I was talking to my wonderful client Danielle the other day, and she told me about a conversation she had with a man who's on a Very Low Calorie (VLC) diet. He had lost 40 pounds (although he recently gained 10 pounds of it back) and insisted it was the only way to lose weight. Of course Danielle knows better, but this story saddens me because many people don't. They think they have to literally starve themselves to lose weight. More importantly, they don't realize how much damage they're doing to their metabolism and their health.
VLC diets are those that are under 1000 calories. Most are in the 600-800 calorie range. When you want to lose weight quickly, a VLC diet can seem attractive. After all, the sooner you lose weight the better, right? No, definitely not. Let me explain what happens to your body when you eat under 1000 calories per day. Quite simply, your body goes into starvation mode. This means the body becomes super efficient at making the most of the little calories it's getting from food. The main way it does this is to protect its fat stores and instead use lean tissue or muscle to provide the calories it needs for functioning. Yes, just breathing, sleeping, watching t.v., and even eating requires fuel. On average a woman needs 1200 calories per day and a man needs 2000 calories per day just to function. When you drop below that caloric amount your body starts literally eating itself for fuel. Even organs can be broken down!!! So yes, you lose weight on this diet, but not fat.
Since VLC diets don't even provide enough calories for daily functioning, the body can not repair body tissues, or manufacture enough hormones, enzymes and antibodies. As a result, a person may feel fatigued and get sick often. Anemia, bone loss, and infertility can occur. Your hair can fall out, nails become brittle, skin dry and dull. Also, the brain requires a certain level of glucose to maintain normal functioning. Without sufficient glucose (which comes from calories consumed) irritability, depression, dizziness, fainting or hypoglycemia can become problems.
If that's not enough to make you pick up your fork, let me tell you just how counter-productive VLC diets are in actually keeping the weight off. As I already mentioned, when you're on a VLC diet your body starts eating its muscles for fuel. This in turn lowers your metabolic rate--the rate at which your body burns calories. So the less muscle you have, the slower your metabolism. Basically you become a slave to this diet because once you start eating again, your metabolism is so messed up you just gain all the weight back...and then some.
That's why I implore you to never try this diet. And if you are on one, consult a trainer or nutritionist who can help you get back on track. It will probably take awhile to get your body functioning properly again. But the longer your on this diet, the worse it will be. And all that being said, it's just a miserable existence! You're always hungry, cranky, and tired. You don't need to starve to lose weight. Through proper exercise and nutrition you can safely lose 1-2 pounds per week. The weight will stay off, and best of all, you can eat!