Starving your body of food is a dangerous method of weight loss that can have both short- and long-term effects on your health. This process deprives your body of important vitamins, minerals and macronutrients including carbohydrates, protein and fat. As a result, your body is unable to function to its potential. Starvation results in numerous dangerous side effects that may even be life-threatening.
Electrolyte Imbalance and Heart Problems
Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium that allow your heart to beat properly. If you eat adequate portions of food, you will consume enough electrolytes. But when you deprive your body of food, you also deprive it of electrolytes, which can lead to an imbalance. Symptoms range from muscle twitches to abnormal heart rhythms. Starvation is incredibly dangerous to your heart -- a lack of electrolytes can cause a slow heartbeat, lead to dangerously low blood pressure and even shrink your heart muscle.
Your body needs calcium in order to perform daily tasks. If it can't get calcium from food, it will start to leach it from your bones. As a result, starving your body can lead to bone loss. In the early stages, this is called osteopenia and can lead to osteoporosis. Most people assume that these diseases are associated with old age, but they can happen throughout your lifetime. For example, nearly 90 percent of women with anorexia are also diagnosed with osteopenia, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Bone loss can lead to brittle bones, breaks and fractures.
Your body cannot store many minerals and vitamins, and needs to consume them every day in order to work properly. Starvation can lead to deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals. A deficiency in any nutrient can result in harmful side effects. For example, low levels of thiamine, also known as vitamin B-1, can lead to an impaired mental state, while a deficiency in zinc could lead to diarrhea or dermatitis. Anemia, which is characterized by low levels of iron in your blood, can also result from starvation. Because iron helps to carry oxygen throughout your body, a deficiency may cause fatigue and weakness.
Effects on Your Brain
Individuals who are starving themselves do not have the same cognitive abilities as those who are properly fed. Imagine how you feel after skipping a meal -- preoccupied with food, on edge and perhaps irritable. Now imagine how it may feel to skip many meals in a row. Starvation can lead to difficulty concentrating, fatigue, confusion and impaired judgment. A lack of food can also change how you feel emotionally, leading to distress, irritability, increased anxiety and depression.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Eating Disorders
- MedlinePlus: Fluid and Electrolyte Balance
- Harvard Health Publications: Osteopenia: When You Have Weak Bones, But Not Osteoporosis
- The DANA Foundation: Nutritional Disorders - The Dana Guide
- MayoClinic.com: Zinc
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Iron and Iron Deficiency
- The Joy Project: Starvation and Behavior
Lauren Elizabeth is a health and fitness professional based in upstate New York. She earned her master's degree in nutrition communications. Elizabeth has written for nonprofit organizations and universities, focusing on nutrition, physical health and mental health.