We already established how long can you live without water, but let’s say you were in a situation where food was scarce or unavailable, just how long could you actually live without eating anything? First of all, it greatly depends on a person’s body and how healthy they are. For instance, a person who is a bit overweight should theoretically have better chances of surviving a few days longer than a person who doesn’t have any extra fat stored, provided they both get properly hydrated.
Second of all, genetic variation is also very important when determining how long a person could hope to live without proper nourishment, yet again, it mostly depends whether they drink plenty of liquids or not. For obvious reasons, it is extremely difficult to gather reliable data on the subject of starvation in healthy individuals, as most of the data we currently possess comes from individuals who got stranded in situations where food was extremely scarce.
What we know
Mahatma Gandhi, as we all know, survived 21 days of total starvation while only drinking small sips of water during his nonviolent campaign for India’s Independence, and he was 74 years old at the time. Others studies have shown that in certain conditions, hunger strikers were able to survive between 28 and 40 days without food, although they also had access to water. Judging from what we know, you can expect to live more than three weeks without food, just as long as you are properly hydrated.
In situations where water is available, total starvation is unlikely to occur, which is why hunger strikes are such an effective type of protest. Given the human body’s ability to adapt to even the harshest of conditions, it is likely that your body will conserve energy by moderating your metabolism, thus changing the way your thyroid functions. Some scientists have said that it is because of the human body’s ability to do so that the genes we now know are responsible for causing diabetes have evolved over time.
People who suffer from anorexia nervosa and end-stage malignancies are more likely to experience near-total starvation than healthy individuals, conditions that sometimes lead to organ failure and/or myocardial infarction. In healthy individuals, near-total starvation only occurs, like we said, in situations where people are deliberately starving themselves for whatever reasons. Near-total starvation occurs when a person’s body weight has dropped to a body mass index (BMI) that is half of what is considered normal.
For instance, the normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, whereas people suffering from near-total starvation can expect to a BMI of 12 to 12.5 or less. This happens when a person loses more than 35% of their body weight and if that person isn’t regulating his/hers calorie intake, they can expect to develop a wide range of complications.
Interestingly enough, like we already said, overweight people have a better chance of surviving near-total starvation due to their fat reserves. These fat reserves can be used by their bodies to create energy, thus sustaining their metabolism for quite a long time.
We said a great deal about near-total starvation, yet we know just as much about starvation without hydration, also referred to as ‘survival without sustenance’. In cases in which people were forced to survive without any form of sustenance(neither food nor water), death usually occurred after 10 to 14 days. Such is the case with terminally ill patients who either by choice, or forced by their condition, will quite literally starve to death. Although not a pleasant way to go, some terminally ill patients will sometimes choose to voluntarily starve themselves to avoid any further suffering.
Unfortunately, the only observed cases of people starving to death are those in which the people in question were suffering from terminal illnesses, cases in which death occurred between 10, 12, or even 14 days. Like we already pointed out, in situations where people were properly hydrated, life expectancy rose by as much as two weeks. Without proper hydration, even comatose patients who don’t really use that much energy usually expired around a week or so.
So there you have it, if by any chance should you ever find yourself in a position in which you are unable to feed yourself, try to at least hydrate yourself as much as possible. While healthy people can live as long as three weeks without food, no person can expect to live longer than 3 maybe 4 days without water. Last but not least, remember that your body will always turn fat reserves into the much needed energy your muscles use, so don’t worry about skipping a meal or two every once in a while.