Opposite of starvation

Which of these represent the opposite of starvation? Sim-Magnus or the imaginary sim-Tuva? The answer may surprise you.

I first wanted to call this entry “anti-starvation”, but that sounds like a humanitarian organization.

I have a few times mentioned my own brush with starvation in 2005. It was certainly not in the developing country manner, but rather a medical situation that led me to steadily lose weight until my body started to adapt to the lack of food in several ways. The most obvious was perhaps the way it influenced my mind, with a kind of chronic hunger, which continued even after eating. There were other changes as well, and one of them may ironically have resulted in its opposite, which is the topic of today.

The opposite of starvation is probably the complex state of health often called “metabolic syndrome”. Actually the professional usage of this phrase may be a bit more precise. But as I am now in a state of pre-diabetes, a still mostly harmless form of the syndrome, I cannot help but notice the parallels.

When starving, my brain stem was hungry even when my stomach was full. I wanted to just keep eating, even though reason convinced me that I would just get sick. Now, it is the other way around: My stomach is bullying me to eat by the unpleasant gnawing feeling, but my brain stem would rather that I didn’t. I feel fed even when I wake up in the morning.  And rightly so.


Yesterday a couple hours after lunch I took a fairly long walk that burned 800 calories.  OK, I would probably have burned 100 of them even if I stayed at home, but anyway. I didn’t eat anything when I came home, because I had a doctor appointment next day and was told to fast the night before. So I went to bed, and woke up the next morning feeling completely restored. I could have taken another walk till my legs grew stiff, and probably another and another if I rested a while in between. I was not hungry at all, until my stomach began gnawing.  And my brain stem was right, while my stomach was wrong: My fasting blood sugar was 6.1 mmol. Not sure what that is in American measures, but the recommended upper limit is 6 mmol, and in some publications 5.8. So despite being physically active, I am still pre-diabetic. In fact, it seems that my body has decided 6.1 is the new standard (it was the same last time too), which it returns to after exercise.

This is in theory good news.  Not having to eat is money saved, right? Unfortunately the stomach disagrees. I am still experimenting to find ways to keep it from pestering me. I guess the best I can do is to just keep stopping before I am full, and hope that it will gradually learn to expect smaller and smaller portions.

Feeling over-fed by a small meal is certainly less unplesant than feeling hungry after a big one, so I can see why people just keep forging ahead until they get diabetes, hypertension and atherosclerosis. After all, we are programmed by our instincts to avoid starvation if possible. The safeguards on the opposite side are not nearly as formidable. But they are there, if you pay attention. And if you have tried both, you may recognize the opposite of starvation simply by listening to your own body, even before you hear it from your doctor.


I mentioned that the near-starvation may have somehow triggered its opposite. The body is known to do unusual things when facing unusual situations. And this is unusual indeed: Before the illness began at Easter 2005, I used to weigh close to 95 kg. (One kg is roughly 2 pounds, but not exactly.) This seemed to be a practical upper limit, as I stayed close to it for a decade or more perhaps. Occasionally I would dip down to 93, but usually I was in the 94-95 interval.

Now the limit seems to be at 88. That is good, right? No, actually, it is not that simple. When I was 95, the fat was distributed differently. I had a larger paunch (gut bulge), true, but I also had permanent fat deposits on my backside and thighs. Not enough to compete with your average housewife, of course, but plenty for a man and pretty obvious when looking back at some of the pictures from around the turn of the century. This kind of fat is harmless, possibly even healthy. It is only released in case of starvation.

And of course that was what happened, even if it went no further than that. No matchstick arms and protruding ribs and all that. But my body fat was gone. And when it returned, it did not return to where it had been. Now it is almost completely concentrated around my kidneys and thereabout. This type of fat, which is more common in men than in women, can be released very quickly to the bloodstream. It does not even take hunger, just stress.  Get angry or afraid, and delicious fat pours into the blood, ready to fuel your battle.

I consider this a poor exchange for my built-in sitting pillow. But this is the kind of thing that could happen if you are successful with your dieting. Luckily, most people give up after losing about 5% of their body mass in fat, so the effect on their body is quite limited. I will probably be one of them if I decide to lose weight at all. The doctor recommends it, although he is satisfied as long as I don’t gain weight, and stay physically active.  The irony is that I am not visibly “fat” at all. I don’t have the other symptoms of metabolic syndrome either, but if I had not convinced my body that it was starving, I might have been fatter and still healthier.


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