Low-Calorie Diets: What You Need to Know

Low-Calorie Diets

Photo by Deryn Macey on Unsplash


Throughout the year, we often see low-calorie diets advertised as the answer to all our weight loss problems. Almost everybody has been on a diet at some point in their lives, whether this is an attempt to lose weight, a requirement due to an allergy, or simply a new lifestyle habit. However, some diets aren’t always the best options. We often hear about low-calorie diets, but what is the problem with these diets and why are we so often advised against following them?


What is a low-calorie diet?

When you’re on a low-calorie diet, you usually get between 800 and 1,500 calories a day. For some people, an alternative for short-term weight loss is a very low-calorie diet.

A very low-calorie diet is a clinically supervised diet plan that involves eating about 800 calories a day or fewer. A low-calorie diet is typically for adults who are obese – defined as having a BMI over 30 – but should not be the first option to manage obesity.

A low-calorie diet is a diet which advises you to eat a limited number of calories. This is different from a diet which calculates the number of calories your body needs per day. A low-calorie diet will often prescribe a set amount of calories per day for every user, regardless of their weight, sex or age.


What are the problems with low-calorie diets?

Many people don’t need to be following a low-calorie diet for very long before realizing that it can cause a multitude of problems. Apart from feeling tired and faint, you could also experience other health problems as a result.

Low-calorie diets can also slow down your metabolism, having the opposite of the desired effect for those who are trying to shift some extra pounds. Rather than shedding the extra weight, your body will try hard to maintain it, believing that it could be at the point of being starved.


Which side effects are common as a result of a low-calorie diet?

Those on a low-calorie diet have often reported experiencing tiredness and fatigue. Following a low-calorie diet for a prolonged period of time (6 weeks or longer) could result in chronic fatigue which takes even longer to cure.

Other common problems which can occur are diarrhea and constipation. This is often related to both the low level of calorie intake and the type of food that you are consuming. People on low-calorie diets often eat a lot of the same foods in order to get as much as possible from their limited calorie allowance. Fruits and vegetables are often the go-to foods, and while these are very beneficial for you, they should be eaten as part of a balanced diet and alongside other foods. Too much fruit, for example, can cause stomach pains and diarrhea.

Those on low-calorie diets may often reach for more protein products. Again, protein should be eaten as part of a balanced diet, since too much dairy could result in prolonged constipation.


A path to improved health

How many calories should I be eating? First, figure out how many calories it takes to maintain your current weight. This will depend on your current weight, your age, your height, and your activity level. There are many online calculators that will figure this for you.

The best way to stick with a low calories diet is to really make the most of the calories you are eating. All calories are not created equal. If you do not make good choices with your limited calories, you are going to end up hungry and irritable.


Here are some tips for making the most of your calories:

  • Don’t skip the protein. Try to eat some protein at every meal. Not only will it help keep you full, but it will also help you burn calories. Research studies show that protein increases your metabolism (how fast you burn calories). It also helps decrease your appetite because you feel fuller. There are many sources of protein. Try to choose lean meats, eggs, cottage cheese, fish, nuts, and legumes (beans, edamame).
  • Don’t drink your calories. When you are dieting, there is no more important drink than water. Staying hydrated will help you burn calories. (Why You Should of Drinking Water More Every Day) Try to avoid all sugary drinks such as sodas, fruit juices, and sports drinks.
  • Dump the junk. Sure, you may cave to a craving every once in a while, but don’t make a habit of it. The calories from junk food are also called empty calories. This is because they don’t do anything to nourish your body. And they don’t keep you full for very long, either. It’s best if you can eliminate them altogether.
  • Watch your carbs. Carbohydrates (carbs) come in many forms. Mostly, though, you can divide them into two categories: simple and complex. Complex carbs are generally your healthy carbs. They include vegetables, potatoes, and whole grains. Simple carbs are often called refined carbs. They include white bread, white rice, potato chips, sugars, and are often found in processed food (fast food and boxed food). Because fruit contains sugar, it is technically a simple carb – but it’s still considered a component of a healthy diet.


Once you go off a diet, you need to change your lifestyle, committing to healthy eating and regular physical activity.

Things to consider

It may be tempting to cut calories even lower for faster weight loss. But it is harder to maintain a severe restriction of calories. And you should never do this without the guidance of your doctor. You can end up malnourished.

In general, doctors suggest as a guideline that women should not restrict calories lower than 1,200 total calories per day. Men should not let their daily calories drop below 1,800.

More: Why Is It So Hard to Build Healthy Habits?


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