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Obesity and Weight Management

Plateau or Starvation Mode?



Basic info: Age: 49 Current Weight 270 Height 5`6"

I`ve been doing weight watchers for 2+ months. Based on their guide to points, I should be at about 38 points (1900 calories). The first month was great and I lost about 10 pounds. Then it started slowing down.

In an effort to maintain losing 10 pounds a month, I voluntarily reduced my points to 30 (1500 calories). The weight loss has slowed drastically. I`ve added going to the gym to stimulate weight loss (20 minutes of cycling and 30 minutes of weight training)

I`ve read much about "starvation mode". Some experts say it does not happen unless you drop below 1200 calories. Others experts say it may occur if your drop you calories 50% of your BMR.

My weight has been at a stable weight 2 weeks, even with the increased physical activity at the gym. I`m trying to determine if this is merely a plateau or if I accidentally slipped into starvation mode. If I am in starvation mode, could I simply increase calorie input by 200 calories to break out of it?



Thank you for your question.  I first want to congratulate you on the progress you have made so far.  It sounds like you are really working hard.  It can be frustrating when you reach a plateau, but I want to encourage you to stick with it.  Plateaus are common, and often people give up too early.  It is common to want to restrict calories further, but this can only compound the problem causing the plateau to last longer or eventually causing a gain secondary to getting into a starvation mode. 

If it has been several weeks and you haven't changed your eating, but your exercise has increased, then you might try adding the extra 200 or so calories.  Your body may need the extra energy to help support the increase in activity and weight loss at the same time. 

The other thing I would suggest is having your resting metabolic rate tested using the MedGem.  A Dietitian in your area would be the place to start to see about having this test done.  It will give you a more accurate idea of what your calorie needs are and what calorie level would be appropriate for you to see continued weight loss. 

Other things to consider as far as your diet might be concerned are: 

1.  How is your meal spacing? Are you waiting too long between meals?

2.  What  foods are you choosing?  Are you getting in healthy food or manipulating the points to include too many high fat or empty calorie foods?

3. Are you getting in enough water?

4.  Are you getting enough sleep?

Lastly, you may want to also meet with a personal trainer to evaluate you exercise routine to be sure you are continuing to challenge yourself.  Be sure your routine includes strength training and aerobic activities.

Again, I congratulate you on your effort and wish you continued success.

To Good Health!


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Response by:

Angela Blackstone, RD, LD
Staff Dietitian
Metabolic Surgery Program
Wexner Medical Center
The Ohio State University