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What Would Happen If You Stopped Eating for a Week?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Ben Welton
For most of us, meal times are what we build our day around. And snack foods are usually available, whether we're trying to cut down or not. But what if you stopped eating for a whole week? What would happen to your body? To your mind? And to your general mood and personality?
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What Would Happen If You Starved for a Week?


“Hangry” is a modern expression relating to when someone is so hungry that they get a little angry – a triflemoody, if you will. It’s a passing phrase, but it shows quite clearly how important eating food is to all of us. All of our bodies need food in order to survive, with an ideal mix of fats and carbohydrates for energy; protein, to build, repair and strengthen our cells; and a steady flow of vitamins and minerals to ensure we’re as healthy as possible.

It’s not just our physical wellbeing, either. Eating a well-balanced diet betters our mental health as well, with various fruits and vegetables helping to improve how our brains work. A steady intake of omega-3, a type of fatty acid mostly found in fish, has also been shown to combat depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

Given all the obvious benefits of eating, starving yourself for a week – or any period of time – is not a good idea. But what would happen if you actually did go seven days straight without food?

Well, the good news is, you probably wouldn’t die. While the human body cannot go more than two or three days without water, most of us could just about survive for two-to-three weeks on zero food. In fact, some debatable health fads actually use intermittent fasting, which works the human body’s ability to ‘run on empty’ – for up to 16 hours – as a means of losing weight.

However, medically-questionable diets are one thing, but going without food for a week – or longer – is another. After just eight hours without eating, your body’s standard supply of glucose runs out. So, to atone for the loss of energy, you begin to draw on your store of amino acids – and that’s when your muscles begin to ache and weaken. The energy provided by these amino acids will last for approximately three days. But beyond this period, in order to offset sharp muscle loss, your body taps into your supply of stored fat. So, the more fat you have to begin with, the more effectively your body can fuel itself over any period of starvation.

While your fat reserves should see you through a week-long stretch without food, any greater length of time and you can expect much more severe problems. Week-long starvation or more would see the body start mining its own muscle reserves for fuel. This could lead to severe health complications, mostly because of the rapid weight loss that would follow. According to estimates, if you quickly lose upwards of eighteen-percent of your body weight, then you are at a dramatically increased risk of liver, kidney, or heart failure. So, if your starvation goes on for two weeks or more, issues with your internal organs could well be the reason you become ill, and eventually die.

In general, extreme malnutrition leads to a severely weakened immune system, meaning you’re much more susceptible to all types of illness – with some previously manageable conditions now becoming a major problem. There’s no exact upper time limit for starving yourself ‘to death’, but 30-to-50 days is an accepted estimate. Ultimately, end-stage starvation likely brings with it one of two deadly diseases; marasmus or kwashiorkor. Both bring extreme fatigue, stomach bloating, a massive loss of muscle mass, and eventually death. These developments are extremely unlikely to occur after just one week of starvation – especially if you were well-nourished and healthy beforehand, and you are able to stay hydrated throughout. But, if starvation sets in indefinitely, then these are the dangers the body encounters.

Aside from the physical impact, the mental strain would increase day by day, too. At first, it’s probable that you’d feel tired and cranky – with drowsiness setting in after just 24 hours. And, sticking within our one-week time frame, it’s also likely that you’d be plagued by hunger pains. If, for some inadvisable reason you’re voluntarily forcing yourself to go without food, you’ll experience constant physical reminders of why what you’re doing is a very bad idea. If you’re in the unfortunate situation wherein you’ve been enforced into a period of starvation, then you may struggle to maintain hope (or any kind of positive outlook) after just a couple of days.

The longer your starvation goes on, the more severe the mental effects become – with depression setting in before the week is out. Anyone starved for longer than that would likely experience listlessness, confusion and paranoia too. And regardless of how long any individual lasts, the last few days and hours of their life would likely be a long series of hallucinations, triggered by the liver and kidney disorders that will’ve set in after extreme weight loss. With hormone levels perhaps irreparably altered, even were a starvation sufferer to be saved at this point, they may never regain the same personality or emotions that they once had.

If you do find yourself having to survive without food, then remaining hydrated is absolutely vital. As was mentioned at the start of this video, a week without food probably won’t kill you, but go without water and it probably will! Nevertheless, a week without eating would wreak havoc on your health, with muscle wastage setting in before the seven days are out. From there, you place yourself at risk of contracting all manner of potentially fatal illnesses, and you inevitably risk inflicting lasting damage onto your mental health.

All things considered, it’s a very bad idea to voluntarily go without food for long periods of time. We feel hungry because our body is reminding us of how important our nutrition is. If we deny ourselves food, then we’re denying ourselves a chance to be healthy. And that just doesn’t make sense, at all.
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