10 tips for extreme (very low calorie) diets
The technical term for crash or extreme or fasting diets is very-low-calorie diet (VLCD). VLCDs should usually be avoided, because slow and steady really is the way to win the race. But let’s say you do actually want to drop fat quickly or have some other reason to eat very little for a short period of time, here’s some hints to make the whole process less…bad.
- Don’t attempt any very low energy diets if you are not currently overweight or obese. Also do not do them if you have medical health issues, especially heart disorders, liver disease, kidney disorders, type I diabetes, eating disorders or are pregnant (Mustajoki & Pekkarinen 2001).
- Read point 1 again, because it’s seriously that important. People have literally killed themselves by going on severe diets (Sours et al 1981).
- If you can, only do the extreme diet some of the days of the week (and not on consecutive days). People don’t usually overeat enough to compensate for such short-term reductions in food intake (Johnstone et al 2002) so this will, over the longer-term, mean that eating very little on 2-3 days of the week can be a somewhat safe and effective diet strategy (Harvie et al 2013; Varady et al 2013).
- Eat whole foods. A whole food diet, even with very low calories, results in less hunger than a liquid diet (Wadden et al 1985).
- Eat lean protein. Consuming enough protein (over 1.5g protein for every kg bodyweight) will slow the dramatic loss of lean body mass that can occur with very low energy intake (Tsai & Wadden 2006; Westerterp-Plantenga et al 2009).
- Eat low-calorie vegetables, and perhaps also a fibre supplement. Dietary fibre is important for reducing hunger (Wanders et al 2011), and in addition it also prevents the development of constipation (Astrup et al 1990), a common side-effect of extreme diets.
- Take a multivitamin and potassium supplement, or else you are at risk of being deficient in the nutrients you aren’t getting from food (Tsai & Wadden 2006). Hypokalaemia is a significant risk, and for this reason potassium supplementation is essential (Liu et al 2005). The low-calorie vegetables above might also help.
- Keep being active. Lifting weights or, to a lesser extent, doing aerobic training is beneficial because it keeps your metabolism high and helps you lose fat instead of muscle (Bryner et al 1998; Snel et al 2012). Keeping active also helps you keep the weight off once the diet is over (Fogelholm et al 1999).
- Only do the extreme diet for a very limited time. Extreme diets do not work long-term (Tsai & Wadden 2006), and it is suggested that you get a doctor’s supervision if you intend to use them for longer than a 2 week stretch (Tsai & Wadden 2006). Take a 2-8 week break from the diet before commencing it again (Mustajoki & Pekkarinen 2001). This is especially true if you’re stupid enough to attempt an extreme starvation diets if you’re of normal weight.
- Have a long-term healthy diet to move to. In the absence of a more permanent dietary change, most people regain all the weight they lost with the extreme diet (Tsai & Wadden 2006). This is why so many dieters have a weight that yo-yos. The best diet is one you can keep up in the long-term. And remember, there will be some weight gain whenever you stop you fast, primarily due to rehydration (and restoration of muscle/liver glycogen) (Johnstone 2007).