The big misconception about fasting and starvation is that they’re the same thing. Although they might seem very similar, they’re actually distinctive metabolic states. There’s quite a significant difference between them. They’re almost like day and night.
The Difference Between Fasting and Starvation
Fasting is the complete abstention from food in any shape or form. Usually, people still drink water and other non-caloric beverages. It’s voluntary and controlled. You’ve planned it and are doing it because you’ve decided to do so.
Starvation, on the other hand, is described as the absence of essential nutrients that could support the life of an organism. Whenever the body can’t get access to fuel or has run out of it, then it begins to slowly die and waste away. This is irrational and involuntary. It’s forced upon and not something you choose.
The difference between fasting and starvation is like the difference between suicide and dying of old age. One is deliberate and carefully orchestrated, whereas the other is something that simply happens to you without you being able to do anything about it. Of course, here fasting resembles suicide because it’s self-imposed, but it’s not going to end with death. The idea remains.
You’re Either One or the Other
Abstention from food is the art of manipulating our metabolic system and can be done for many reasons. Malpractice might look like the person is starving, but if done correctly it’s very healthy and good for you.
Our body can only be in 2 metabolic states
- Fasted – meaning that there are no exogenous calories consumed at all.
- Fed – there is some food circulating the bloodstream.
Even consuming small amounts of food will put you into a fed state. It doesn’t matter whether you eat 200 calories or 1000, you’ll still inhibit autophagy and be shifted out of a fasted state.
That’s why intermittent fasting is a lot better than caloric restriction. If you’re feeding yourself, but in inadequate amounts, then your body will most definitely perceive it as scarcity. You’ll be causing more damage than good. If you do it the wrong way, you’ll end up like someone from the concentration camps.
How Fasting Changes the Metabolism
Long periods of daily caloric restriction decrease the metabolism, so it’s easy to presume that this would be magnified as food intake drops to zero. However, this is wrong.
Once your food intake stops completely (you start to fast), the body shifts into using stored fat for fuel (ketosis). The hormonal adaptations of fasting will not occur by only lowering your caloric intake. In the case of being fasted, your physiology is under completely different conditions, which is unachievable by regular eating.
Starvation happens when there is not enough nutrition to be found e.g. when you go on a weight loss diet and restrict calories. While fasting, the organism is almost never deprived of essential nutrients, unless you lose all of your body fat. These fuel sources are mobilized from internal resources.
Fasting isn’t a mechanism of starvation because your metabolism will be altered. This shift won’t occur entirely if you continue consuming food, even when you’ve reduced your calories to a bare minimum. It’s actually a lot healthier way of losing weight, as you’ll be burning only fat, not muscle.
When on a restrictive diet you’ll never make the leap and to keep your energy demands at a balance you begin to cannibalize your own tissue. When in a fasted state, this can be circumvented.
The hormonal reactions that occur while fasting can actually make the body more nourished than while eating. In response to the disappearance of calories, we will trigger some of the most powerful anabolic hormones within us, that lead to some serious adaptations that reduce the loss of muscle almost entirely.
Fasting Doesn’t Deprive You Of Nutrients
There’s no reason to be concerned about malnutrition during fasting either because our fat stores can deposit almost an infinite amount of calories. The main issue is rather micronutrient deficiencies. Potassium levels may drop slightly, but even 2 months of fasting don’t decrease it below a safe margin. Magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus remain stable because 99% of them are stored in our bones.
The longest recorded fast lasted for 382 days (1 year and almost 1 month). It was done by a 27-year old obese man, who lost 125 kg (276 lb) in the process[i]. After that much time, did he even know how food tasted like? Imagine that first bite…The researchers managed to sustain such a long period with no harmful effects on the man’s health thanks to taking a simple multivitamin. Of course, he was severely overweight and had a ton of extra body fat to burn, but you can be very well nourished for a long time by having access to enough micronutrients.
Intermittent Fasting and Feasting
Our metabolism can only be in either a fed or a fasted state. One involves the complete abstention from food, whereas the other can be triggered by any amounts. The degree of how fed we are dictates whether we’re in starvation mode or not.
Fasting would only become dangerous when the body has completely run out of its endogenous nutrients, which would take a long time. Eventually, it can turn into starvation. Doing it intermittently, just enough, is actually extremely healthy and empowering.
I practice some form of intermittent fasting every single day. Restricting my feeding window enables me to trigger some of the most powerful anabolic hormones and metabolic process within our body. Coupling that with feasting leads to some serious adaptations that help us to build muscle, burn fat, live longer and be happier.
If you want to learn more about this, then I advise you to read my book Intermittent Fasting and Feasting. It’s the most comprehensive guide to doing intermittent fasting as a lifestyle. Because I’ve managed to learn about the physiological processes and have perfected this craft, it doesn’t even feel like I’m abstaining from food. I’ve also created a program called KETO // IF that combines intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet. Check it out, if you want to become extremely efficient at burning fat for fuel.
[i] Stewart WK, Fleming LW: Features cf a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days’ duration. Postgrad Med J 1973 Mar; 49: 203-209