• Catherine Lott



When starved of energy, the human body responds in a way known as Starvation Syndrome”.

Starvation syndrome (or semistarvation) refers to the physiological and psychological effects of prolonged dietary restriction.

The effects of starvation syndrome are commonly observed in individuals with eating disorders, due to severe restriction of energy intake, irregular eating, and compensatory behaviours (e.g., purging), which reduce energy absorption.

Many of the symptoms once thought to be primary symptoms of eating disorders are actually symptoms of starvation.


The Minnesota Starvation Experiment is the best example of the wide-ranging physical, cognitive, social and behavioural effects of starvation.

Between 1944 and 1945, Ancel Keys ,for the University of Minnesota, studied the effects of dietary restriction and the effectiveness of dietary rehabilitation strategies.

The study recruited 32 fit, young male volunteers, who were conscientious objectors to the military service.

The study had three phases: ·

3-month control: participants ate normally ·

6-month semi-starvation period: caloric intake of each participant was reduced by 50% ·

3-month recovery: participants were re-nourished

During the semi-starvation period, men lost on average 25% of their baseline body weight.

What the researchers didn't expect, was that semistarvation also had a dramatic impact on the physiological, psychological, cognitive, and social functioning of the men.


  • Heart muscle mass reduced by 25%

  • Heart rate and blood pressure decreased

  • Basal metabolic rate slowed down

  • ·Feeling cold all the time ·

  • Fluid retention (oedema) ·

  • Dizziness and blackouts ·

  • Loss of strength, high fatigue ·

  • Hair loss, dry skin ·

  • Decreased hormone levels, causing lack of sexual desire and other changes


  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Loss of interest in life

  • Changes in Thinking

  • Impaired concentration, judgement and decision-making

  • Impaired comprehension

  • Increased rigidity and obsessional thinking

  • Reduced alertness



  • Withdrawal and isolation

  • Loss of sense of humour

  • Feelings of social inadequacy

  • Neglect of personal hygiene ·

  • Strained relationships

  • Attitudes and Behaviour Relating to Eating

  • Thinking about food all the time

  • Meticulous planning of meals ·

  • Eating very fast or very slowly

  • Increased hunger, binge-eating

  • Tendency to hoard (e.g. collecting recipes)

  • Increased use of