How Long Can You Live Without Food?

How Long?


Water is essential to life and nutritional health. Humans can live for several weeks without food, but we can survive only a few days without water. Water makes up a large percentage of the body, in muscles, fat cells, blood and even bones.

We can go days or sometimes weeks without food because of adjustments to our metabolism and energy consumption.

How Long Can You Live Without Food?

(facts checked)We all know what it’s like to be hungry. Maybe even really, really hungry. Your stomach growls, you might get a little light-headed, your body is doing everything it can to tell you that it’s time to drop whatever you are doing and grab a snack. It’s a minor inconvenience that we all must live with… unless you’re a robot, OR a human with a cybernetic stomach that runs on cold fusion, but that’s a subject for another episode. If you’re too lazy to cook, maybe you pop a frozen dinner in the microwave or resort to a cup of ramen noodles. 

Whatever your case may be, your munching quickly satisfies your demanding stomach and you can move on with your day. But what if you had to endure that sensation of hunger for a longer period of time?What is it like to experience starvation? And how long can you go without eating? Now, just to be clear, we wouldn’t recommend that you go home after watching this episode and attempt to stop eating. That wouldn’t be a very good idea. If you do decide that you want to challenge yourself, please consult your doctor before doing so. After all, we wouldn’t want to see one of our beloved fans starve! Not that we’re insulting your intelligence, we just felt the need to add a disclosure in here… know, just so we don’t get in trouble for being a bad influence on young minds. Any who… As you may already know, the human body cant lasts more than a few days without water. 

So, just to add a bit of clarification, the cases we’ll explore don’t involve going without that much-needed H2O. We’re talking solely about food. Because it is unethical to study starvation in a laboratory for obvious reasons, there’s a current lack of scientific research about it. Thus, most studies revolving around the subject to examine occurrences of starvation in the real-world including instances of religious fasts and hunger strikes. Since these individuals are already choosing not to eat by choice, scientists can ethically look into and monitor the effects of these particular cases. We can also look into it by examining past instances of starvation. You are probably familiar with the historically famous Mahatma Gandhi, the man who lived in India during the late 1800s and early 1900s, inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. He was a great inspirational figure and some of his quotes live on today; sayings like “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” where there is love there is life,” and many more. You may also know that he survived 21 days of complete starvation.

 How did he do it? What was his secret? That’s what we endeavored to find out. Gandhi took on a total of about 17 fasts during India’s freedom movement for independence from British rule. He often used hunger strikes as a tool to promote his philosophy of non-violence. It was his way of performing a peaceful protest. His first fast took place in 1913 from November 10th to the 16th. In 1914, his next fast expanded to 14 days. His third, successful fast lasted 3 days in 1918 and resulted in Ahmedabad mill owners rushing to the negotiating table to seal a settlement with the striking workers that Gandhi had led. He continued to take on fasts of different lengths in 1919,1921 and 1922. Thus, in 1924, by the time of his famous,21-day-long fast, he’d already had a lot of practice with self-control and restraint from eating. He, of course, endured many more fasts after this, but 21 days was the longest his fasts ever lasted. The Mahatma is considered the champion in the department of fasting and hunger striking. 

Many people have made attempts to follow the master and try it for themselves. They say it takes a ton of willpower and the temptation to eat can be highly, highly overwhelming! Starvation itself is not pleasant. You know that awful feeling you experience when you haven’t eaten all day? Imagine that feeling but way more intense! The severe deficiency in calorie intake combined with the most extreme conditions of malnutrition imaginable is enough to drive you mad! In this state of mind, it can be more than a little challenging to resist foods. An almost animalistic mindset consumes you. You become ravenous, losing all sense of your humanity as your survival instincts take over. Suddenly, eating is no longer a choice, it is a must! People who have undergone starvation in extreme circumstances have reverted to just about anything to relieve their hunger. Consider the story of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes Mountains. A team of Rugby players trapped in snow and freezing cold temperatures experienced extreme starvation to the point where they were forced to turn to cannibalism. The cold caused them to burn calories more quickly and they were desperate. Thus, they ate the dead bodies of human casualties from the crash. We made an episode about this disaster not too long ago so, as a side note, you should check it out! There is another story from an episode of“I Shouldn’t be Alive” where two young, teenage boys named Josh and Troy found themselves stranded in the Atlantic Ocean after taking a fishing boat out from the coast of SouthCarolina.

 They were lost at sea for 6 days, suffering from extreme starvation. This hunger caused one of the boys to snack on a poisonous jellyfish and even consider eating his own finger. The awful feeling of deprivation was enough to make both boys wish for death. One even attempted to drown himself to ease his suffering but to no avail. This may seem like nothing though compared to the 76-day-man that is discussed in another episode. There is a reason the temptation to eat is so powerful. After all, prolonged starvation can cause organ damage and death. In patients with anorexia nervosa, up to 20%die from organ failure or myocardial infarction. This tends to happen when body weight falls between 60 to 80 pounds. Thus, the instinctual mechanism of action urging us to eat is meant and designed by nature to keep us alive. When you fast for a long time, you’re basically fighting against your biological drive. Experts tend to recommend that you eat every three to four hours or so for optimal health, but starvation doesn’t happen immediately, so skipping a meal now and then isn’t a big deal. Your body is a well-oiled machine that doesn’t want to go into starvation mode and will usually do whatever it takes to preserve energy to resist going into that physical state. Many people claim that they feel like they go into starvation mode after about a day of not eating, but this isn’t the case. It doesn’t happen as quickly as you might think. Registered dietitian, Dr. Dubost, from Pennsylvania told that it is actually very difficult to go into “complete clinical starvation mode.

” There’s also a difference between the popular culture perception of “starvation mode” and actually being physically starving. The threshold of time to enter the realm of starvation depends on the individual but, overall, she says that it certainly takes longer than going a day without food. Once you are in that zone where you are really starving, there are said to be three phases that you go through before you die – morbid, we know. Each phase is more unpleasant than the last. In the first phase, blood glucose levels are maintained through the production of glucose from proteins, glycogen, and fats. There is only enough glycogen stored in a person’s liver to last a few hours. After this, blood glucose levels are maintained from breaking down fats and proteins. The longer you go without eating, the more your body turns to resources within itself to keep going. The second phase of starvation lasts the longest of the three. During this time, your body fat is the main energy source. Your body drains itself of your fat to keep itself sustained. You increasingly feel yourself getting skinnier but not necessarily in a good or healthy way. It may be here when you feel like your body is screaming at you. “I know you want to look good in that bikini,” it might say, “but please eat something – anything! Help us out here!” Resisting its message is not easy, especially if you have access to food. The third phase of starvation occurs when fat reserves are used up and depleted. The body then starts taking from your muscles to feed itself. When muscles are depleted, cell functions start to degenerate. Along with your weight loss, you may experience symptoms of apathy, withdrawal, listlessness, and increased susceptibility to disease. This last one happens because of the impact of starvation weakens your immune system. Some people end up dying of illness due to starvation before actually dying from starvation itself. The diseases that starving people succumb to mainly include kwashiorkor and marasmus. Kwashiorkor affects those who are protein-energy-deficient and results in edema and enlarged fatty liver. This is also what gives starving children bellies, creating an illusion that they are well fed. Marasmus also happens due to extreme energy deficiency and results in infections that are caused by dangerously low levels of bodyweight. 

Death by starvation is incredibly slow and painful. When death finally does come, it is usually caused by cardiac arrhythmia. How long it takes to die often depends on your original BMI, or body mass index, before starvation. Generally, however, people typically die of starvation in about three weeks. Gandhi pushed the limits when he made it to 21 days, though some people have actually managed to surpass the master. As cited in Scientific American, reports from well-documented studies have shown survivors of hunger strikes after 28, 36, 38, and even 40 days! But wait, some reports go beyond this! In 1981, a hunger strike performed by political prisoners against the British presence in Northeast Ireland resulted in 10 people dying between periods of 46 and 73 days without food. Now that’s a stretch! Of course, this did lead to their demise so they wouldn’t have been able to exercise their bragging rights upon the strike’s conclusion. One strategy that has been used to stave of hunger by those who have fasted for long periods of time include keeping notes to remind themselves of their motivation behind doing so. They ask themselves questions like, “Why am I still doing this?” and “what is the point of this again?” They then answer the questions so that the reasoning is fresh in their minds, pushing forward their motivation to continue not eating. Of course, this technique is not always perfect unless you have very strong self-control like Gandhi. For most of us, we might cave in and decide that fasting isn’t worth the effort anymore once we get a whiff of a juicy, delicious steak or a McDonald’s hamburger with fries. Getting hungry? Yeah, we don’t blame you! All this talk of hunger and not eating kind of makes you want to eat, doesn’t it? In order to abstain from food for as long as great hunger strikers and avoid temptation, your reasoning behind fasting has to be a good one. In other words, you must be highly motivated to fast, or you’ll just wind up quitting easily and quickly. Some fast out of political motivation like Gandhi while others may do it for religious purposes. Fasting for a greater cause seems to lead to the most success. But if you’re just fasting for the sake of it, you may find that you soon give up, perhaps even before entering true starvation. This is because the pain of long-term hunger is too intense to endure without very strong, solid motivational reasoning. What’s the longest you’ve been able to go without eating? How did it make you feel? Tell us in the comments! Now go watch “I Only Ate Fast Food For 30 Days And This Is What Happened!

Side effects and risks of restricted eating

Living without access to food and water can have huge effects on your body. Your body’s many systems will begin to decline despite your body’s ability to continue for days and weeks without food and water.

  • weakness
  • low potassium
  • organ failure
  • body temperature fluctuation
  • post-traumatic stress or depression
  • heart attack
  • heart conditions
  • neurological conditions
  • abdominal pain
  • thyroid malfunction
  • dehydration
  • faintness
  • dizziness
  • blood pressure drop
  • slowing heart rate
  • hypotension
  • swelling of the body’s tissue   

Resuming eating after starvation will require a doctor’s supervision and may involve eating boiled vegetables, lactose-free foods, and a low-protein, low-sugar diet.




Human body  can live without proper food and water for weeks. Our body can survive for weeks but we can experience starvation will need to be watched  by a doctor to get back to health.

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