How low is too low? Prior to the low carbohydrate, high-protein diets, such as the Atkins or South Beach diet, the most popular way of losing weight was to limit your calorie intake. In fact, researchers know that weight loss is essentially the difference between calories eaten and calories burned. Even in the high protein diets the body is forced to burn a higher number of calories which results in the weight loss – again, higher number of calories burned versus calories eaten.
But there is a difference between a low calorie diet and a very low calorie diet plan. Dietitians and physicians agree that most individuals should not consume less than 1200 calories per day or they risk sending their body into starvation mode which actually slows metabolism and slows weight loss. In some instances, and under the care of the physician, individuals may attempt a very low calorie diet (900 calories or less per day) for a very short period of time in order to jumpstart their diet weight loss.
Physicians, fitness trainers, dietitians, researchers and scientists all agree that the ultimate goal is not weight loss per se but rather the achievements of an improved overall healthy body. For the most part, achieving this overall health will also include achieving a normalized weight.
In the past, researchers and doctors have relied on a body mass index in order to determine whether or not an individual would be considered overweight. And while this determination continues to be useful in many circumstances, the body mass index does not take into account the differences between individuals who have high amounts of muscle mass versus fat. For instance, a person who has a high amount of muscle mass may have the same body mass index as an individual who has a high amount of fat but will have a lowered health risk for specific diseases, cardiovascular problems and diabetes.
Another indicator of overall health is the waist to hip ratio in which the individual divides their waist measurement in inches by their hip measurements. A woman’s measurement should not be greater than 0.85 in a man’s ratios should not be greater than 0.90. This is a much better indicator of how much body fat is being carried in the belly and how much may be carried in other areas of the body, which are not as dangerous. The combination of indicators, body mass index and waist to hip ratio, are evaluated when determining the need for weight loss or evaluating the risk for health disease.
Men and women who decide to try a very low calorie diet or low calorie diet, anything below 1200 calories per day, should be under the care of their primary care physician and working with a dietitian. These individuals may experience a number of side effects including fatigue, nausea, diarrhea or constipation as the body attempts to accommodate to the situational deprivation. Other more severe complications can occur if the individual begins to lose weight too rapidly so a very low calorie diet should only be used for seven days or less in order to jumpstart a diet plan.
Another option which is more suitable to the human body is to incorporate a 24 hour fast every two weeks into the nutritional plan. This allows the gastrointestinal system to rest for 24 hours, decreases the overall caloric intake and helps to keep the individual addressing their target of weight loss. During this fast the individual can drink several glasses of fruit or vegetable juice, best when juiced at home, to help provide the body with energy.
Beware of the pitfalls of only reducing calories and not changing your nutritional intake. For instance, you can actually eat only chocolate or cheesecake and still lose weight if you are not eating more calories than you are burning. A diet that is based on smaller amounts of the same calorie rich foods often results in an individual who is hungry and experiences only a temporary weight loss. By eating foods that are higher in nutrients and fiber but lower in calories we become satisfied eating fewer calories and actually lose weight even though we are eating more food.
The idea behind a healthy weight loss is to do more than count calories. Individuals should not be focused on a specific food group, counting calories, over exercising or going on the newest liquid diet. Long-term weight loss is achieved only when individuals change their nutritional intake permanently and increases the amount of fruits and vegetables they are eating, increase their fiber, get adequate amounts of exercise on a daily basis and learn the differences between overall health and a fad diet.
Before attempting a low calorie diet (less than 1200 calories) or a very low calorie diet (900 calories or less) you must be under the care of your primary care physician to ensure that your decreased caloric intake will not negatively affect any underlying medical condition. Your physician should monitor specific blood levels, your clinical condition and recommends that you are not consistently using this program for more than seven days in a row and not more than every six weeks.