The question of survival is one of true necessities. Things like water, shelter, security, air, and of course food.
Preppers like to focus disproportionally on stockpiling and obtaining enough food for a long-term survival situation, but we sometimes forget that it is possible to live for quite a while without it.
This is possible thanks to the body’s store of fat and other energy reserves.
When you think about it that way, it begs the question of whether or not more “onboard” fat means a longer survival time without food.
Just how long can an overweight person live without food?
An overweight person will still only live about 2 months, perhaps 3, without any food. Fat is a good source of energy, but does not supply all required nutrients for continued life under starvation conditions.
Somewhat counterintuitively, an overweight person and a person with a normal, healthy weight will both live about the same amount of time if forced to go without food at all.
But the mechanisms and effects of starvation are pretty complicated, and it pays to know about it so you can better manage it if you ever find yourself forced into a survival scenario with no food at all.
Keep reading and we will tell you more…
Why Wouldn’t You Have Food in a Survival Situation?
To some preppers, the notion that you would not have food in a survival scenario is almost ridiculous.
After all, most of us spend a considerable amount of time and money stockpiling food, we carry rations with us, and learn all about wild-sourced edibles in the form of both plants and animals. It is inconceivable that we won’t have any food!
Except that it really isn’t: disasters strike out of the blue, and you may find yourself in a situation where food is not available for any number of reasons.
You might be trapped in an environment where there simply is no worthwhile, safe food (such as the woods), or be injured or truly immobilized where you cannot find food.
Maybe the rigors of a long-term survival scenario have seen the masses of humanity just deplete every, single thing there is to eat from a region.
Whatever the case, you’ll start to starve.
Stages of Starvation
No matter what your weight is, our bodies will go through the same stages of starvation when we don’t get enough food.
The first stage lasts about a week and sees the body burning energy reserves in the form of glycogen found in muscles and liver.
This only happens if you’re not taking any carbohydrates from other sources. After that, it turns to fat for energy as well as muscle protein, leading to extreme fatigue and weakness.
This effect is slightly more pronounced in overweight people because they have access to more stores of fat than thinner people do, but it doesn’t last any longer.
After several weeks of acute starvation conditions, the body starts breaking down other tissues in a desperate bid to maintain the functionality of the most critical organs. Not too long after that, you will die.
Effects of Starvation
Starvation has several noticeable stages, but the physical and mental symptoms of starvation also follow a progression.
The symptoms of starvation vary depending on the length of time that a person has gone without food and how much of a net deficit they are experiencing in regard to calories and nutrients.
In the short-term, they may include dizziness, weakness, fatigue, irritability, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, and trouble concentrating or forming complex thoughts.
Long-term effects can include anemia, hair loss, profound weight loss, muscle wasting, swollen feet and limbs, skin discoloration, and open sores on the skin.
In extreme cases of starvation, organs will shut down and eventually lead to death.
As you can see, things will get steadily worse and worse for the body, and that will make your survival task exponentially more difficult.
Food is Fuel for Survival Tasks
The bottom line is that you must have abundant energy in order to tackle all of the many, many things you must do in order to survive, whether you are bugging in or bugging out.
Chores and tasks like foraging, scavenging, shelter-building, fire-starting, and more are all energy intensive.
You’ll just be unable to do them if you don’t have enough food in your system to power your body and mind.
It is funny to think of it that way: food is almost a tax you must pay in order to do the things you need to do to survive in order to keep getting more food.
But back on track! So, starvation is nothing more than a total or severe caloric and nutritional deficit.
But to better understand the mechanisms of starvation you need to understand what food really supplies to our bodies.
Food supplies our bodies with two vital resources on the macro level: energy, in the form of calories, and nutrients.
Energy is used to carry out our daily bodily processes and nutrients are needed to keep our body healthy by providing all the compounds it needs to repair itself, create new tissue and cells, perform various operations, and so forth.
To put it simply: Without enough of either you will starve, but most people think of starvation as a lack of calories.
Your Body Can Burn Fat for Fuel When in a Calorie Deficit
The good news is that our bodies have reserve sources of energy that we carry around with us.
One of the most immediately available is glycogen, a form of stored glucose that is found in our livers and muscles. Glycogen provides us with short-term energy, but it is depleted pretty quickly.
After that, our body will switch to the “long haul” emergency energy source: fat.
The body will begin to burn fat for fuel to supply the calories needed for basic function, but it does not supply all of the needed nutrients for full operation. Those have to come from somewhere else.
So, anytime you aren’t eating enough to supply the minimum number of calories your body will start burning up stored glycogen to maintain energy levels and then switch to fat.
Why Can’t You Live Off Only Fat During Starvation?
I just mentioned that the body cannot get everything it needs in a starvation state from fat reserves alone. It will require protein, vitamins, minerals, and more to operate.
So where does it get them in a starvation situation? Easy! It will get them by breaking down muscle and other tissues along with fat.
That’s right: your body will eat itself for energy, literally breaking down your own muscle and organs to supply the needed nutrients.
This is why starvation results in devastating and rapid weight loss, and it is never good past just a few days.
But there is only so much your body has to give, literally, and the result of prolonged starvation is always the same: death.
How Long Can an Average Person Live with No Food at All?
A typical person in a reasonably good state of health will survive about 2 to 3 months (8 to 12 weeks) without any food whatsoever.
The variability is due to a number of factors. Generally speaking, people who are very young, very old and out of shape or those who have pre-existing conditions will not withstand starvation as long before dying.
In any case, it is never a good idea to put your body through such severe deprivation no matter how fit you are.
How Long Can an Overweight Person Live with No Food at All?
About the same as a normal person, 2 to 3 months (8-12 weeks).
Yes, even though they should seemingly have a big advantage in this one, specific survival scenario, their excess body fat does not supply everything a body needs to combat starvation, like protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Basically, the surplus fat is only part of the solution: it cannot cover for a deficit of the other (organ or muscle tissue) when the body is desperately taking resources from everywhere it can.
This means you can expect an overweight person to perish from starvation about the same time as a normal or fit person.
How Long Can You Live on Stored Fat Alone?
It is a bit of a moot point: once your body starts to cannibalize its organs and muscles for energy and nutrition, you won’t be around for too long anyway.
Is it Better to Have More Muscles or Fat to Combat Starvation?
You need both! As I have said several times already, your body will start to consume both fat and muscle tissue for nutrition when it is forced into starvation mode.
So having a healthy amount of both will at least give you more “resources” to draw upon until you croak.
But make no mistake, the whole experience will be grueling, and in the case of pronounced starvation will likely affect you for the rest of your life, even if you manage to survive.
So, don’t take your body’s ability to make use of stored fat lightly! You can go without food for quite a while before dying if overweight, but it will still be at a terrible cost.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.