What If You Don’t Eat (Day by Day)

Estimated read time 19 min read

You have decided to go on a hunger strike. You 
vow not to eat a single thing for days or even   weeks if you can last that long. The worst part 
is that as each day goes by, things will get   worse and worse. By the time you reach the end, 
you will be a husk of the person you once were. The day you stop eating. You take your final bite of a delicious meal. This 
will be the last food you will eat for weeks. The   food is broken down into small pieces in your 
mouth by your teeth. Spit and saliva lubricate   the chewed-up food so that it’s easier for you 
to consume. When you swallow, your throat muscles   expand and contract, pushing the food down into 
your stomach. This process is called peristalsis   and is what allows you to swallow even if you are 
upsidedown. Ironically it is also the process that   enables you to throw up when it’s done in reverse. 
Once the food reaches your stomach, the acids in   it break down your food into its basic components, 
one of the most important of which is glucose.

Glucose is the sugar molecule that your 
body uses to produce energy. It’s arguably   the most important molecule you ingest while 
eating. There are other important nutrients   and vitamins your body gets from your food, 
but the main goal is to break down anything   you put into your mouth into glucose so that 
the mitochondria in your cells can use it to   make energy. If this does not happen, you 
will die. In the days to come, it will be   glucose that your body craves. Everything else 
is inconsequential, as you will soon find out. The food sitting in your stomach is torn 
apart by the acid contained within it. Some   of the molecules diffuse through your stomach 
lining and into your bloodstream. Others are   released into your intestines, where they will 
travel through around 20 feet of tubes.

It’s   here that the majority of the nutrients from 
your food are absorbed into the bloodstream,   and the waste is carried to your bowels to be 
pooped out. Digestion can take hours to complete,   which means once you stop eating, you will not 
feel the effects of starvation for some time. 6 hours after you stop eating. Your body has now broken down all of the food 
from your last meal. Some of the nutrients are   still in your bloodstream but in lower numbers 
than they were while your food was still being   digested. However, the glucose from that 
meal is almost completely used up. This is   when your brain starts sending signals 
to your body that make you feel hungry.   Hunger is your body telling you it needs 
more glucose to make energy. Really it’s   just your brain’s way of tricking you into 
eating more food so it can make more energy.   But since you’ve decided to stop eating 
altogether, these signals go unanswered. It is at this point you might start to become 
irritable or what has become known as hangry. Many   people have a shift in their mood when they get 

Your brain is signaling your stomach to   make hormones such as ghrelin which stimulates the 
feelings of hunger. Ghrelin can also make you feel   anxious, which is one of the reasons you become 
irritable and grouchy when you are hungry. After   several hours of not eating, people will not want 
to be around you. You might have a short temper,   experience mood swings, and heightened emotions, 
all because your body is craving more glucose. 1 day after you stop eating. You wake up after a good night's sleep. Biological 
changes have started to occur within your body.   The surprising thing is you may feel like 
you have more energy now than you did the   day before. While you slept, your body tried 
to conserve energy, and now that you’re awake,   it’s pulling whatever glucose is left out 
of your bloodstream to keep your body going.

It has been a full 24 hours since your last meal, 
which means your body quickly goes from feeling   good to sluggish and miserable. The energy you 
conserved is slowly being sapped from you. You   drink a lot of water to keep yourself hydrated 
because although you can survive for weeks without   food, you would be dead within days if you become 
dehydrated. You have sworn off juices and soda,   so you will not be replenishing your glucose 
supply that way, and although the water   quenches your thirst, it will never provide 
you with the energy you need to stay alive. You carry on and complete your daily activities. 
That night as you look at your bed, it manifests   into a hot, juicy, cheeseburger right before your 
eyes. It’s just your mind playing tricks on you   because you are so hungry, but it seems so real 
at the time. This will become a common occurrence   as you drift in and out of consciousness in the 
days to come. Not eating will begin to mess with   your mind in ways that you can’t possibly imagine, 
and in the end, it might just make you go crazy.

Your hunger strike continues, and you 
go to bed with a grumbling stomach and   a brain that is screaming at you to 
eat something. In the coming days,   your body will take drastic 
measures to keep you alive. 2 days after you stop eating. The glucose in your body is now 
completely gone. You enter ketosis,   which is when the liver produces ketone 
bodies that can be broken down and used   for energy. Although glucose is the most 
desirable molecule for energy production,   it’s not the only one. The brain will use ketone 
bodies as a replacement in dier situations. There   is a lag time between the depletion of glucose 
in the blood and the breaking down of your body’s   energy-storing molecules such as carbohydrates 
and fats. During this transition time,   the ketone bodies are a vital resource your 
brain uses to maintain its basic functions. When the liver is producing ketone bodies, it 
signals the beginning of what will become a   very destructive process for other parts of your 
body. As your internal systems try to keep vital   organs functioning, they will break down anything 
and everything to keep you alive. Once the ketone   bodies are all gone, things start to get even 

Your body has to resort to destroying   itself to generate more energy. And all of this 
destruction will come with some dire consequences. 3 days after you stop eating. Your body is in full-blown starvation mode at this 
point and begins feeding on itself. Whenever you   eat, some of the nutrients you ingest such as 
carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are stored   in your tissue. This is the reason why your 
weight increases if you eat too much food   on a regular basis. However, now that you are 
starving, your body takes these energy stores   and starts to break them down. Carbohydrates and 
fats are the first macronutrients to be used.

The most common location where fats and 
carbohydrates are stored is in the abdominal   region. However, they can be found throughout the 
body. As they are broken down, you lose weight,   and your BMI decreases. Carbohydrates are made up 
of complex sugars. Enzymes in your body break them   down into components that are easier to use. 
Many carbohydrates contain glucose molecules,   which are stripped and quickly 
used up by your starving body. The fatty acids that are broken down contain 
acetyl CoA. This molecule can be used by your   cells to generate energy. Acetyl CoA does 
not contain as much energy as glucose,   but in this situation, your 
body doesn’t care where the   energy is coming from as long as there is 
enough to carry out basic life functions. Your metabolism slows immensely, and you 
feel tired all of the time.

It’s at this   point that your organs begin to shrink. 
This is another step your body takes to   lower the amount of energy required to 
keep things running. At the same time,   your body temperature drops, 
which also helps conserve energy. All of these changes can be dangerous and are 
clear signs that your body is starving. In any   other circumstance, you would eat a huge meal to 
replenish the nutrients and stored energy that is   being lost. But since this is not an option, you 
power through the pain and exhaustion. You find   it hard to move around even for short periods 
of time, and keeping your eyes open is a chore. The most dangerous effect of starvation 
is that your brain is not receiving the   glucose it needs to run smoothly. If 
the brain shuts down, it’s game over;   you die. The brain cannot use fatty acids and 
other energy stores as efficiently as glucose,   so it monopolizes any remaining glucose in your 
system. On average, your brain uses around 120   grams of glucose every day.

This is a significant 
amount of your daily sugar intake, which is why   if you don’t eat enough, your brain will signal 
that you are still hungry. Now that you are not   consuming any new sugars, all the energy your 
brain requires must come from the body itself. Things go haywire as your body is broken 
down to keep you alive. Your blood pressure   drops, and your heart rate slows. These 
are countermeasures to try and reduce   energy needs. From here on out, every 
day that passes without food entering   your body will cause even more serious 
damage to occur.

In the coming days,   your body will do some pretty miraculous things to 
keep you going, but eventually, it will shut down. 5 days after you stop eating. Your body is now in a constant state of feeling 
threatened. You haven’t eaten in almost a week,   so you begin to act more like a cornered 
wild animal than a rational human. Your   brain can’t function properly, so animalistic 
instincts take over, and you are driven only   by the will to survive. This means you might 
become aggressive or aggravated more quickly. Around this time, non-essential organs begin 
to shut down. Your body is trying to conserve   as many resources as possible to keep the 
brain going.

The digestive system is one   of the first organ systems to be shut down 
as it hasn’t been used in days. However,   there are some nasty side effects that 
develop as a result of this occurring. Once the digestive and excretory systems start 
to lose energy and cells due to starvation,   they cause a build-up of excess water in 
your body. As a result, you begin to have   diarrhea.

Even though you may be drinking water 
constantly, this can still have life-threatening   consequences. As the liquid explodes out 
of your bowels, nutrients come out with it.   There is no way for your body to separate the 
vital nutrients from the waste being excreted. With even less nutrients available now, the 
brain becomes more and more strained. Your   brain cells begin to die, and brain matter 
loss escalates. This is especially dangerous   for brains that are still developing. Children 
and young adults affected by starvation could   end up with permanent neurological impairment 
even if they eventually start eating a healthy   diet again. It’s true that since the 
brain is more plastic during development,   it might be able to repair itself, 
but the danger of causing irreparable   damage to the nervous system due 
to starvation is a real concern.

7 days after you stop eating. Your body has used up its energy stores of 
carbohydrates and fats. It’s now starting   to break down your own proteins in a last-ditch 
effort to generate energy. This is when things   get really bad. Once your body starts breaking 
down proteins, death is not too far away. You are   literally tearing apart your own muscles in 
order to keep the brain going. Unfortunately,   this is at the expense of other 
vital organs, including your heart. You could start to develop convulsions 
or disrupted heart rhythms.

You are   also becoming weaker and more toxins 
are building up in your body as your   kidneys and liver begin to shut down. The 
brain tries to conserve as much energy as   possible by reducing the amount of glucose it 
requires, but it still needs to send signals   to the rest of the body to keep things 
functioning. Long-term starvation can   cause you to experience hallucinations 
and fade in and out of consciousness. The process of breaking down proteins into amino 
acids and small amounts of glucose helps the body   initially, but it will only be a matter of 
days until a major system fails and you die. 10 days after you stop eating. You are cold all of the time. You can barely lift 
your head off the ground, let alone stand up. Your   eyes have become super sensitive to light, so you 
have to sit in the shade or in a dark room just to   prevent a throbbing headache from developing. You 
start to cough as you feel yourself getting sick. You have become much more susceptible to 
disease without the necessary resources   or energy to make antibodies.

immune system has become compromised,   and even if you are just lying in 
isolation as you suffer through starvation,   it’s only a matter of time until you 
are attacked by a harmful pathogen. When this happens, your body will not have 
the energy or nutrients it requires to fight   off the infection. Your white blood cell 
count is low. The antibody proteins your   immune system would normally develop cannot be 
made due to a lack of resources. Much of the   protein in your body has already been broken 
down and repurposed as an energy source;   there just isn’t enough left over to generate 
the components needed to defeat the pathogen. If you are lucky, you might receive medical 
interventions before the disease kills you.   But this will do nothing if you don’t get food 
into your system. Chances are that even if you   do catch a cold after close to two weeks without 
eating, it will be starvation that causes your   body to shut down and not the illness.

14 days after you stop eating.

Your teeth begin to decay. Even if you decided 
to eat something, you’re not sure you would be   able to chew and swallow it. You feel so weak that 
you are almost positive that if you fall asleep,   you won’t wake up. Your bones have become brittle 
and seem as if they will snap if you move. All you   can do is lay on your back and stare into the 
darkness. Your body has broken down every store   of energy it can find. Your muscles have been 
torn apart, and your bones have lost density. 21 days after you stop eating. When you shift your head, you find hair all 
over your pillow. Your bones are pressed up   against your skin as there is practically 
no more muscle or fat left on your entire   body. You are nothing more than a 
skeleton with skin wrapped around   it.

Breathing becomes a chore. Your 
heart begins to shut down. Your brain   can no longer generate the energy it needs 
to send signals throughout your body. You   take in your final breath before your nervous 
system becomes completely inactive and you die. However, you are lucky. Someone is about to rescue 
you from dying of starvation. Unfortunately,   this is easier said than done. Your body 
is just a shell of what it once was. If   you are not reintroduced to food properly, you 
will still end up dying. First, doctors must   give you a thorough medical exam to figure out 
the best course of action to save your life. Day 1 of the recovery process. It’s likely you will be given antibiotics to try 
and fight off any infections or harmful bacteria   that have found their way into your body.

your immune system has been all but destroyed,   pathogens are running rampant throughout 
your system. You are hooked to an IV to   make sure you get the fluids you need to say 
hydrated. In the solution are electrolytes,   nutrients, and, most importantly, glucose. The 
life-saving substance flows into your body,   and your brain starts using it to 
reactivate long inert muscles and organs. Day 2 of the recovery process. You might be given soft foods full of nutrients, 
such as peanut butter paste. If you are able to   drink on your own, skim milk could be one of 
the fluids that doctors ask you to consume.   Both are high in vitamins and minerals and will 
help your body begin the recovery process. You   would not be able to eat solid foods as you 
would be too weak.

If you try to eat too much,   too quickly, you will make yourself 
sick and throw it all up. This would   obviously defeat the purpose of 
trying to eat in the first place. Day 3 of the recovery process. You are monitored for any swelling that 
might occur as a result of introducing   food back into your system. The doctors 
also check your heart as people who are   brought back from starvation often develop 
cardiovascular problems as the heart muscles   have become so weak that they struggle to move 
blood around the body.

Even if you are pumped   full of glucose and nutrients, it won’t 
matter if they can’t get to your brain. Your diet will eventually return to 
normal. But during the recovery process,   you will be eating boiled vegetables along 
with other supplements. Your protein intake   will remain relatively low until your 
body becomes stronger. And even though   you would think that you should be dumping 
sugar into your system to generate energy,   this is not the case. Your cells would 
not be able to use up all of the sugar,   which could lead to glucose resistance 
that could develop into Type-2 diabetes. Recovery from starvation is possible with the help 
of medical professionals, but it’s highly likely   your body will sustain long-term damage from 
the ordeal.

Your heart might not fully recover,   and you may need to be put on blood pressure 
medication. Your cognitive functions could be   impaired for the foreseeable future, and there may 
be irreparable damage to organs within your body. The amount of time you would survive without 
eating varies depending on your body type,   weight, age, how active you are, and your 
hydration levels. Some people only survive   a week without eating, while others can 
survive 21 days. This tends to be the   normal time range people can last without food, 
but there are some who can survive much longer. How much longer, you ask? We are 
talking months without anything to eat. Mahatma Gandhi survived for 21 days while only 
sipping water during one of his non-violent   protests for India’s independence. 
There have also been accounts of   people on hunger strikes that have lasted 
up to 40 days.

This may seem incredible,   but it actually has been done a number 
of times. Several studies have recorded   people on hunger strikes exceeding a 
month without food. That being said,   the longest someone has ever gone without solid 
food is so astonishing it will blow your mind. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, 
Angus Barbieri lasted for over a year without any   solid food.

In June of 1965, Angus stopped 
eating any food and only drank tea, coffee,   water, and soda while at Maryfield Hospital in 
Dundee, Scotland. He was also given supplemental   vitamins to help keep his body going. In July of 
1966, 382 days after starting his no-food diet,   Angus had his first real food in over a year. 
He went from weighing 472 pounds to 178 pounds. This was a special circumstance as 
doctors were present to monitor him,   and he was given supplemental vitamins, but 
382 days is an extremely long time to go   without any solid food. In cases where people 
go on hunger strikes for long periods of time,   they are likely drinking water and 
have access to other supplements. Also, life expectancy due to starvation is 
drastically different when it is by choice   rather than in a survival situation. If you found 
yourself trapped on a deserted island with no food   and only water, it’s highly improbable that you 
would make it past two weeks before dying.

This is   because you would already be in survival mode, 
which would dump adrenaline into your system   and cause you to start using your glucose much 
quicker than if you actively chose to stop eating. There is also some evidence to suggest that 
females are able to last longer without food   than males. This has not been definitively 
proven because an experiment to gather these   results would be highly unethical. But 
women tend to have a higher percentage   of stored body fat than men. This means 
that their body has more resources to pull   from before needing to tear apart proteins 
to generate energy. The longer a body can   go before it runs out of carbohydrates and 
fats, the longer the person will survive.

That being said, if you ever do find yourself in 
a situation where you are in danger of starving,   there are a few things you can do to extend your 
life expectancy. In the best of circumstances,   you will need to drink a lot of water and 
make sure you don’t become dehydrated.   Dehydration will kill you much quicker than 
starvation ever could. To conserve energy,   you should move as little as 
possible and try to remain calm. The faster your heart is beating, the more 
energy you are using. The quicker you deplete   your glucose levels, the sooner your body will 
start consuming itself to generate the energy it   needs to keep you alive.

Your body is using the 
least amount of energy while you are sleeping,   so resting is your best course of action to 
extend the amount of time you can go without food. The bottom line is that if you have the choice 
between eating or going on a hunger strike,   it’s best to just keep eating. Starvation can have 
long-term effects that you may never recover from. Now watch “What Happens To Your Body If You Never   Move.” Or check out “What Does it 
Actually Feel Like to be Shot.”.

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