What if you stopped eating?

Food is a favourite pastime for many, which is convenient because we need it to live. But what would happen to you and your body if you were to completely stop eating food, right now? In the first 6 hours, all is fairly normal. Your body begins to break down glycogen - which stores energy in your body - into glucose, which your cells use as fuel. Around 25% of energy generated this way is used for your brain alone, while the rest goes to muscle tissues and red blood cells. But after about 6 hours this method of energy production halts as the glycogen stores deplete, which can lead to the notorious ‘hangry’ or hungry and angry feeling that many of us know too well. At this point [6-72 hours] your body enters a state called ketosis as it begins to fast or starve. Because there is very little glucose in your blood, your body must begin to break down fat for energy. This fat is in turn broken down into fatty acids. However, your brain cannot use long chain fatty acids which...is a problem! Because there is no more glucose and the fats are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier, your brain changes modes and begins to use ketone bodies for energy, which are short-chain derivatives of fatty acids. This works for the time being, but ultimately only 75% of the brain's energy requirements can come from ketones - it still needs glucose! Which means your cognitive functioning becomes impaired. Now, it’s important to mention that you don’t have to be starving to be in ketosis. Many people enter this phase if they are on a low-carb diet, or professional athletes who use all their carbs for an extended period of time - like marathon runners - will be in this state as well. However, beyond 72 hours, not only will your mood and energy suffer, but your brain will start to break down your body’s own protein. The proteins release amino acids which can be converted into glucose - which is great news for your brain, but bad news for your body. Basically, you’re body is cannibalizing itself by destroying your muscle mass. In women, undernutrition often shuts down the menstrual cycle as the body tries to reduce energy expenditure. Bone density diminishes, and both men and women may experience loss of libido. Within a few weeks, the body’s immune system will be so weakened without any vitamins or minerals, that many will die from disease. Otherwise, it will continue to use up all energy sources until there is no glucose, fat, tissue, or muscle mass left. One of the more common causes of death is cardiac arrhythmia or heart attack, due to the tissue degradation in the heart, diaphragm and body. This is fairly common in those suffering from anorexia. Of course, the body experiences severe organ failure all around. Starvation can lead to death in as short as three weeks, or up to 70 days as documented during the Irish Hunger Strikes in 1981. Though the duration of survival is greatly influenced by how hydrated you are and the amount of fat reserves your body has. Which in some ways is incredible - that the body can sustain for so long with no food. And yet, approximately 795 million people around the world have to deal with this reality. The good news is that the 7 richest countries have pledged to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030 - but we need to hold them accountable. We’re working with an organization called Global Citizen to do just that, and here’s a really easy way you can help too!

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