Food is the fuel of our body, it takes energy from it and hydration from water. If a person is terminally ill and can’t consume food in any way that he or she can survive from days to weeks, depending upon the fat resources, energy and overall health status.
To satisfy the curiosity that how long can a person live without food, scientists have to take accidental case studies into consideration, for example, studying those who got trapped somewhere or an individual who desperately tried to lose weight or those who are on a hunger strike. As it is unethical to keep the human subjects hungry for research purposes.
Based on many such study results, scientists have found out that an average built healthy person can survive from 8 to 21 days without food and can survive for about two months if water is available and can survive way more than that if electrolyte water is available.
In this article, we have covered:
- How many Days will You Last without Food?
- Risks for Not Eating Food
- What Will Happen If You won’t Eat Anything
This big question still remains without an exact answer as it depends upon many aspects of the person such as age, gender, weight, overall health & environmental conditions. For example, a child in a forest on a hot summer day won’t survive for about two days without water and food but an adult can survive the same condition for about a week or so.
Females are also known to survive longer without food than men which can be due to their genetic makeup or due to the fat deposition in many areas of the body such as breast and hip areas.
Also, an obese person can survive longer than an average-built person as the body will consume fat first before consuming its own muscle mass. So an obese person will have more fat to get burnt before the body switches to proteins than an average-built person.
As far as weight is concerned, a BMI of less than 13 for men and less than 11 for women can be fatal and the person won’t survive beyond that.
Those who are terminally ill can survive for about 10 to 14 days without food and water before ultimately dying.
If you are obese and trying to lose weight then quitting food is not a safe way to do that. Starvation almost always hampers some of body’s functioning and can cause a liver disorder or heart problem.
Based on a single case study, if an obese person stays on a liquid diet with multivitamins and electrolyte administration then he/she can survive for about more than 50 days.
Not eating food becomes difficult after 24 hours or so and the body starts showing various warning signs after 72 hours. Although these signs can appear sooner or later in a person based on their resilience, health conditions, gender and weight.
- Body functions start hampering like urination decreases and constipation occurs as the body tries to preserve water and energy.
- Dizziness, weakness, fatigue
- Electrolyte Imbalance and mineral deficiency
- Low blood pressure, shortness of breath and low pulse rate can lead to fainting and ultimately heart troubles
- Stress and anxiety
- Thyroid disorders
- Anaemia occurs
- Confusion and inability to concentrate
- Low body temperature
- Hair thinning, dry skin & hair loss
- Irregularity of menstrual periods due to endocrine dysfunction
- Dehydration and kidney failure if no water is being taken
- Organ Failure or body shutdown
- Death from Starvation
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The body starts going into different steps of survival mode as the days of starvation progress. In the last stage, it starts eating its own protein from the muscles and shuts down completely. This process can be very difficult for terminally ill patients.
After 8 to 12 Hours
In the initial hours, all the functions run normally in the body as it has the reserved fuel for the day. After about 12 hours almost all the free sugar roaming around in the blood has been consumed by the body for the functioning of organs.
12 hours to 24 hours
After 12 to 16 hours, the body’s functioning changes as it tries to adjust to the new scenario of not getting any new energy fuel. It sends a message to the liver to make glucose. The liver does that by consuming any available source such as free sugar in the blood, protein, waste products, fat etc.
24 hours to 72 hours
The body uses protein sources (amino acids) for energy primarily for the first 24 to 72 hours of starvation. It uses readily available amino acids in the body and not the muscle mass.
After 72 hours or three days
In this phase, the body now starts using fat and a state of ketosis is achieved. Noticeable weight loss occurs because of fat consumption by the body for energy.
After 7 to 14 Days
After the fat stores are depleted, the body starts using proteins again, these proteins are then taken from muscles, including the heart muscles.
This is a dangerous phase as it can cause severe changes in the body and the patient is at a greater risk of heart attack and death. After losing 10% of body weight, the situation starts worsening for the person undergoing starvation thereby leading to death.
To the terminally ill patients or the ICU patients who are unable to eat anything, hypotonic solutions are advised than plain water or IV fluids. As hypotonic solutions get absorbed better and provide rehydration to the body faster. You can also make an electrolyte drink hypotonic by adding some distilled water to it if you are trying to lose weight with intermittent fasting or any such diet.
Also, those on a clear liquid diet can also opt for a good electrolyte drink to avoid dehydration and to treat nausea, vomiting and diarrhea as well.
However, if you are trying to lose weight faster then don’t go for starvation but switch to intermittent fasting as it doesn’t deprive the body and leads to faster weight loss as well. As the body goes into autophagy after 12 hours, the intermittent fasting regime can help you lose weight faster. You can take green tea and electrolyte drinks during the fasting period.
On average, a person can live for a week without food and water and more than a month if plenty of water is available.