VLCDs For Weight Loss (Very Low Calorie Diets)


Very low calorie diets contain no more than 800 – 1000 calories. They claim to be balanced in terms of nutrient composition, but extraordinarily restrictive in terms of quantity. And they emphasize rapid weight loss.

Very low calorie diets (VLCD) could be an option in obesity and weight loss treatments. Very low calorie diets include small amounts of high quality protein to avoid loss of essential body proteins and vitamin and mineral supplementation. But, do they work?

The very low calorie diets cannot be used on anyone under any circumstances, unless prescribed and assessed by a Medical Doctor. Generally, they are used in individuals with morbid obesity or as a rapid decrease for preoperative preparation in order to reduce the risks of surgery. They can also be used in persons that are in a weight loss process and cannot overcome a plateau.

According to the American Dietetic Association, the very low calorie diets may be recommended for:

  • Patients with at least 30% overweight or Body Mass Index of 32 or more.
  • Patients with no contraindications such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, cancer, liver or kidney disease, severe cardiac dysfunction or psychological disorders.
  • Patients who are committed to establishing new eating habits that maintain weight loss.
  • Patients with a commitment to devote time to treatment and maintenance of all program components.

Prior to following a very low calorie diet, you should do an adaptation to caloric deprivation with a well balanced diet of 1,200 calories. The very low calorie diets should be used for no more than 12 to 16 weeks to avoid complications related to loss of body proteins and heart problems (side effects). Monitoring of treatment should be done by a doctor for at least 1 year. After 12 to 16 weeks, you should be starting to gradually incorporate other foods for 2 to 4 weeks.

Currently very low calorie diets are used in the form of food or drink “formula” or natural protein and properly supplemented, accompanied with behavioral techniques (learning new behaviors regarding food and exercise) and interspersed with diets of higher caloric value.

VLCDs are not available on prescription, but are offered by a range of private organizations in North America and beyond. There is at least one very commercial organization that follows a VLCD format. The person undertaking the diet will also meet regularly with a trained member of staff from the organization – usually called a counselor or consultant – who will monitor their progress.

If you think that a very low calorie diet can work for you – approach your Medical Doctor – who will guide you to be referred to a specialized organization on the subject. This team should offer multidisciplinary treatment (physician, dietitian, psychologist, professor of physical education) to begin treatment as a whole, as well as give you an environment to be able to continue treatment with other people in the same situation as you.

Very low calorie diets are not an alternative to long term treatment, not only for its health risks, but also because VLCDs do not promote a change in eating habits. That means they constitute a weight loss rigid program.

It is important to understand that proper treatment for weight loss, for keeping the weight off in the long term, should include a food relearning or permanent lifestyle changes, that is, the incorporation of a new manner of eating, eliminating bad habits and replacing them with healthier ones. This is paramount. VLCDs generally do not satisfy this important variable.

If you’re looking to lose weight and keep it off in the long term, it is important to make changes in your diet. Small changes will lead to a modest weight loss, but a sustained one. You won´t go hungry and you could lose weight by just eating healthy. The key is to eat less than you spend, to ensure a negative energy balance.

To reduce your current calorie intake, it is recommended that you reduce at least 500 to 800 calories. The amount of calories a woman needs is on average of 2,000 and men need about 2,500 calories to maintain his current weight. A diet of 1,200 to 1,600 calories recommended for achieving weight loss gradually in women; and in men, a diet of 1,600 to 2,000 calories can bring good results.

There is so much more to learn about changing your diet and healthy eating, it is also a very good idea to obtain advice on fitness and becoming more active.

If you’ve started a weight loss program, after several weeks, your weight has stagnated; you may be going through a plateau. In this case, you should reevaluate your current caloric intake with a food diary, for at least 1 week and check your physical activity level. If you have followed the proper treatment and you have hit a plateau, you may want to try a modification of some sort and or seek professional advice.

You may choose a VLCD, but always only with adequate medical monitoring as there are significant risks and for only a short period of time in order to achieve your goal weight. Proceed with caution.


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