“Feel what it’s like to truly starve, and I guarantee that you’ll forever think twice before wasting food.” — Criss Jami
Food is essential in our lives since it is where we get the critical nutrients we need to help us grow and develop, as well as the energy to allow us to do our daily activities. This is why food is one of the primary supplies often discussed when the subject of prepping comes up. After a shelter is established, clean water is secured, food will be of the utmost importance.
But no matter how much we prepare ourselves and our family, we can’t say the same for everyone else in our neighborhood or community. Food will eventually run out in a grid-down scenario and those who aren’t prepared will likely starve. This will still impact you, even if you are prepared as a starving father or mother will likely do anything to make sure their starving family will have something to eat.
To help you understand better how starvation impacts a person, we’ll discuss in this article what starvation is, the short and long term effects of it, and provide some real case studies of people who have experienced starvation. Having a better knowledge of the effects of starvation will hopefully not only encourage you to prepare more but will also give you insight into how you can expect those around you that have not prepared to handle the situation.
Before we discuss what starvation is, let us first talk about how many calories an average person needs in a day to properly function and what will happen if they go below that level.
The recommended amount of calories in a day depends on a lot of factors, like height, weight, age, lifestyle, and gender. The average male burns more calories than the average female since they tend to weigh more and have more muscles. Similarly, teenagers also burn more calories since their body’s metabolism is faster because they are still growing and developing. It is recommended that the average male adult consume approximately 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day, while the average adult female consumes about 1,200 to 2,400 calories per day. This daily calorie count is recommended for people on a regular day where the usual activity involves going to work, doing household chores, probably some light exercises, to name a few.
During a grid-down scenario, you are likely to expend more energy, especially in the early phases, as you prepare yourself, your family, and your home for the emergency that has just unfolded. In this case, consuming more calories is recommended since you will need them for the activities and tasks that you and your family will do. The number of additional calories you will need will depend on the kind of activity you’ll do. The more intense it is, like cutting trees or moving heavy objects, the more calories you will need.
Now, it isn’t unusual for people to consume fewer calories since it is one of the primary principles of losing weight. Though consuming fewer calories than you burn in a day will result in losing weight in the short-term, doing this for the long-term is not ideal.
Consuming fewer calories and losing weight may not be bad initially in a grid-down scenario. People with lighter bodies need fewer calories to maintain, which means they will consume less food as well. However, continuing to consume fewer calories also means fewer nutrients and vitamins that go into your body and could result in a nutrient deficiency and slower metabolism.
Other effects that are associated with consistently consuming fewer calories are loss of bones and muscle mass. Consuming fewer calories will also have a psychological effect, which is to increase your appetite and cravings, and have an emotional sensory response to food.
Consuming fewer calories is different from starvation since the latter is already a form of suffering. We’ll look deeply at what starvation is and the effects that it will have on your body.
Starvation is defined as extreme suffering or death due to a lack of food. This means that a person who is starving is already suffering or close to death because they’re consuming a minimal amount of food or no food has entered their body for a while. A person can usually last without food for 20 to 60 days, depending on many factors, with the main thing being how hydrated a person is. Generally, though, a person’s body on average will give up within 40 days of no eating.
Though you can survive days without eating, our bodies will normally go hungry within 2-6 hours, depending on the food we eat and how much energy we spent. But not acting on that hunger won’t instantly put you into starvation mode.
A person starts to starve after 72 hours (3 days) of not eating any food. Our brain uses 120 grams of glucose daily and its source of glucose comes from the food we eat. So when we stop eating, our brains will command our bodies to find ways to get energy. Once glucose levels in our bloodstream are depleted, we will start to feel hungry and irritated at which point our bodies will enter into ketosis, where our body’s system will have lower blood sugar levels and elevated ketone levels. In this state, our body starts to burn fat and ketones for fuel, resulting in weight loss.
Ketosis is a natural metabolic state of our body that it activates when the blood sugar levels go down, preventing the brain from accessing glucose for fuel. During the initial phases of this state, we will start to feel fatigued, have headaches, constipation, high cholesterol levels, and bad breath. Though being in a ketosis state is not yet concerning, considering this is the state that the keto diet wants to achieve. It’s a diet I’ve used for some time with significant weight loss. It is after the ketosis stage in which things start to get serious and worrisome.
If starvation continues beyond 72 hours, our bodies will enter what experts call the stage of autophagy, where the body will literally eat itself. After the body has broken down all the fat that it could for fuel, the brain would then instruct it to break down the proteins in muscles. This would result in your muscles deteriorating, making you lose more weight in the form of muscle mass. Your heart, gut, liver, ovaries, and testes will also shrink as a result. By this time, malnutrition will also occur since the body is not getting the proper vitamins and nutrients it needs. There will be losses of electrolytes, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, and secretion of insulin and cortisol will be altered. The loss of calcium will mean that bone loss resulting in weaker bones. Women will also have their menstrual periods affected by starvation.
After this stage, our bodies will begin to adjust to the situation, slowing down your metabolism to conserve as many nutrients as possible. The brain will also use only 30 grams of glucose a day so it won’t strain the body too much. However, this will also result in you feeling weaker and malnourished, and having less energy to perform tasks and activities, making it difficult to function at a basic level in a grid-down scenario. But worst of all, starvation will make you susceptible to diseases. And if you are already sick or weak, starvation will only make your condition worse. But a person’s physical capacity isn’t the only thing that is affected since starvation also affects mental capacity.
When you are starving it will be hard to concentrate and focus, while your cognition will be slowed. Thinking is also restricted and states of anxiety and depression will start to invade a person’s mind. During starvation, it’s not uncommon for people to act lethargic or irritable. One article likens a starving person to a cornered animal since starvation puts you in a state of threat. It radically changes people and the way they may potentially act toward you.
Another short-term effect of starvation that could lead to people becoming more aggressive and even violent is when they are “hangry” or hungry and angry. I mentioned earlier that once glucose is depleted, people become irritable, moody, and angry.
Studies have shown that hunger can trigger certain moods because it also activates many bodily systems involved in emotions. One example is that our bodies release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which are associated with stress when we are hungry. This is why hunger, especially at great intensity, makes us feel tense, irritated, unpleasant, and ready for action. But being hungry alone is not enough to cause people to become aggressive enough to become violent just to satisfy the cravings for food.
Negative experiences or situations are also a major factor in people becoming aggressive and violent when they are starving. When we are hungry, we tend to lose focus, making us more susceptible to being guided by our feelings and emotions. This means that we pay less attention to our sense of reasoning when we are hungry, thus making us more likely to act on it.
This is why people who are hungry tend to become more irritable and aggressive when they experience hunger while they’re in a stressful or negative situation. This also explains how several people in gird-down scenarios, like a natural disaster or war could become violent and are willing to harm or kill people just for food.
This situation is more relevant in the short-term since people who are in the early stages of starvation will still have the energy and strength to act on that aggression compared to someone who is already in the late stages of starvation. This shows how dangerous the first few weeks of a grid-down scenario is since this is the time when people who aren’t prepared are more likely to be aggressive and take action.
Let’s now look at the long-term effects of starvation.
Prolonged starvation will usually result in 2 diseases, Marasmus and Kwashiorkor.
Marasmus is a severe form of protein-energy malnutrition, where a person who is suffering from it is experiencing a severe loss of body fat and muscle. This condition occurs when a person is not consuming enough proteins and calories to sustain the body. This disease is more common in children and those who suffer from it don’t grow as normal children do. Children who also experience this are also likely to suffer from repeated infections that could be fatal like a respiratory infection. Other possible complications that could result because of marasmus are measles, diarrhea, hypothermia, bradycardia, and hypotension. Marasmus is an emergency condition that is life-threatening and will require immediate treatment. Full-recovery from this disease could take months.
Kwashiorkor is another form of severe malnutrition that is caused by the lack of protein in the body. People who are suffering from this disease are abnormally thin and weak all over their bodies except the ankles, feet, and belly. These three body parts usually swell because of fluids. Children who suffer from this disease will have problems growing and developing, and may suffer from stunted growth for the rest of their lives. Other complications associated with the disease include shock, coma, and permanent mental and physical disabilities. This disease is curable, as long as treatment is done early. But there could be permanent side-effects, especially in children. If this disease is left untreated, it could cause organ failure or even death.
It is also important to note that people who experienced prolonged starvation can’t immediately start consuming normal amounts of food to avoid what is called a refeeding syndrome. The syndrome is the body’s adverse reaction if it isn’t slowly eased into eating. The possible negative reaction that our body will have if food isn’t eased into it includes neurological conditions, heart conditions, and swelling of the body’s tissue. When it comes to food, boiled vegetables, and lactose-free foods should be consumed first.
Now that we have an idea of what starvation is and what its effects are, it’s time to look at some cases of starvation to give you an idea of how severe it can be.
The crisis in Syria began in 2011 when citizens protested for a democratic government. But things turned for the worse, with reports of human rights violations and an ongoing food crisis.
The country is being torn by a civil war making it harder for millions of Syrians to gain access to food. As the fighting continues, citizens have a hard time purchasing even the basic food they can eat to survive due to soaring prices. Even aid and assistance coming from the international community is not reaching the people due to blockades.
As a result, one in three Syrians is not able to meet their basic food needs, resulting in starvation. As we already discussed earlier, starvation is detrimental since it causes negative changes as well as health risks. Children and babies, in particular, are at an extreme risk since they need the proper nutrients and vitamins in order to grow and develop properly.
Even those who were fortunate enough to flee Syria and go to neighboring countries were not spared from food shortages. A video in 2015 showed how refugees staying at the Röszke camp in Hungary were scrambling for food being thrown to them by Hungarian police.
This scenario shows how a lack of food can make people aggressive when there’s a supply of food. It also shows the importance of preparing, even if you are bugging out and going to an evacuation center. You never what the conditions will be in the evacuation center. Having your own ready supply will ensure that you won’t have to scramble and fight with others for you and your family’s food.
Venezuela is another country where the majority of its citizens are suffering from malnourishment and starvation. Unlike Syria, Venezuela’s crisis is more economical, as the country’s economy, which is reliant on oil, experienced a massive collapse when oil prices plunged, coupled with other factors like political issues and sanctions from the international community. One of its effects was hyperinflation that made its currency near worthless, making people rely mostly on bartering to exchange goods and services.
But in some towns, especially the ones outside the country’s capital, Caracas, are in bad shape since people living there rely on a food bag coming from the government every 2 or 3 months. Residents even said that the bags are sometimes incomplete, containing only rice and flour. Other than the bags, citizens rely on the fruit they can scavenge in local trees.
Some citizens who have jobs are able to afford a kilogram of meat, rice, and spaghetti. But that will only be good for a couple of days at most and after that, they have to scramble to find ways to secure food.
The lack of proper food or no food at all has resulted in a majority of the population suffering from malnutrition. Citizens are showing bony bodies and kids have distended bellies and stunted growth.
There are also towns where the residents have resorted to barricading roads so they can steal from travelers. Desperate times have led to people acting in desperate manners.
Food is one of the most important commodities in a grid-down scenario since it is where we will get our energy, nutrients, and vitamins, and will keep us going during these stressful and dangerous times.
People who aren’t prepared will likely starve once they can’t find food anywhere. Some might even act out their hunger in a violent manner, as they desperately look for food for themselves and their hungry families. This is why it is important we have a strategy to deal with this situation. It’s also important we make sure ourselves that we have enough food or at least have a concrete plan to get food during this scenario.
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As always, keep safe out there.