How to Manage Starvation in a Post-SHTF World

Any smart prepper has studied how to prepare for an economic collapse or some other disaster that wipes out the power grid and basically sends the world into chaos. Most preppers have a get home bag and/or a bug out bag in an accessible location, and have either a bug out location selected or a plan to fortify their home and bug in with their family.

Along with all this planning, you know that just going to the store to buy food and supplies for your family isn’t an option, so you have begun to stockpile food and supplies in a secure location of your home or bug out location. You may be confident that you will have enough food to provide for your family for six months or even a year while things settle down.

But are you really prepared to deal with your neighbors and complete strangers, who are desperate to survive? The ones who didn’t prepare as well as you or maybe not at all, and who may eventually show up on your doorstep? You may be able to justify turning away a complete stranger. But could you really turn away Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their two toddlers from the down the street if they came to your door, desperately hungry?

What about your teenager’s best friend from school who can’t find her family? Hungry people may show up crying, sobbing and pleading for you to help or they could even show up armed and willing to injure or kill you and your family in order to feed their family. Or worse, you could lose your own stockpile of food to a looter or your flock or livestock to a starved pack of stray animals.

What is Starvation?

Every human and animal for that matter, needs to maintain a specific caloric intake in order to not only have enough energy to get through the day, but to survive. Starvation occurs when an individual doesn’t eat enough food over an extended period of time resulting in an extreme deficiency of caloric energy.

It can also occur when someone repeatedly exerts more energy than the food they take in. This could easily happen in a post-SHTF scenario when physical labor is unending and meager portions become the norm. Any animal or human can be impacted by prolonged starvation but children and the elderly are more vulnerable. It’s crucial to recognize and treat early symptoms of starvation before it’s too late.

How to Identify the Effects of Starvation

Do you know enough about hunger and starvation to know how to handle different scenarios that may come up several weeks or months after the start of a post-SHTF incident? It may help to learn about not only the physical effects of starvation but the psychological ones. The real chaos, rioting and looting, during a post-SHTF event results from the desperation of people trying to feed their families.

You’ve seen starving children with bloated stomachs on TV. This form of prolonged malnutrition is known as kwashiorkor and results from eating enough calories regularly, but insufficient protein. Kwashiorkor can lead to weight loss and muscle wasting and is devasting.

But that’s not what comes first. Understanding the symptoms of extreme hunger is important because there is tipping point to starvation, after which the victim may not be able to recover. Children and adults who are hungry may have trouble with concentration and learning. Individuals in the early stages of starvation can experience irritability, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity.

People may become depressed, anxious, and lethargic. Many will become obsessed with food and getting food. None of these behaviors are ideal when the world is already in chaos and when most citizens are armed and ready to shoot on sight. So hungry people become cranky and obsessed with getting food. Do you see how that leads to increasing chaos?

Anemia is one of the first things to occur for adults. You may see leg swelling as a result of a lack of proper protein within the blood. Skin may begin to flake or crack, resulting in numerous places for infection to get beneath the skin. The ability to resist infection decreases and even minor wounds won’t heal properly. Victims become unable to digest food due to reduced production of stomach acid.

As the body continues to weaken, victims fail to sense thirst, which can lead to dehydration if not properly monitored. They can have significant trouble swallowing which can lead to food aspiration and choking. Starving people have an abnormally low core body temp and have exaggerated sensitivity to cold. Keeping them warm gets increasingly difficult, especially in a post-SHTF situation.

In addition, nutrient deficiency over long time periods leads to diseases such as:

  • Pellagra, the lack of niacin or Vitamin B3 from meats and milk. This can result in diarrhea, difficulty swallowing due to irritation of the mouth and tongue, skin rashes, and brain dysfunction.
  • Insufficient Riboflavin results in a sore throat and mouth, skin rash and contributes to anemia (lack of iron).
  • Beriberi, from the lack of Vitamin B1 or thiamine, can cause edema and heart failure, or nerve and brain disease or both.
  • The lack of Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is called scurvy. Symptoms include damaged hair, gum disease, difficulty healing after being wounded, bleeding under the skin or in joints or muscles, and even convulsions, low blood pressure, fever, and death.
  • Insufficient Vitamin D, which regulates the balance of calcium, leads to rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults.
  • Low Vitamin K levels can cause trouble with clotting of blood, making cuts and wounds very dangerous.
  • Lack of Vitamin A can results in loss of night vision initially and leads to keratomalacia, a type of cornea deterioration that causes blindness.
  • Contaminated water can also be a problem as it can introduce parasites, bacteria, and other disease into the body which will exacerbate the issue of starvation and require additional treatment.

Failure to eat properly for long periods of time allows accumulation of toxins in the liver and kidneys which eventually fail from stress. Extended periods of malnourishment can also cause the heart to shrink. It must still pump blood but it is now more stressed and more prone to giving out. In children, bones can actually stop growing.

Catabolysis is a process the body begins destroying its own tissues and muscle to keep important organ systems functioning, resulting in significant fat and muscle loss. People in the last stages of starvation, can experience seizures and heartbeat abnormalities. They experience extreme muscle pain and often hallucinate. It’s certainly not a pleasant to watch and no way that anyone should die.

How to Treat the Symptoms of Starvation

So, in a post-SHTF scenario, can you rehydrate your child properly if the need arises? What would you do to stop diarrhea or uncontrollable vomiting? If someone is starving and you want to help them, do you know how to prevent refeeding syndrome? Are you well prepared to combat the things that will begin to happen to your body or the body of your child if they go without eating?

After approximately just two weeks of insufficient food, victims of starvation can develop multiple complications within 10 days of starting to eat again, this is called refeeding syndrome. These problems can include hypophosphatemia, an electrolyte disorder, as well as neurologic, lung, heart, nerve and blood problems. To prevent refeeding syndrome, starvation victims must be fed small sips of water and glucose (sugar) or fruit juices at regular intervals initially.

Intravenous feeding may be needed or a careful mixture of skim milk, edible oil, sucrose and electrolytes plus mineral and vitamin supplements. Having these things on hand to do this will be difficult unless you have stocked carefully. Eating solid food must be postponed and then begun in small quantities that are gradually increased.

Bragging about your stockpile now could bring you trouble later

A good stockpile is a sense of pride in that you can feed your family and ride out whatever crisis comes up. It may lead you to boast about your supplies to neighbors, friends, or even strangers you meet at the feed store or over the internet. This can seem harmless but, in the midst of chaos, people will be desperate to survive.

Neighbors, friends, or people you inadvertently chatted with may recall your boastful story and come seeking to “borrow” from your stockpile. You will need to plan to deal with these desperate people so that you can continue to be able to feed yourself and your family.

How to deal with starving and desperate strangers

So, let’s say you did a little bragging at the local hardware store or maybe you just want to be prepared to effectively handle anyone who might be desperate and looking for supplies to feed their family. There are several options for dealing with starving and desperate strangers. The method you choose may differ depending on your personality, your “read” of the person in front of you, and your own situation.

Plan to share something. Turning away a fellow human being who is hungry and desperate may be extremely difficult for most people. By nature, humans are a social people and tend to want to help one another. It may be especially hard to turn away friends and neighbors knowing that they are desperate. You can plan now to stock additional supplies so that you can share a little with those who show up.

Take them into your group. It’s no secret that in a post-SHTF scenario, there will be more physical labor and it will be unending. A small family or especially a family with only one adult will quickly become overworked and fatigued. So one way to plan for those people who show up desperate and hungry is to have a system for including them in your group. This can be a temporary work for food exchange situation or a longer term inclusion depending on your needs and preference.

Turn them away. Large numbers of preppers plan to turn people away, by force if necessary. If this is your methodology, know you will have to fight, sometimes violently, to maintain your stockpile. Plan now to fortify your home or bug out location to prevent desperate people from getting inside, raiding your garden, or stealing your livestock.

Hide most of your stockpile and appear hungry yourself. Consider having a “decoy supply” separate from your actual supplies. This involves a little stealth and some acting on your part. Keep a limited bit of supplies in plain sight and carefully hide the rest. To pull this off, you and your family will have to act and appear weak and hungry when in sight of others.

All in all, dealing with extreme hunger and potential starvation for your own family is something you definitely need to prepare for. Once you feel well prepared for that, it would be wise to formulate a plan to deal with others who may show up hungry to prevent any major loss to your personal food supplies.

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9 thoughts on “How to Manage Starvation in a Post-SHTF World”

  1. Read prize winning author Clavel’s KING RAT. This will provide much information about starvation and the human condition. From Amazon: The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power and corrupt or destroy anyone who stands in his path.

    Anyone who has experienced true hunger is forever changed. Food hoarding is common post starvation behavior with the survivors of famine. This stems from a deep abiding desire to never again be hungry. I’ve been hungry. I know of whence I speak. What I’ve never had to do, thank the Lord, is watch family members starve.

    I pray that none reading this ever experience that particular horror.


  2. Unfortunately, widespread hunger is going to be real problem in the near future. People are going to have to realize that they can not save everyone, without putting their own family in jeopardy. It will be extremely hard, but you are going to have to just say no to a lot of people, whether you know them or not. If you are fortunate enough to have extras, then you may plan to help someone nearby, but not everyone. I have prepared for most emergencies as best as I can and while I live out away from most large populations and don’t expect a lot of people just coming by, there are a couple of old neighbors in my area that I will help if I can. I have the ability to provide them with clean water and will, so it will just be a matter of what we have available for food to share. More than likely we will be cooking a little extra and taking them a dish of what ever we are having.

  3. Excellent article. I appreciate the signs of starvation, learning about refeeding syndrome and ways to treat starvation. I can see the need for most of us to add a few more things to the “Med” cabinet, and it shouldn’t cost much.

  4. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing if “preppers” could (anonymously) initiate programs in schools and colleges that teach people young and old, how to produce enough food to feed at least one family and maybe a small group or community. It’s great to know that many are willing to help others, but the lazy or those feeling entitled will create too much of a strain on the relatively small number of prepared individuals and families. We need to remove the notion of shame regarding self preservation thru the practice of those mundane skills that are ancestors used to thrive and build this world. The shame and ridicule should really be placed on those who see the writing on the wall, but choose not to prepare themselves for bad times or natural emergencies. Instead, it would be more fruitful to empower people with the knowledge and skills to help themselves.

  5. when the crisis happens even we who are prepared will be forced to share what little we have. the ones who take wont bother to make it go as far as they can. they will consume and then look for more.the mentality is that they will always find another source. While I am ready I keep little on hand. it is also well organized and filled with slow toxin that wont take hold for a week. it comes from a mushroom I found. and without proper treatment they wont recover. they will be one less to take from anyone. we have our stores spread out and undetectable. it will take a year before all the ones who take to live will die or be killed taking what they want. it will take many generations to rebuild a world

    • Poisoning people? Really!? Are you planning on poisoning everyone who comes to your door or just select people? Kids? Old people? And what will you do if your poisoned supplies are all YOU have left? What if you need to trade for medications? Are you planning to trade the poisoned stuff and then go back after they’re all dead and loot their supplies? It’s not only evil but stupid because people will eventually figure it out and then you’ll be subject to “frontier justice” at the end of a rope.

  6. i wrote a book about the 28 days i went without food. but it wont help with your survival. It’s not that kind of book. But Panhandle Rancher is right. I definitely have plenty of food stockpile now butI hope whatever the emergency is it will not prevent me from growing a garden.


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