With obesity becoming an increasingly significant health problem, is it possible that the solution can be as simple as to stop eating? This controversial yet effective method of weight loss may be the best way for obese people to lose body fat.
Starvation in a nutshell
The diagram shows the order in which the body uses various sources of energy. All of these sources provide energy for movement and bodily processes. For a person who eats regularly, the first two sources are used predominantly, with fat reserves being metabolised during heavy exercise.
During starvation, your digestive tract is empty, so your body starts to use glycogen stores in the liver. When these run out, your body starts to metabolise fat reserves. When your body has metabolised all of the fat available, it starts to metabolise muscle tissue. When the muscle tissue runs out, there is no energy source left, so major organs such as the brain and heart can no longer function and you die.
How starvation therapy works
For starvation therapy to be successful, you have to starve yourself for a significant amount of time so that you burn all of your fat reserves, but not for too long that you start to burn muscle tissue.
Unfortunately, there are not many scientific studies that can give us guidance on how to administer starvation therapy safely. There have not been any notable studies for the last 50 years and this is due to the widespread adoption of the Declaration of Helsinki (which outlines a set of ethical principles for human experimentation). Many countries also passed laws of their own regarding the ethics of human experimentation, and it became increasingly difficult to starve patients, even with their consent.
Looking back at studies carried out in the 1960’s and 70’s we can see that starvation therapy was actually an incredibly effective treatment method for obesity.
One study tested starvation therapy on 12 obese patients. The patients were completely starved, however they were allowed to consume water and were given vitamin and mineral tablets (vitamins A, B, C and D and calcium lactate). These vitamins and minerals are required for maintaining healthy bone structure, immune function, eyesight and several other important bodily functions. They do not interfere with the therapy as they cannot be metabolised for energy.
The average weight loss after just one week was 7 kg (15 lbs) and the total weight loss ranged from 8-34 kg (17-75 lbs). Two patients died during the study, but both had past experiences of heart failure, so the researchers concluded that starvation therapy is safe as long as the patient has not previously suffered from heart failure.
The researchers were satisfied with the results. They claim that the therapy is not at all unpleasant and the patients even stopped feeling hungry after the first few days. After following up with patients they realised that the therapy was effective in the long term.
Another study notes that conventional diets can be difficult to follow due to their complexity; whereas starvation therapy is extremely simple and unlikely to confuse people. Patients are also less likely to give up during starvation therapy, as opposed to conventional diets which are frequently disregarded. However, the study also noted that starvation therapy should be avoided among patients who have experienced heart failure or have liver or kidney problems.
How to safely administer starvation therapy
- Only consider starvation therapy after consulting a trained medical professional. Do not continue if you suffer from a medical condition that would make the therapy life-threatening.
- Make sure you are taking vitamin and mineral tablets during the therapy.
- Monitor your weight daily during the therapy. Your doctor may also recommend having an ECG regularly.
- Stop the therapy immediately if you experience severe side effects or if you lose a significant amount of weight.
- Following therapy, limit your daily calorie intake so you do not regain the lost weight.
Starvation therapy can be effective if administered safely. Several researchers are in agreement that the risks of safely-administered starvation therapy are outweighed by the inherent risks associated with being obese, and that starvation therapy is a viable option for any obese patient.