting better than eating less?
It depends on your general goals. If you’re striving to shed pounds, consider a study the American Heart Association highlights, which found that eating less overall and fewer large meals may be a more effective weight management strategy rather than intermittent fasting (12).
The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and analyzed the electronic health records of about 550 adults who were followed for six years.
The study found that reducing the total amount of calories was more effective for weight loss than restricting meals to a narrow window.
The AHA has also noted that irregular patterns of total caloric intake are less beneficial for heart health and maintenance of body weight. Additionally, altering meal frequency may not be helpful for weight loss or promoting traditional cardiometabolic risk factors (10).
Interestingly, a randomized controlled trial found that people who limited eating to an eight-hour window and deliberately restricted calories, achieved similar weight loss goals over a year in comparison to those who only restricted calories but didn’t eat during specific time windows (3).
Therefore, it’s up to you which option to choose. It’s helpful to consult with your healthcare provider first, and especially important if you have any medical conditions or take any chronic medications. You should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of intermittent fasting before trying it out. You’re going to learn about them in the further segment.
What is the right timing for intermittent fasting?
You may be familiar with six ways to do intermittent fasting. Surely, fasting is not easy, especially for beginners. For others, fasting seems unattainable due to their job shifts, extensive travel, or hectic work schedules.
The two most popular regimens for intermittent fasting are:
- Fasting for 12 hours;
- Fasting for 16 hours.
Fasting for 12 hours
It is simple. You don’t eat for 12 hours a day. According to some researchers, fasting for 10–16 hours provokes the body to turn its fat stores into energy, which releases ketones into the bloodstream. Some claim that this is helpful for weight loss (9).
If you’re a beginner, this type of intermittent fasting plan may be a good option for you. This is because the fasting window is relatively small, as most of the fasting occurs during sleep, and the person can consume the same number of calories each day.
Here’s how you can follow a 12-hour fast – you include the period of sleep in the fasting window.
For example, you fast between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. You would need to finish your dinner before 8 p.m. and wait until 8 a.m. to eat breakfast, but would be asleep for much of the time in between.
Fasting for 16 hours
Here is a primary winner among other fasting windows where you fast for 16 hours a day, leaving an eating window of 8 hours. This method is also called the 16:8 method or the Leangains diet.
During the 16:8 diet, men typically fast for 16 hours each day, and women sometimes opt to fast for 14 hours. This type of intermittent fast may be beneficial for you if you’ve tried the 12-hour fast but did not notice any benefits. In one example of timing for this fast, you need to finish your evening meal by 8 p.m. and then skip breakfast the next day, not eating again until noon. Those hours can obviously be adjusted to whatever best suits your lifestyle.
One study on mice showed that limiting the feeding window to 8 hours protected them from inflammation, obesity, liver disease, and insulin resistance despite eating the same total number of calories as mice that ate whenever they desired (16).
What are the benefits and drawbacks of fasting and starving?
When we’re dealing with fasting vs starving benefits and disadvantages it’s crucial to highlight that starvation poses only risks without advantages.
Intermittent fasting though may be a helpful tool for promoting overall health and helping you lose weight. But is it that perfect?
Of course, intermittent fasting is not perfect and does pose some health risks. In a moment you’re going to unravel the pros and cons of fasting and the harmful effects of starving on your well-being.
Intermittent Fasting pros
- You have a good chance to maintain a healthy weight by reducing your overall calorie intake. Research suggests that intermittent fasting may be an effective weight management strategy (2). As was mentioned, it’s not more beneficial than traditional calorie restriction, but some people find it easier to maintain fasting long-term. Intermittent Fasting and Running could help you tone up your body while eating fewer calories.
- You might lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Fasting may have benefits for diabetes prevention. A 2022 review on intermittent fasting and metabolic health suggested that intermittent fasting may decrease insulin resistance. However, this review also states that there is not enough scientific evidence to say that intermittent fasting is any more effective than traditional caloric restriction (8). More research is needed at this point.
- You might improve heart health. A review in 2016 suggested that intermittent fasting could improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This could lead to a decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides, and cholesterol (7). However, the majority of research reviewed was done on animals.
- Your brain may benefit. Animal studies have suggested that intermittent fasting may help combat neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke (7).
Intermittent fasting cons
- You might become ravenous and crave more food. When you go long periods without taking in calories, you may experience increased hunger. In a 2018 study involving 112 people, each person consumed 400 or 600 calories on two nonconsecutive days every week for a year. Both groups reported feeling higher levels of hunger compared to the group who consumed a low-calorie diet with continuous calorie restriction (4).
- You may feel lightheaded and experience headaches. Headaches are potential side effects for any type of fasting (6).
- Your mood swings and irritability may rise. People who practice intermittent fasting, especially for the first time, may experience mood disturbances and irritability due to low blood sugar (15).
- Your sleep may be impaired. A 2019 study observed 1,422 people who engaged in a fasting regimen for 4–21 days. Researchers learned that 15% of participants reported sleep disturbances related to fasting (13).
Negative effects of starvation
- You may impair your heart health. As you stop eating food for a prolonged period, your body breaks down its tissue to use as fuel. It may also involve muscle tissue, including that of the heart. The blood pressure and pulse drop because the heart does not have the fuel that it needs to pump blood. This inefficient pumping can lead to heart failure (5).
- You may have problems with the gastrointestinal system. Food restriction intervenes in how the stomach digests food and empties itself. It can lead to stomach pain, bloating, vomiting, nausea levels, and bacterial infections (5).
- You may damage your central nervous system. Starvation can affect the brain by depriving it of energy. This can result in difficulty concentrating and sleep issues (5).
- You may harm your endocrine system. Your endocrine system requires fat and cholesterol to produce hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and thyroid hormones. Without them you might have irregular menstruation, your bones may weaken, and your metabolic rate can drop as well as your core temperature (5).
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What is the difference between fasting and anorexia?
The difference between fasting and anorexia is significant:
Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder where your mind is obsessed about your weight and food. If you have this problem you may see yourself as fat even though you have a very low body weight.
People with anorexia use unusual eating habits to cope with anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem. As you limit food, you have an illusional feeling you’re controlling your life (1). Anorexia leads to serious health complications, like dizziness and fainting, bone fractures, stopped menstruation, anxiety, and poor concentration.
Intermittent fasting, on the contrary, is a planned method of eating that focuses on consuming food during specific windows of time. As you fast, you’re allowed to drink only low-calorie beverages, like water, coffee, and tea.
People try fasting for many reasons but the most common one is to lose weight. Such individuals choose intermittent fasting without depriving their body of enough food and beverages. People with a history of anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder should avoid intermittent fasting, as it can trigger disordered eating behaviors.
Does not eating make you lose weight or gain weight?
Your body will suffer if you stop eating food for an extended period of time. After prolonged starvation, your body’s metabolism slows down, which impairs the whole body’s functioning. On top of that, your mental health may decline.
Even though you may lose weight initially, you’ll likely gain it back. Knowing this, you should aim for healthy ways to trim the fat, which include:
- Eating enough nutritious food;
- Staying active;
- Sleeping well;
- Keeping hydrated.
Don’t strive for fast results, take it slow and controlled to attain the body you always desired.
Why is 16 hours the magic number for fasting?
16-hour fasting is said to promote fat burning more effectively. This longer fasting period leads to a greater depletion of glycogen stores which is more likely to promote higher levels of fat burning. This fasting regime is also one of the easiest to fit into most people’s lifestyles.
Is eating less than 500 calories fasting?
Certain intermittent fasting methods involve eating around 500 calories on fasting days, which are usually limited to 2 days per week, or sometimes every other day. Consuming less than 500 calories every day is not fasting but starvation. This isn’t healthy and not sustainable long-term. If you’re eating only less than 500 calories daily, immediately talk to your doctor.
What happens to your body when you fast for 16 hours?
During the 16-hour fast, your body is thought to undergo autophagy, a process where your body destroys old or damaged cells and cell components in the body. Autophagy recycles these cells and components which is thought to help reduce inflammation in the body, promote the health of the skin and prevent aging, wrinkles, and acne, and enhance the immune system and disease-fighting capacity.
Does fasting do more harm than good?
Intermittent fasting offers both benefits and potential risks. It could also cause malnutrition if you don’t do it correctly. Whether it does more harm or good depends on the eating methods you choose and your eating choices during non-fasting windows.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you’ve got your answers in this article about intermittent fasting vs starving: knowing the difference will save your life. Let’s recap everything.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that includes cycling between “eating” and “fasting” periods. You choose not to consume food for some time each day, or on certain days of the week. Starvation is when you don’t eat for an extended period of time or have very limited food intake below your body’s daily calorie needs. Your body enters into a large calorie deficit which will lead to unhealthy and unsustainable weight loss.
Fasting has not proven to be more effective than calorie restriction for weight loss goals. There are the two most popular hours for intermittent fasting: Fasting for 12 hours and Fasting for 16 hours.
Intermittent fasting is claimed to improve your heart health, lower the risk of diabetes, and promote brain health and weight loss. The cons of fasting involve headaches, irritability, and possible sleep disturbances.
Starvation has no benefits, only drawbacks that involve impaired heart health, problems with the gastrointestinal system, and problems with your central nervous system and endocrine system. Fasting and anorexia are different. Anorexia is an eating disorder and fasting is an eating plan that switches between eating and fasting on a regular schedule.
If you’re noticing any eating changes that negatively impact your well-being, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare provider.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anorexia Nervosa (hopkinsmedicine.org)
- Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting: a narrative review (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Calorie Restriction with or without Time-Restricted Eating in Weight Loss (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of intermittent versus continuous energy restriction on weight loss, maintenance and cardiometabolic risk: A randomized 1-year trial (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Consequences (nationaleatingdisorders.org)
- Health Effects of Alternate-Day Fasting in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intermittent Fasting and Metabolic Health (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intermittent fasting: the science of going without (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association (2017, ahajournals.org)
- Psychological Benefits of Fasting (2021, webmd.com)
- Reducing total calories may be more effective for weight loss than intermittent fasting (2023, heart.org)
- Safety, health improvement and well-being during a 4 to 21-day fasting period in an observational study including 1422 subjects (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Starvation and fasting: Biochemical Aspects (2013, researchgate.net)
- The Psychological Effects of Short-Term Fasting in Healthy Women (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Time-restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high fat diet (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)