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Body In Survival Mode

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
I recently got my tongue pierced and haven't been able to eat much of anything besides chicken broth, applesauce and cottage cheese for 5 days! The problem is that I gained almost 5 and a half pounds since then and I don't understand why! One of my friends said that my body is in "survival mode" and is hanging on to all of its water and stuff because it thinks I'm starving and that's where the weight gain is coming from. Can you please answer that question for me?
Signed: Body In Survival Mode

Dear Body In Survival Mode,


It is possible that your friend is right - when the body encounters starvation or very restricted dietary practices (i.e. 200-1000 calories per day), it will shift into "survival mode." This is actually a protective mechanism because the body is worried that it may not have enough energy to stay alive. So, metabolism slows down to very low levels in an attempt to preserve stored body fat. Excessively low caloric intake also promotes the loss of muscle mass as a means of driving metabolism to even lower levels. Survival mode is characterized by changes in both brain biochemistry and energy-related hormone levels, in order to reduce the amount of energy that the body is using. This would not account for your weight gain.


There are obviously other reasons why you might have gained weight during this time. Are you expecting your period? Have you been eating salty foods or consuming lots of soda? These things can cause your body to hold onto excess water and make you feel like you have gained weight.


Hopefully this reduction in caloric intake was temporary, but in the future if you are faced with not being able to eat solid foods again, it is a good idea to make sure that you are consuming nutrient-rich and calorie-dense liquids and soft foods so that your body does not have any problems due to decreased intake. Things like yogurt smoothies or soft cooked vegetables can be great meals when you cannot really chew.

Signed: TeenHealthFX