The Risks of Starvation Diets: The Hidden Dangers and Ineffectiveness Explained

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan Petitpas | Updated on 9 July 2024

Someone inquired about the time needed to lose weight through starvation, while nearby, a banana cut into small pieces for snacking and a kitchen knife were present.

Dieting and weight loss can be a daunting task, making it quite common for people to search the internet for information on how long it takes to lose weight by starving themselves.1 In your search, you may find that the calorie fat secret says it takes 3500 calories to burn one pound of fat and while that is true, it’s not a simple equation because calories are burned at different rates for each person.

Ultimately, this is due to a variance in people’s TDEE or total daily energy expenditure, which is how many calories you burn in a day.

So starving yourself will not get the same exact results from one person to the next and reducing calories below 1200 may be detrimental to your health unless directly supervised by a medical professional.

Is it Okay or Safe to Starve Yourself to Lose Weight?

According to the Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition, an extended timeframe of less than adequate food intake is considered starving, while fasting is refraining from nutritional intake altogether.2 Fasting, although it sounds more extreme, is often done in small intervals such as hours or one to two days and is typically considered safe and beneficial.

Some individuals, however, can push the normal limits of fasting. In 1965, a Scottish man named Angus Barbieri decided he was tired of being overweight and, with the approval and supervision of his doctors, went on a fast for 382 days. This resulted in a weight loss of 276 pounds.3

It is easy to see that drastically reducing calories or foregoing food altogether can result in big changes. Some people may want to try starvation to lose belly fat because they want a flat stomach; others may try an extreme reduction of calories to quickly lose a large amount of weight or to reduce their BMI. Regardless of the reason, choosing a diet of significantly reduced calories can be enticing.

An empty fork with a body measuring tape around the end of it to symbolize barely eating and being hyper focuses on waist size.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash4

The most important thing to note, though, in Angus Barbieri’s story is that he was closely monitored by healthcare professionals. Anyone interested in extreme fasting or a starvation diet and wondering about the duration it takes to lose weight by starving oneself should ensure that a doctor is involved in the process. It is crucial for a doctor to monitor vitals, prescribe necessary supplements, and be available to address any issues that may arise.

How Long is it Safe to Starve Yourself For?

Many fasting regimens exist; these include fasting for a few hours, such as skipping breakfast, or for up to 24-48 hours at a time. These timeframes are typically safe if you have no underlying health concerns and should all be reasonable amounts of time to fast. However, it is always important to speak with your doctor before starting a diet, especially if you plan to temporarily starve yourself.

If you search “will I lose weight if I stop eating for 3 days”, you will find that once fasting reaches between 48 to 72 hours, your body can begin losing critical vitamins and minerals at an alarming rate, which can cause a myriad of problems.

What Happens When You Starve Yourself for Days or Weeks

When wondering how to starve yourself, it’s important to consider the impact that malnutrition has on essential vitamins and nutrients that are necessary for life. According to a study on malnutrition, if those vitamins and minerals are not replaced, it can lead to:

      • Muscle loss
      • Organ failure
      • GI distress
      • Poor immune response
      • Depression and/or anxiety
      • Death5

If you’re contemplating how long it takes to lose weight by starving yourself, it’s important to be aware that prolonged starvation can lead to severe health consequences. Initially, you will deal with feeling hungry; although unpleasant, feeling hungry is not dangerous, but just your body’s way of telling you it is time for food. Next, you may have a drop in blood sugar or blood pressure that may leave you sweaty, nauseated, and dizzy. This can be an important signal that your body is giving you that it is time to refuel.

Questioning whether it is okay to starve yourself but drink water may come up while dieting. Although water is of ultimate importance, the reality is, that the longer you go without adequate nutrition, the more your body will revolt. Initially, your body will burn excess fat. As time goes on, because energy is not being sourced from elsewhere, your body will begin to break down your muscles and organs.

Electrolyte imbalances can begin to affect heart function. Gastrointestinal issues will ensue due to decreased colon function, blood flow to the intestines, and damage to the pancreas. Cells used to aid in the recovery of illness will cease to function properly. Your brain will begin to deteriorate, which can cause depressive and anxious episodes. With all these struggles combined, your body will fail and you will die.5

If You Starve Yourself, How Long to Lose Weight?

Bodies burn calories constantly. Your body uses the calories from the food you eat to create energy and once all the calories from food are burned, your body will begin burning calories from other energy stores, such as excess fat.

As mentioned earlier, the calorie fat secret explains that it takes 3500 calories burned to lose one pound of fat. If a person with a TDEE of 2000 calories stops eating, that person will reach 3500 calories, or one pound, burned in roughly 42 hours. Your body may initially hold onto excess fluid and waste, which could result in weight loss not being visible on the scale immediately.

Remember, as mentioned above, if the vitamins and minerals you would otherwise be eating are not replaced by a supplement, weight loss will begin to come from muscle and organ breakdown. Again, this is why it is critical to include a doctor in the weight loss process.

How Much Weight Can You Lose by Starving Yourself for 1-2 Weeks?

The maximum amount of weight you can lose in one to two weeks by restricting food intake can be found by breaking down the weight loss by calories burned in a day.

If you have a TDEE of 2000 calories and consume 2000 calories a day, you will neither gain nor lose weight, assuming no exercise is added. If you eat zero calories in a day and burn 2000 calories due to TDEE, you will have a calorie deficit of 2000 calories per day. Or in other words, you will be burning 2000 more calories than what’s consumed.

2000 excess calories burned per day x 7 days = 14,000 calories burned in one week

14,000 excess calories burned in one week / 3,500 calories (calories that equal one pound) = 4 pounds burned in one week

It is not likely you will starve yourself and be able work out because the lack of nutrition will reduce the amount of energy you have but luckily a calorie deficit without exercise is possible so starving yourself isn’t recommended.

If no excess calories are burned through exercise, you can conclude that you will see a 4-pound weight loss in one week. If you don’t eat for 2 weeks, you may see a loss of up to 8 pounds. When starving yourself or dieting, metabolism may slow, which may reduce the amount of weight loss by a small margin. The same equation given above can be used for various time frames, such as eating 500 calories a day for a month.

3 Steps to Lose Weight in a Sustainable Manner (Instead of Starving)

Often, losing weight can be difficult because quick fixes, such as deciding to starve for 10 days, won’t lead to long-term success. In fact, they could lead to long-term issues including eating disorders, which can negatively affect your physical and mental health. According to the Center for Disease Control, to lose weight and keep it off, it is helpful to come up with new habits and sustainable lifestyle changes.6

A person eating kale salad, croutons, low fat cheese and whole grain bread to lose weight in a healthy way.

Source: VisualCommunications via Canva.com7

Instead of searching about how long it takes to lose weight by starving yourself, follow the 3 steps to lose weight listed below. You will discover that long-term weight loss is achievable and can easily fit into your lifestyle.

1. Eat Better

Eating better is a relative term and may feel like a broad place to start. Begin by taking an inventory of how you eat on a daily basis; an elimination-style diet may help ease you out of your current habits. Starting with one small change a week can quickly add up and before you know it, you’ll likely notice a change in mood, energy, and even weight. Experiment with removing or reducing fried food, sugar, or processed foods. If that feels too extreme, begin with replacing one meal a week with a healthy, balanced meal; then, move to two healthy meals, etc.

Looking at losing weight as a lifestyle change and finding something that works for you is the key to being successful. If not, you can get burnt out and gain more weight instead of losing it.

Trying a new eating plan or diet can propel your momentum in your weight loss journey and does not have to be dangerous or painful. Many different plans are available to accommodate every individual, such as:

  • Counting calories
  • Reducing sugar and carbs
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Intuitive eating
  • A myriad of structured diets

These can all be done individually or in combination with one another. Focusing on what makes you happy is most important, so trying out plans until you find one that fits will only benefit you in the future.

2. Walk More or Find a Form of Exercise You Enjoy

Finding enjoyable ways to add exercise into your life could be what helps you stick with a routine. Spending hours at the gym is not for everyone, so adding a low-impact exercise that elevates your heart rate, like walking, is a great option to start shedding pounds. If walking isn’t for you, try finding something else you enjoy. A sport, swimming, a dance class, etc. are all great ways to fit exercise into your lifestyle

Exercise is beneficial on so many levels. Many consider exercise as a short-term solution to losing weight, but according to a study on exercise, the health benefits are overarching.8 Exercise is a habit that every individual needs to incorporate into their lifestyle and finding something you enjoy can help keep you on track.

3. Recover, Lower Stress Levels, & Change Your Mindset to Build Healthy Habits

Lack of sleep, stress, and exhaustion can all hinder weight loss efforts. All of these things can lead to emotional eating, lack of energy for exercise, and a general disregard for health. If not managed properly, progress made from diet and exercise may be counteracted.

Ensuring time for self-care is imperative on your weight loss journey. A study on stress concluded that chronic stress can lead to weight gain and obesity.9 Finding an activity that can help reduce stress can relieve anxiety and burnout. Ensuring you get adequate sleep can renew your body and mind, which can help you keep your focus. Being diligent about recovering after exercise and strenuous activities can help reduce the likelihood of injuries.

Even though burning 3500 calories will always equal a loss of one pound, how you choose to lose each pound will dictate how successful you are in the long run. In the future, instead of wondering about the duration of weight loss through starvation, you can take a moment to reevaluate your goals, explore a sustainable way to lose weight, and work hand in hand with a medical professional to keep you safe, healthy, and help you achieve weight loss.


1Sigmund. “sliced yellow fruit on brown wooden chopping board photo – Free Brown Image on Unsplash.” Unsplash, 7 August 2020. Accessed 6 April 2023. <>

2Haller, W., & Bines, J.E. (2013). Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition (Third Edition ed.). Elsevier, Ltld. <>

3Tapalaga, A. (n.d.). The Man Who Didn’t Eat for 382 Days. History of Yesterday. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from <>

4Polekhina, Diana. “white and black plane in mid air photo – Free Eating Image on Unsplash.” Unsplash, 19 January 2021. Accessed 6 April 2023. <>

5Saunders, J., & Smith, T. (2012, December). Malnutrition: Causes and Consequences. Clinical Medicine Journal, 10(6), 624-627. <>

6Center for Disease Control. (n.d.). Losing Weight: Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity. CDC. Retrieved July 9, 2022, from <>

7VisualCommunications. “Man eating salad.” Canva. Accessed 6 April 2023. <>

8Ruegsegger, G. N., & Booth, F. W. (2018, July). Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 8(7). <>

9Chao, A. M., Jastreboff, A. M., White, M. A., Grilo, C. M., & Sinha, R. (2017, April). Stress, cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6-month changes in food cravings and weight. Obesity: A Research Journal, 25(4), 713-720. <>

About the Author

Nathan Petitpas

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.