Dangers of a Very Low-Calorie Diet

Dangers of a VLCD

To avoid the dangers of a very low calorie diet, it is best to follow such a diet under medical supervision.

Metabolism and Low Calorie Diets

In recent years, researchers have reported that very low calorie diets can promote body chemistry and metabolism changes that lead to improved health and longer life. The findings of their study supported the theory that eating less prolongs life in laboratory mice and rats and could possibly do the same for people by slowing the aging process and preventing:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes

However, due to the expense of such an expansive study, no proof exists that calorie restriction really works in people. In fact, the body is designed to burn calories for fuel and severely restricting calories prevents our bodies from burning body fat efficiently. As a result, weight loss slows down because your body is designed to survive. The dangers of a very low calorie diet are that your body goes into starvation mode. Instead of burning the stores of body fat, it works to protect them and instead uses lean muscle for energy. Loss of muscle equals a lower ability to burn calories and a lower metabolic rate. The end result is that your body needs less calories to function and in the long run you don't lose weight. In fact, many people gain weight and wonder why because they are eating less!

Metabolic Rate

How does metabolism work? Our metabolic rate is the rate at which our bodies burn calories. Everyone is different because the more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate will be. So, building muscle helps burn calories, while less muscle brings about a lower metabolic rate. This is why young people burn calories faster than older people. The dangers of a very low calorie diet drawing energy by using lean muscle for energy is like a catch 22. When you eat too few calories, you burn fewer calories, lose muscle and require even less as your body thinks it is surviving starvation and our metabolic rate falls.

Dangers of a Very Low Calorie Diet

Many diets limit calories, but diets that limit calorie intake to as little as 500 to 800 calories a day are considered very low calorie diets. These commercially prepared formulas come packaged in shakes and soups that replace normal food for several weeks or months. As was stated previously, following this type of diet should be done under medical supervision. In fact, the only time these diets are actually recommended are for obese people on a specialized program because they are suffering other health issues that losing weight will improve.

Health Risks

Beyond the danger of lowering your metabolism and losing lean muscle there are more serious health risks associated with very low calorie diets. Major risks related to starvation or semi-starvation diets for severely obese patients site occurrences of sudden death due to ventricular arrhythmias. Correlation has been shown between the duration of the diet and the amount of protein and essential minerals ingested as contributing factors. Deficiencies in the following play an important part in increasing chances of developing an electrically unstable heart:

  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

Who Should Follow a VLCD?

Because of the health risks associated with very low calorie diets, they are normally restricted to people who suffer from moderate to severe obesity and are experiencing other weight-related health issues. However, very low calorie diets are not appropriate for the following people unless they are taking part in a specialized program to treat obesity:

  • Children
  • Adolescents
  • Pregnant Women
  • Breast-feeding women

Protect Your Health

As you choose a diet, realize that a low calorie diet restricts how many calories you can eat each day to 1500 or less while a very low calorie diet only allows 500 to 800 calories per day. Take into consideration the importance of protecting your metabolic rate, because this will affect not only your weight but your energy level and muscle mass. Even more seriously, a very low calorie diet can threaten your life so if you are a candidate, be sure to follow it under your doctor's supervision.

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Dangers of a Very Low-Calorie Diet