Most of us typically eat on a regular basis. You know, breakfast, lunch, dinner. Throw in some snacks from time to time. Sometimes I’ll mix it up and have “linner”. You know, that magical meal between lunch and dinner. Or on the weekends I’ll have a brunch. When I do either of those the meals are pretty substantial. Occasionally after eating one of those king size meals I’ll feel like an anaconda digesting a deer. Once or twice a week I’ll skip breakfast and do my version of fasting. And while I do like the way it makes me feel to skip that meal by the time I get some lunch I feel famished. And I eat a TON. So the eating is pretty regular with some occasional mix-ups thrown in. All this got me thinking, how long can you live without food?
The reality is there is not hard and fast rule for how long can you live without food. It’s not like you’ve got 21 days and BOOM you drop over. There’s a variety of factors that go into how long you can live without food. Your body also adapts to a decrease in food pretty easily in the short term.
Your body actually adjusts itself if you engage in a short-term fast or are unable to access food and water for longer stretches of time. This allows people to engage in religious fasts and even try “fasting” diets like the eat, stop, eat, type of approach without doing a lot of damage to their bodies.
It takes about eight hours without eating for your body to change how it operates. Before that, it functions as if you were eating regularly. This is one of the various factors that play into how long can you live without food. the body is pretty amazing the way it adapts.
Under normal circumstances, your body breaks down food into glucose. As you probably already know glucose provides energy to the body.
Once the body hasn’t had access to food for 8 to 12 hours, your glucose storage becomes depleted. Your body will begin to convert glycogen from your liver and muscles into glucose. This is how your body starts to adapt.
After your glucose and glycogen are depleted, your body will begin to use amino acids to provide energy. This process will affect your muscles and can carry your body along for about three or so days of starvation before metabolism makes a major shift to preserve lean body tissue.
To prevent excessive muscle loss, the body begins to rely on fat stores to create ketones for energy, a process known as ketosis. Ketosis, and the keto diets, are something most of us have heard about these days. You will experience significant weight loss during this time. One of the reasons women are able to sustain starvation longer than men is that their bodies have a higher fat composition. Females are also able to hold on to protein and lean muscle tissue better than males during starvation.
The more fat stores available, the longer a person can typically survive during starvation. Once the fat stores have been completely metabolized, the body then reverts back to muscle breakdown for energy, since it’s the only remaining fuel source in the body. This is when things really go south.
Muscles for Energy
You’ll begin to experience severe adverse symptoms during the stage of starvation where your body begins using its muscle reserves for energy. A study in the British Medical JournalTrusted Source states that those undergoing a hunger strike needs to be monitored closely for severe side effects of starvation after losing 10 percent of their body weight. It also says that very serious conditions will occur when an individual loses 18 percent of their body weight. Can you image losing 18 percent of you body weight? That would equal 36 pounds for me – yikes. Hard to imagine.
Risks of Restrictive Eating
It goes without saying that no access to food and water can have seriously detrimental effects on your body. Your body’s many systems will begin to deteriorate despite your body’s ability to continue for days and weeks without food and water. As you are probably aware water is the most important but food is right behind it.
Some of the many side effects of starvation include:
- blood pressure drop
- heart attach
- slowing heart rate
- low potassium
- thyroid malfunction
- abdominal pain
- body temperature fluctuation
- post-traumatic stress or depression
- organ failure
Those who experience starvation for a prolonged time can’t begin to consume normal amounts of food right away. The body needs to be very slowly eased in to eating and processing food again to avoid adverse reactions, known as refeeding syndrome, including:
- heart conditions
- neurological conditions
- swelling of the body’s tissue
Resuming eating after starvation will require a doctor’s supervision and may involve eating boiled vegetables, lactose-free foods, and a low-protein, low-sugar diet. All kinds of “fun” stuff before you get to have real food.
It’s not a bad idea to mix things up and skip a meal here and there. Our bodies are resilient and can adapt to change when needed. Giving your body a shock from time to time can definitely be a good thing.
With that said it’s obviously not a good idea to go without food for long periods on purpose. Now if the Zombie apolocypse happens well, you do what you have to do. It’s much easier on your body to go without food for a while when absolutely necessary. Not so much with the water.
There is no exact formula for how long can you live without food. Good idea not to test it though!
In good health,