Very Low Calorie Diets: Dangerous? The Real Facts Behind VLCDsBy Rob Poulos...
If you’re a victim of America’s overwhelmingly high obesity rate, then you know the reality: Your weight is far too high to be considered healthy.
While most nutritionists recommend a healthy, balanced diet plan in conjunction with regular exercise as the best way to lose weight, not everyone follows this advice. Some people use something called a VLCD, or a very low calorie diet. Usually administrated to the severely obese, people who aren’t dealing with morbid fatness are doing it anyways, all because it’s a faster way to get rid of the pudge. But is it really worth it?
What are Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs)?
For most Americans, a regular diet is all they need to maintain healthy body fat levels. If you’re morbidly obese, however, your physician may recommend something called a VLCD, or a very low calorie diet.
VLCDs are not your ordinary diet–here, the calories are kept extra low to help you shed fat fast. Most VLCDs run around 800 calories per day, and most of the diets are liquid-based, meaning you’ll be drinking, not eating, your calories. Think of it as Slim Fast’s lower calorie, more amped up cousin. You may or may not be encouraged to exercise.
On a VLCD, you can expect weight loss to be excessive: On average, people lose 3 to 5 pounds per week. Also, its health benefits begin almost instantaneously–obese people begin experiencing better blood sugar control and improved insulin sensitivity. But of course there are risks–big ones indeed, which we’ll explain below.
Are They Dangerous?
Very low calorie diets will get you thin fast, but not so fast: They’re usually administered by physicians for a reason. With national health organizations recommending 1,200 calories minimum to diet, VLCDs go at least 400 calories below this, meaning its adverse effects are serious. Here’s what you can expect:
- A higher risk of gallstones. According to several studies, very low calorie diets can greatly increase a person’s risk for gallstones–up to 25 percent, say some estimates. Gallstone can be incredibly painful, causing pain similar to a heart attack if left untreated. The treatment? Eat more–researchers say returning to a normal caloric intake reverses these symptoms.
- More constipation. We need fiber, and lots of it, to maintain a healthy digestive system, but it’s nearly impossible to meet the recommended dosage under low caloric conditions. As a result, you may feel more constipated more often.
- Excess fatigue. Calories don’t just control our weight–they also determine our energy levels. On a very low calorie diet, expect to feel really tired, even with caffeine or energy drinks.
- Extreme hunger. It’s normal to expect hunger on a low calorie diet, but very low calorie diets can send your hunger levels skyrocketing–which may lead to more binges or cravings. Drinking caffeinated beverages may keep hunger on the down low (they’re natural appetite suppressants) but otherwise you’ll just have to deal with it.
Overall, VLCDs can help you lose a lot of weight but aren’t necessarily safe–and that’s why we don’t recommend it.