How Long Can You Live Without Food: A Complete Timeline
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:
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 the 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 more than 50 days.
Factors that Affect How Long You Can Go Without Food
What factors determine how long can you go without food are context-specific or how to get electrolytes while fasting. The elements of age, sex, body type, amount of activity, fitness, health, and general fitness all play a role.
Age is a potential factor when considering how long can you go without food but with water. Generally speaking, younger individuals have more endurance than older people when going without food for extended periods. That’s because, on average, younger people have more drive and persistence than their senior counterparts.
In comparison to men, women can often go longer without eating. One reason is that women, who typically have a higher body fat percentage than men, can better store energy and sustain themselves for longer between meals because of their greater fat mass.
The reason is that larger individuals tend to have more body fat reserves, while smaller individuals tend to have lower fat levels. And since they have more fat to draw from, those who are overweight or obese may find it easier to skip meals.
If a person is already in bad condition, it might be much more challenging for their body to survive without food. A lack of essential vitamins makes it harder for the body to function while fasting. Due to poor overall health, the digestive system may be impaired, making it harder for the body to get the nutrients from the food it consumes.
Examples of Extreme Cases of Food Deprivation
Extreme food insecurity may take the form of famine. A famine is a period of severe food scarcity that natural disasters like drought or human-caused disasters like conflict may cause. Mass starvation and deaths might happen from a catastrophic famine. Because of hunger, millions of people have died throughout history.
Malnutrition is another sign of a severely limited diet. Malnutrition occurs when the body lacks the nutrients necessary for normal growth and development. Malnutrition has been linked to various serious health issues, including a lowered ability to fight off disease and an increased chance of developing it. Malnutrition may have several causes, including poverty, a lack of access to nutritious meals, and nutritional imbalances
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
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.
Signs of Malnutrition
Some of the symptoms and indicators of malnutrition and how long can you go without food and water:
- You naturally lose weight when you don’t feel like eating or drinking.
- weariness and irritability
- mental and physical impairments such as difficulty concentrating, feeling chilly and hopeless, losing weight, being sick more often, and taking longer to recover.
Physical and Mental Signs of Malnutrition
Malnutrition is a serious ailment that may give you an idea of how long can you go without eating food that is nourished. Tiredness, lowered immunity, delayed growth, and weight loss are some of malnutrition’s most common physical manifestations. Symptoms of malnutrition in children include stunted growth because their bodies are not getting enough of the nutrients they require.
Detection and Treatment of Malnutrition
Physical examination, diet history, and health circumstances are frequently sufficient for diagnosing protein-energy under or overnutrition. Medical personnel may assess your body mass index or a child’s arm circumference to ascertain the gravity of the problem. They will try to get a blood sample to screen for nutritional deficiencies.
The Body’s Response to Food Deprivation
The human body can adjust to a wide variety of conditions. Hunger is a very challenging circumstance it might face. The body exhibits various reactions, some of which may be rather intense.
Increased hunger is how long can you go without food before being hospitalized. The body’s metabolism slows to save its limited fuel supply, and its appetite rises dramatically. Then, fatigue and inattention set in when energy levels decline. When the body’s reserves are depleted, it eats away at muscular tissue for fuel. This might harm strength and physical performance.
Stages of Food Deprivation and their Effects on the Body
No matter what causes a famine, there are always the same three phases. The first two steps continue to operate even during short periods of dieting or fasting. Extreme hunger is only possible in the latter stage, which might also end in death.
- First Symptom of Hunger
During the first stage of fasting, the body synthesizes glucose from proteins, glycogen, and lipids to keep blood glucose levels stable.
To begin, glycogen is broken down into glucose. Yet, a human liver only stores enough glucose for a few hours. Once it reaches that level, fat, and protein degradation maintains a steady blood glucose level.
- Cravings After the First Stage of Hunger
Fats are the predominant fuel source during the second phase, which might last several weeks.
The liver can produce energy-rich ketone bodies from fatty acids.
The depletion of fat reserves and the subsequent reliance on proteins as the primary energy source characterize the third stage of hunger. The muscles, the body’s primary source of protein, are quickly depleted. Proteins essential for cellular function begin to degrade after this point.
Physiological Mechanisms that allow the Body to Survive Without Food
The human body can perform incredible feats of endurance, including going for extended periods without food. This is because various physiological processes are triggered when the body lacks the nutrition it needs. This includes the body’s ability to utilize its fat stores as energy. As fat is burned so slowly, it may be a source of fuel for weeks or months, depending on the person’s size and activity routine.
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.