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Obesity and Weight Management

Starvation state

01/14/2005

Question:

Can you recommend an information source for clients that are in the starvation state but are still in need to lose weight. Their calorie intake is below needs and activity level exceeds needs. Would greatly appreciate any sources of information.

Answer:

A basic nutrition textbook will have information about metabolism during starvation. One text is Understanding Nutrition, Eleanor Whitney and Sharon Rolfes, 9th edition, 2002, West Publishing Co. Renee Cloe, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer also has an article she wrote posted on the following web site. www.primusweb.com/fitnesspartner/library/weight/0698metabolism.htm. It is written in a straight-forward format explaining dieting and metabolism. When weight loss is too quick and isn't accompanied by mechanisms to protect muscle loss, the body will use muscle over fat for its source of energy. With weight loss that favors use of muscle tissue over fat tissue for an energy source, the body gradually changes composition to one with a higher percentage of body fat, even though weight is lower.

Muscle is a dynamic tissue, requiring more calories to maintain it than fat tissue. Therefore, according to Chloe, "the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even when you're just sitting around." As your muscle mass drops, so does your daily calorie requirement.

Suppose, for example, that a dieter loses 10 pounds of muscle (along with maybe 20 lbs. of fat) on a strict diet. Now suppose that each pound of muscle had been burning 50 calories a day just sitting there. Together, those 10 pounds of muscle had been burning 500 calories a day. With this muscle tissue gone, the dieter must now consume 500 fewer calories a day in order to maintain that weight-loss." Further weight loss would involve an even larger reduction in calories.

One mechanism to maintain muscle is weight training. Activity, even in excess, won't maintain muscle, though including aerobic activity every day is important in a weight loss program too. You need to keep your lean body mass up if you are not going to lower your basal metabolism. If you have already lost a lot of weight and it has been muscle loss, you will need to work at getting muscle back so that your basal metabolism goes up. Your goal should become one of consuming as many calories as you can while still losing body fat and maintaining or gaining lean muscle. If your calories are already below normal, don't restrict them further. Instead stick with your current amount and focus on becoming stronger (muscle building) and more active (aerobic activities), so you can gradually increase your calories to a normal healthy level.

 With a routine that includes both muscle strengthening and aerobic activity, it is possible to gain about one pound of muscle per week and lose about one pound of fat per week. The end result is that the number on the scale might not move, or may even go up. But your clothes will get loser because your measurements change. Why? A pound of muscle is much more compact than a pound of 'fluffy' fat. In the long run, a person who has a lower percentage of body fat and a higher percentage of lean body mass, no matter what the scale shows the weight to be, will be able to eat more calories than another person of the same or lower weight with a higher percentage of body fat and a lower lean body mass.

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Response by:

Sharron   Coplin, MS, RD, LD Sharron Coplin, MS, RD, LD
Former Lecturer
Food & Nutrition
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University