This study was undertaken to examine whether diet-induced obesity alters the amount and/or composition of weight lost during starvation. The amount and composition of weight lost during a 4-day period of starvation was determined before and at 17, 30 and 42 weeks after rats (350 g of body weight) were given a high fat diet (HFD). To control for effects of aging, a second group of rats, fed standard laboratory chow, was also subjected to similar periods of starvation. Although total weight loss during starvation was never greater for HFD rats than for chow-fed rats, the former group showed a clear patter of increasing loss of body fat and total energy and conservation of fat-free tissues with periods of starvation later in life. In addition, chow-fed rats showed substantial energy conservation during each period of starvation (i.e. they lost less energy each day than their pre-starvation energy requirements). In contrast, HFD rats demonstrated substantial energy conservation only at 17 weeks and not at 30 or 42 weeks; during the last period of starvation, their average daily loss of carcass energy exceeded their pre-starvation energy requirements. This suggests the increased fat mass of these rats may have led to increased fuel availability and to an increased metabolic rate during starvation. If these results are applicable to humans, the more obese subjects are likely to show greater total loss of energy than lean subjects, but show a lesser loss of lean body mass, at least initially. If protein requirements are reflected by the ability to mobilize protein during food restriction, protein requirements would be substantially lower in the dietary obese rats than in controls. In summary, diet-induced obesity leads to preferential loss of body fat and conservation of lean mass during starvation. © 1991.