This is a great question. We hear about people using this as a reason for them not losing weight, instead of as a reason why they gain weight faster when they resume higher calories.
It slows down metabolism, but not enough to offset the drop in calories. If you cut down to 800 calories a day, and this puts you in " starvation mode ", you will still lose weight, but less, as you both lose total body weight, and as your metabolism slows.
However this idea that this means, if you use 1300 calories for basic body function, that you won't still lose 1 lb. a week, is a problem. The common advice is to restart eating the proper amount of calories, which is good advice. The problem comes when these people believe that they are not losing because they aren't eating enough. If their metabolism is slower, they will gain back faster, and if they believe that they should be losing when they increase calories because they are not in starvation mode, they are severely disappointed. I see this all the time.
The truth is, you will lose weight if you cut calories, but you may also slow down your metabolism, and not see the losses you hope to see. So if you think 1000 daily calorie deficit = 2 lbs. a week, so 2000 = 4 lbs a week, you may find out, it is 2.5, and you are starving. If you follow this long enough, you may slow your BMR from 1500 to 1300, and when you start eating 1500 again, actually gain weight.
I find that starvation mode is most often used by people to explain their inability to lose weight, when to do so, it would need to reduce their BMR's to what they currently consume. Most people have a BMR over 1200, so the probability if you think you are eating 800 calories, and not losing, is that you are not counting calories correctly, and actually eating a lot more.
So really what you need to do, is eat more than your BMR, and never get into starvation mode. I understand that the OP is only discussing it as an intellectual conversation, but it would need to be based on the deficit from each person's individual BMR, and tightly controlled. I think it would be hard to find participants for this study, or to keep them secluded for long enough to guarantee that the results weren't tainted. You couldn't let these people walk past a Cinnabon for example..
You would need to test for caloric deficit to determine the slowing of metabolism, as well as how long it kept declining, while constantly monitoring the health of your patients. You would need patients willing to risk their health, and be imprisoned basically.
I did read a book once that had conscientious objectors to WW2 who agreed to be starved ( simulating German camp prisoners ), under supervision, as an alternative to service, and then when they were emaciated, they were fed back to health to see how to do it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation
Here is a link to the book. www.amazon.com/The-Great-Starvation-Experi
I would check your library though. The author is Todd Tucker, and the book is the Great Starvation Experiment.. starved so that other would be better fed.
These patients were chosen from work camps here in the U.S. Volunteers, who considered it to be a service to their country, instead of fighting in the war. It took over a year, and I found it to be very interesting, but after reading it, I doubt that the study will ever be repeated.
"We can't solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them "
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“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”
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