The key difference between fasting and starving is that fasting is purposely refraining from eating (sometimes drinking as well), while starving is a severe deficiency in energy and calorie intake below the level necessary to maintain a living being’s life.
Fasting refers to consuming no food for less than 48 hours or low-calorie consumption for less than two weeks, while starving refers to consuming no food for several days or low-calorie consumption for more than two weeks. While fasting can be beneficial for the body, starving is harmful to health.
What is Fasting
Fasting is purposefully refraining from eating and sometimes drinking. We fast for various reasons. Sometimes, we have to observe a fasting period for medical procedures. As a part of a medical procedure such as surgeries or check-ups or even prior to that, we have to fast. In addition, situations that require general anaesthesia to prevent pulmonary aspiration of gastric content also require fasting.
Some religious observances also require fasting. Some examples include:
- Nativity, Lent, Assumption in Christianity- 180-200 days annually
- Ramadan by Muslims – during daytime for 30 days
- Yom Kippur – a day-long fast
Fasting for Weight Loss
There are different types of fasting methods in this category which include alternate day fasting, time-restricted eating, modified fasting, water-only fasts, juice fasts, and calorie restriction.
- Alternate day fasting
People fast every other day, and on the days in between, they consume fewer calories.
- Time-restricted eating
This limits the time during which a person can eat during the day. Some eat from 8-12 hour daytime and fast the remaining 12-16 hours while some follow 24 hours fast.
- Modified fasts
This involves eating 20-25 percent of calories. This is also known as 5:2 fast. This method involves fasting two days per week and following the normal eating pattern on the other five days.
- Water-only fasts
During the 1960s and 1970s, this method was famous as a way to prevent obesity. This method span up to 24-72 hours.
- Juice fasts
This method involves following a diet that consists of fruit and vegetable juices for 3 to 10 days. This method is popular for detoxifying and weight loss.
- Calorie restriction
In this method, a person limits his/her calorie intake for a selected period. The diet can contain 800-1200 calories per day, yet it depends on one’s weight and gender.
Though fasting has benefits like weight loss, mental clarity, promote long life, and certain health benefits, it can also be harmful, especially for people below 25, pregnant or breastfeeding women, diabetic and seizure patients, and hard-working people. Therefore, it should be done under medical advice.
What is Starving
Starving is a severe deficiency in energy and calorie intake below the level necessary to maintain a living being’s life. It is considered an extreme form of malnutrition. This can cause organ damage followed by death. Starvation can also be a condition in which the energy intake is inequal to energy expenditure. There are various stages in this situation.
The body maintains blood sugar levels by producing glycogen for the first few hours. Next, the body starts to break down proteins and fats.
The body uses stored fat and energy. This can make the person survive for a week by turning the fats into ketones.
The stored fat in the body is gone by this time. Then it begins to get stored proteins. It breaks down muscle tissues in the process, and when this happens, the cells stop functioning properly. The person might die as a result of infection or tissue breakdown. During this stage, the person cannot eat properly though he/she may feel hungry. The symptoms of this stage are hair loss, bloated belly, swelling, and skin flaking.
Symptoms of starvation include fatigue, problems in mood and concentration, shallow breath, fast heart rate, diarrhoea, loosening skin, weakened immune system, sunken eyes, and irregular periods for women.
What is the Difference Between Fasting and Starving?
The key difference between fasting and starving is that fasting is purposely refraining from eating, while starving is the deficiency in nutrition that is necessary for the proper functioning of the body. Moreover, having no food for less than 48 hours is considered as fasting, and having no food for more than 48 hours is starving. While fasting can be beneficial for the body, starving is harmful for health.
The below infographic presents the differences between fasting and starving in tabular form.
Summary – Fasting vs Starving
Fasting is purposefully avoiding eating for various purposes, and starving is the deficiency in the nutrition intake that is necessary to maintain an organism’s body. Fasting should be done under medical guidance since it can be otherwise harmful. Starving is the extreme form of malnutrition, and it can cause organ failure and then death. Thus, this is the key difference between fasting and starving.
1. Mann, Denise. “What Is Fasting? 9 Things Medical Experts Need You to Know.” The Healthy.
2. “Starvation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation.
1. “Diet-plate-food-fork-knife-eating-4165490” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “A malnourished child in an MSF treatment tent in Dolo Ado” By DFID – UK Department for International Development – Flickr: A malnourished child in an MSF treatment tent in Dolo Ado (CC BY 2.0) via Commons Wikimedia