What is metabolic damage? – A very basic introduction

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Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and the content of this website was created for informational purposes only. Such content is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis.

During the past weeks we’ve talked about starvation mode: what it is, when it happens and what is phases are. This week, perhaps more, we’ll talk about starvation mode’s partner in crime: metabolic damage. Because of that, today’s post will deal with the popular notion of metabolic damage.

Just by doing a quick Google search on metabolic damage we get results from a number of YouTube videos, and websites like muscleforlife.com, sciencestrength.com, verywellfit.com, rippedbody.com, and so on. Just by doing a Google search we get a get a glimpse of who is interested in learning about metabolic damage, and who claims to know about it. To be honest, I was relieved not to run into any HAES or fat acceptance website.

Even more interesting are the questions in the People also ask section of the search, and the Related Searches:

  • Is metabolic damage permanent?
  • How do you fix a slow metabolism?
  • Can you ruin your metabolism?
  • How do I get my metabolism back in track?
  • metabolic damage repair
  • reversing metabolic damage
  • metabolic damage study
  • metabolic damage weight gain
  • metabolic damage bodybuilding
  • metabolic damage reddit
  • metabolic damage and adrenal fatigue
  • post competition metabolic damage

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This metabolic damage thing seems to be serious stuff: ruining people’s metabolism, making them gain weight, forcing others to make shirtless YouTube videos, even the world-famous reddit detectives are working on it. Clearly we have to do something, we can’t let metabolic damage destroy people’s lives!

With that out of the way, let us focus on what the HuffPost (the first search result I get) says about metabolic damage:

“Metabolic damage’, or better known as ‘starvation mode’, is the phenomenon referring to the body’s physiological adaptation or natural response to long term calorie restriction or deficit,” Robbie Clark, dietitian and sports nutritionist, told HuffPost Australia.

“This deficit can be a result of reduced calorie intake, increased calorie expenditure through exercise, or a combination of the two.”

Essentially, metabolic damage (or starvation mode) can come about as a result of your body’s attempt to maintain energy balance and prevent starvation.

“It is considered a natural physiological response, and is better known in the scientific community as ‘adaptive thermogenesis’,” Clark explained. “Starvation mode was a useful physiological response for our hunter and gatherer ancestors in order to survive, but it does more harm than good in the modern food environment where obesity is extremely prevalent and widespread.”

According to body science expert Moodi Dennaoui, aka The Diet Doctor, the term ‘metabolic damage’ is slightly inaccurate and misleading.

“Metabolic damage is a very harsh way of describing this very delicate and intricate topic, so I’d rather call it ‘metabolic adaptivity’,” he told HuffPost Australia. “It also makes more sense as there are several variables that influence someone’s metabolism, whether it has stagnated, why it has stagnated and how these hurdles can be overcome.

“Metabolic adaptivity typically refers to a change in one’s metabolism. If we use the word ‘damage’ then we are discussing the negative impact various lifestyle and dietary habits can have on metabolism.

“Other variables also influence the metabolism, such as sex hormone levels, macronutrient intake (especially protein), exercise style, frequency and intensity, age, medication use, genetic predisposition, and more.”

Let’s try to make sense of what we’ve just read. First Robbie Clark’s definition: So, metabolic damage is starvation mode, and it is the physiological response to long term calorie restriction or deficit. At the same time, metabolic damage / starvation mode can come about as a result of the body’s attempts (…) to prevent starvation. So if I’ve got this right, metabolic damage is starvation mode, and we CAN enter starvation mode so that we don’t starve. Doesn’t that mean that we can starve without going through starvation mode / metabolic damage? Equally, wouldn’t that also mean that we go through starvation mode in order to prevent starvation, which is the thing that has to occur for starvation mode to happen? This is confusing, so let’s try Moodi Dennaoui’s definition.

According to Moodi Dennaoui: Metabolic damage shouldn’t be called metabolic damage, but rather metabolic adaptivity, because there are several variables that influence metabolism. And what is metabolic adaptivity? A change in one’s metabolism, and the term metabolic damage refers the negative impact on metabolism that results from lifestyle and dietary habits. Presumably, a negative impact on metabolism would mean metabolism slowing down or stagnating, which would then mean that metabolic damage is just metabolism slowing down because of lifestyle or dietary choices. I have a few questions: if my metabolism slows down due to variables other than lifestyle or diet, why is it not metabolic damage? Would a metabolic damage of 1% be less damaging than one of 25%? What if, like everyone else, my lifestyle and diet are variable, so that my metabolism doesn’t have a precise value, but rather takes on a range of values day-to-day. Would a metabolic slow down from one day to the next qualify as metabolic damage? If not, why not? In other words, if metabolic damage is defined as a slowdown in metabolism due to diet or lifestyle, then any such slowdown, regardless of how small, constitutes metabolic damage.

I think I’ve made my point clear: without a clear definition, the term metabolic damage is meaningless, and if definitions are sloppy, then we can make them as broad or narrow so that they mean whatever we want them to mean. “But” I hear you say “It’s just the HuffPost, why do you care about it?” Because of the same reason we went through this exercise with our first post on starvation mode: the reach and impact that such publications have. If you were having issues with your cell phone, would you prefer to find a technician that understands what the issues are and solves them, or would you prefer visiting several technicians that aren’t consistent on what the issues are, and, therefore, how to solve them? I know which one I would prefer.

Anyway, this post has been a little long. In next week’s post we’ll try to find or to provide a better definition for metabolic damage, if it even is a real thing.

Have a nice week! If you liked this post and would like to see similar material, please visit the Rebuttals to Fatlogic section of the blog.

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