Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCD’s)

 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)

very-low-calorie-dietsA Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) is a diet where normal meals are replaced with drinks, soups, or bars.

The typical daily calorie intake is on or under the 800 Calorie mark – however the aim is to be as nutritionally balanced as possible.

These diets are popular because initially people can lose a lot of weight quickly.

However, if a VLCD isn’t done correctly it can have negative consequences on a dieter’s health.

Prescription Only

A VLCD is normally only used privately and in the medical profession to bring about rapid weight loss in the dangerously overweight person.

Ketosis

These diets should be undertaken only under medical supervision. They are typically a high fat, high protein diet that will bring about Ketosis.

This is when the body breaks down fat for energy instead of using glucose.

Used for Short Periods Only

The diet is only undertaken for a short period of time (a few weeks). In some situations, the meal replacements may only be used for two meals a day – therefore bringing about slower but more manageable weight loss.

Safe VLCD Diets

Medifast This has been used by (apparently) over 1 million people, and is endorsed by John Hopkins University. It’s a meal replacement plan around the 800-1000 calories mark (which puts it outside the strict definition of a VLCD). It will put the body into a mild state of ketosis.
The Cambridge Diet Used in the UK, this diet has an even lower daily calorie level (400-600) and is a high protein, low fat, low carb diet.
Bernstein Diet For some patients an 800 calorie meal plan will be perscribed.
Newcastle Diet Medically supervised VCLD that reverses type 2 diabetes.

Dangerous Very Low Calorie Diets

HCG Diet This 500 Calorie diet can be dangerous if not supervised by an approved clinic.
Sacred Heart Diet Nutritionally deficient and very low in calories.
Cabbage Soup Diet This soup based diet lacks nutrition and is very low in calories.
3 Day Diet This VLCD can be dangerous if done more than 3 days.

Exercise

Generally exercise isn’t recommended while a person is on a VLCD as the calories consumed aren’t sufficient to support it.

However, some plans recommend light exercise such as walking or swimming for those with an excessive amount of weight to lose.

Conclusions

Initially people following very low calorie diets can lose a lot of weight, which keeps these diets popular.

However, they can be dangerous long-term because they often lack the nutrition your body needs and can actually crash a person’s metabolism.

If a dieter wants to use a VLCD, he or she should only do so under medical supervision and if extreme weight loss is needed.

Recommendation

A very low calorie diet is not recommended unless under the care or a physician or medical team and is intended for those that have a considerable amount of weight to lose.

It isn’t for those who only have 10-20 pounds to lose and can be especially dangerous for those dieters.

    References:

  • González-Pérez, J., Sánchez-Leenheer, S., Delgado, A. R., González-Vargas, L., Díaz-Zamudio, M., Montejo, G., … & Herrera, M. F. (2013). Clinical Impact of a 6-Week Preoperative Very Low Calorie Diet on Body Weight and Liver Size in Morbidly Obese Patients. Obesity surgery, 23(10), 1624-1631. link
  • Johansson, K., Sundström, J., Marcus, C., Hemmingsson, E., & Neovius, M. (2013). Risk of symptomatic gallstones and cholecystectomy after a very-low-calorie diet or low-calorie diet in a commercial weight loss program: 1-year matched cohort study. International Journal of Obesity, 38(2), 279-284. link
  • Moreno, B., Bellido, D., Sajoux, I., Goday, A., Saavedra, D., Crujeiras, A. B., & Casanueva, F. F. (2014). Comparison of a very low-calorie-ketogenic diet with a standard low-calorie diet in the treatment of obesity. Endocrine, 1-13. link
 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
Last Reviewed: December 19, 2014. Disclaimer
  • mahshid

    I agree with this diet.I prefer that note amount of calorie of food daily.:)

  • Amy

    When I was fifteen, last year, without consulting my doctor, and lying, saying I was 18 and my doctor had told me to go on it when buying these drinks, I did this sort of diet for a five weeks, and lost on average 12 pounds a week.
    However, at the end of the diet, after slowly returning back to a ‘normal’, but healthier diet, I gained all the weight again. Also, I had extreme hair loss, resulting in me having to go on medication do make it grow back.

  • Robin

    Ditto. Hair loss!

  • itworked

    LOW CALORIE DIETS DO NOT WORKKKKK!!!

  • L.P.

    My whole lifestyle is extremely low cal. It DOES work. You just cant go back to eating like a pig afterwards. Otherwise it doesn’t work. Self control people.

  • libby

    as a recovering anoexic these diets do work but with severe side effects strongly recomend not to try unless your doctor advises

  • sarah

    two words. hair loss. low cal is terrible for you.

  • Louise

    It does work on the long term. I was eating under 1000 kcals a day for about 6 months. The only trouble was that I lost my periods, I was very underweight and I was constantly cold.
    Even when I ate like a pig for 6 months after that, on average about 3000 kcals a day, I only gained 2 stone.
    It shouldn’t be done. But still I would easily do it again.

  • jhon

    im am a male reconvering annorexic im 6’3 116 pounds and this diet is kinda working for me

  • JASON

    WTF JHON, AT 6’3 116 LBS. YOU SHOULD BE IN A HOSPITAL.

  • tabby

    hi i eat like a pig i was wondering is this a good diet

  • SarahRP

    I was on a low cal diet about 550-800 a day. I lost 10 lbs and kept it off, by watching what I ate.

  • becks

    vlcd’s do work if stuck to properly. you wont regain the weight if you stick to the maintence programmes afterwards 🙂

  • Jacob

    I went on a low cal diet for about 2 months and lost over 45 pounds..yes i gained it back…but only after going back to my bad eating habits.

    Theres a couple things your going to want to do if you do decide to try this. One…take a multi-vitamin..two drink alot..and i mean alot of water..and 3..dont be afraid to down a gatorade or two every day…you need to keep your body functional..even if your not eating as much as you should.

  • ms.boots

    Anytime you decrease intake of calories you will lose weight, especially if you INcrease calories burned- ex. You can eat 1000 cals everyday and run for 30 min maybe take a walk and some situps/pushups by the end of the day you will be in the negatives. Meaning you took in 1000 and burned off lets say 1300 so you would be 300 calories negative. This causes quick weigh loss and tones ur body while u get slim. This is MUCH better than starving yourself and not having energy to exercise bc after your starvation drives you to eat, you will overeat, and potentially form a eating disorder- you know eat, purge, starve… If you can keep eating low cal and exercise your appetite will decrease b/c exercise causes endorphins so you will feel positive about your diet and your body rather than getting down on yourself. anyways you all be careful and I highly recommend eating 4-5 200 cal meals- well more like snacks a day with moderate exercise. You can do it and you will look and feel great!

  • Sara

    Ugh those people saying it doesn’t work, they really irritate me. TRY IT before judging it. I lost on average 5 lbs a week for 3 weeks and had no consequences. I slowly increased my intake after I lost 15 lbs, from 800 to 1000 to 1500 over the span of 4 weeks. You can’t just go from 800 to 2000, in that case you probably will gain weight because for one thing your metabolism needs to adjust and if you want to maintain your weightloss, don’t go back to your old eating habits as with any diet. I totally agree with this person:
    ” L.P.

    My whole lifestyle is extremely low cal. It DOES work. You just cant go back to eating like a pig afterwards. Otherwise it doesn’t work. Self control people.”

    EXACTLY.

    Anyway, before listening to all the idiots who think you can’t possibly lose weight, let alone keep it off, try the diet for youself. Then SLOWLY increase your intake to a healthy calorie intake. Being thin is hard, don’t expect you can go back to eating whatever you wanted before dieting. IT DOES WORK PEOPLE!!!!

  • sam

    Uhh those who experienced hairloss, that’s because you weren’t taking vitamins. If you take vitamins when on the diet, you won’t lose your hair. I took a vitamin everyday when eating 800 calories and my hair was fine. Common sense, people.

  • Kylie

    This diet sounds like it would only work for a short period of time. Once you get off the diet and go back to eating normaly you will just gain the weight back unless your REALLY careful. I would reccommend WeightWatchers instead.

  • Shannon

    I have been on vlcd (800 calories) for 8 weeks. I’ve lost 27lbs. The plan WILL WORK; just follow the plan. Unlike the slimfast diet I did five years ago, I don’t feel hungry with this diet.

  • Alex

    they work, but question is if you want to live like that, after 1 year of something like this, eating 1k, then 1400, im going back with a more normal cal intake for my phi. effort, around 2500/day based on a balanced menu so to speak, no junk food and things like this tho.Is funny how tough it is to eat that many cals eating healthy.

  • diet

    all you with your theories this diet does work you say about putting the weight back on at the end .. you stuff your fat face like you did before the diet you dumb ass then you will put weight on .. hello you ate too much in the first place you diet you have to live on the maintenace plan after if you put weight on its cause you ate as much as you did before this diet is brilliant i lost 4 stone its changed my life and probably saved it i have never put any on , as for hair loss you obviously didnt do as you were told mild hair loss occurs in the obese who have rapid weight loss over 5 -6 months and its mild and return s to normal if you have what you r told instead of messing around with it you wouldnt be fat now .. you lied to get on it lets face it you talk crap .. do it properly and learn from real experiance…

  • A

    I’ve always eaten a low calorie diet, 700 to 900 a day. It’s healthier for you and slows the aging process way down. Everyone should be eating only this amont everyday. Well, thats a lie. Men should eat what ever they want, because a skinny man is gross.

  • Ali

    there is a peptide secreted by fat cells and it decreases the food intake by stimulating a special area in hypothalamus. loss of fat directly lowers the volume of secreted leptin and untill the concentration of leptin is not brought back to previous measures, person keep on eating more to bring the fat levels back to what our bodies percieve as normal. If you watch what you eat… even if you’ll eat upto 2000 calories a day your weight will not increase. At the time of starvation our bodies are not very selective of what to utilize…..almost equal amount of muscles are also lost this way, as branched chain amino acids. Loss in muscle volume decreases the BMR and even fewer calories are required than before. It is a good idea to start high intensity exercises after VLCD and its usual course of recovery. there was study published in 1994 by Trmbley et al. and it showed that high intensity exercises produced 9 fold decrease in fat than low intensity high volume diets.

  • E

    I used to be on a VLCD…VERY low calorie diet (200-300 kcal/day)…it made me lose a LOT of weight but it is true…once you start binging like a fatass you gain weight back…i gained 50 pounds in a year…i am overweight right now and instead of STARVING myself i am on another VLCD that consists of about 500-700 kcal/day and i am losing weight just fine…i take a multivitamin and i am on supplements…i am making an effort to CHANGE MY LIFESTYLE…i don’t plan on EVER consuming more than 500-700 calories per day ANYMORE…i am not going to get off this diet once i lose the weight and start eating like a fatass again…its not worth it…i look at food now as something i have to eat for nutrition and i stopped getting PUMPED for food…hah because its just food…

    Basically, if you go on a VLCD stick to it even after you lose the weight, or see a nutritionist if you want to UP your calories for some reason without gaining weight…but yeah…i’d make it like a lifestyle change…if you think about it famous people are on VLCD for their careers…you CAN live off of 500-800 calories per day…you just need will power and supplements…

  • Shannon

    Update. This is my 13th week on vlcd low carb and I’ve lost a total of 40lbs. I have 5lbs more to loss and I begin maintance – exercise & making the lifelong lifestyle changes to keep the weight off. I’m so motivated. Can’t wait to get to the gym!

  • Bonnie

    My husband and I started a VLCD (shakes/soups totalling 500-800 calories per day plus vitamin supplements) back in mid-August (my husband because his doctor made him, me for moral support and because I had a lot of weight to lose also). While on the VLCD phase for 14 weeks (thru mid-November) I lost nearly 50 pounds, as did my husband. I was NEVER hungry. In November I started adding back fruits and veggies (min 5 servings per day, now up to 6-7 servings per day). I also added 1-2 Lean Cuisine entrees per day, and I have now switched to a Slim Fast shake for breakfast (from the prescription shakes). Now I am in the maintenance phase of the program and plan to keep going for at least a year (much like Weight Watchers). The accountability of weekly meetings is important for continued progress for a former overeater like me.

    Our calorie intake now averages about 1400 per day, and I have continued to lose weight at the rate of 1-2 pounds per week – We are both now down 65+ pounds from when we started (an average of 12 pounds each per month, since August), with about 20-25 more to go. This is a LIFESTYLE CHANGE, not a temporary fix – no more nachos or cheese fries EVER – there is no way to justify those types of food choices within a healthy eating plan. Plus daily physical activity is a must – when I consider having a treat (including an occasional bit of candy), I think about it in terms of ‘treadmill time’ to decide if it’s worth it. Sometimes I have the treat, sometimes it’s NOT worth it. But this is absolutely working; I’ve gone down 5 sizes and feel great and will NEVER go back to my old, bad habits. When people say they went back to ‘normal’ eatiing and gained the weight back, it’s because they went back to their old patterns of OVEReating. As the weight comes off, you can move to true ‘normal’ eating (meaning healthy, balanced reasonable portion sizes), with healthy, daily exercise and the weight will stay off.

  • LeeAnn

    Wonderful Diet!! I am getting fantastic results with an 800-1000 calorie a day diet. The first few days were kinda odd since I was figuring it out on my own and kept my calories low, but my nutrition was off. I have since figured out how to eat properly and maintain low calories. It’s all about balance. I can even eat a bowl of cookie crisp for breakfast with 2% milk! The key is to just have 1 serving. I cup of Cookie Crisp is 100 calories. 1/4 cup of milk is 30.2 calories. There you go! A delicious (and sweet tooth satisfying) cereal that will fill you up. I make sure that I drink at least 8 cups of water daily (I usually drink 12-16 actually) and I have SO much energy! I do Hatha Yoga for 30 minutes a day, get in a few minutes of pushups and bicycle crunches and 20-40 minutes on my elliptical and my body is shrinking like magic. I LOVE this diet. I have tried all the diet pills, the “miracle” cures and NOTHING is as effective as controlling your calories and upping your exercise, especially for people who have lots of weight to lose.

  • alen

    I need a low calorie diet program.

  • lynsey

    im returnin to a low cal diet after havin ben on them before since around 2002 and for last year been eating basically wat i want iv gone up from 8st to over 9 st peviously iv been down in the 6st somethings and have to say i have never experienced this hairloss ppl are talkin about altho fainting and dizzyness was a symptom at my lower wieghts never have i lost hair that iv noticed… could this be because i have lots of bushy hair ne way lol or cause my bodies used to lack of vitamins due to being an unhealthy veggie eater most of my life lol??? just curious after reading so much about hairloss on here!!

  • Shannon

    I completed 6 months on vlcd low carb diet and lost 61 lbs.

  • Shelia Beans

    The low calorie diet DOES work. 3 months ago I weighed 178 pounds and I am now down to 140 pounds. I make sure to get in my protein and iron and get my ass to the gym almost everyday. I think as long as you dont give up and after you loose the weight uptake your calories slowly and workout more you shouldnt gain the weight back. Ive adapted a vegan lifestyle and it has worked GREAT for me. I feel healthier and better about myself than ever. Oh yeah and make sure to eat your vitamins. Ive had no problem with hair loss either so I dont know what all that madness is aboot.

  • Iku

    Rofl. They work.
    But after you’re done you cannot start eating like you did when you gained weight again. That’s why you gain the weight back!!!
    If you keep yourself under 2000 calories (or whatever your body burns daily) you will not gain the weight back. Some people are so dumb. :3

  • Hannah

    I have been on a 640 or less cal diet each day for one month now. I have “oopsed” twice in the month. Once was for Easter, the other was at a party. But it wasn’t a horrible “oops.” I have lost 13 pounds in the month of this diet. I usually just eat 100 cal snacks for lunch, and breakfast, and have a bigger dinner. But I plan on switching my diet around, choosing healthier snacks and so on. I am doing this diet absolutely on my own, with no support, or any specific diet plan. So if anybody that has been on this low cal kind of diet, please send me some tips, I would really appreciate it. I could really use some tips on low cal meals and snacks(note I am polo vegetarian.)

  • gwafa

    from now on,i will try hopefully it will work..i want 2 b skinny..

  • happy

    hi, the people on here who use foul language and are negative abviously have nothing better to do, what a sad shame.

  • ME

    so i have a question. I follow my diet everyday, without any slips. But recently I slipped on my birthday. Is this ruining how far I’ve come, or did it mess up my metabolism? Or, will my diet keep working? Just wondering, if that slip ruined all my hard work, that would SUCK. I ate a cupcake, a shishcobob, and heavily mayonnaise pasta for dinner. Sounds bad huh?

  • Trey

    happy:
    obviously you don’t have anything better to do either, because you’re commenting on this just like they did… and just like i’m doing… wow.

    anyways. vlcd’s seem like a really cool thing & i’d like to try one but idk where you guys are getting the programs and stuff. like which one are you using? how did you decide?

  • ME

    well I’m not any specific plan;i made up my own.
    I used to consume probably 2500 cals a day, which is double my need.
    Now I eat no more than 640 cals a day.
    Honestly I am never hungry, unsatisfied. My diet now is just more well planned and well balanced now. Good luck.:)

  • Shannon

    Update: Still maintaining the weightloss. I’m off VLCD Low Cal (started Sep 08 finished Mar 09) I eat sensibly, count calories and exercise. Weight – 140.

  • lj

    VLCD 5 days now, down 3 pounds body fat. Drinking lots of water and protein shakes. 8 week goal

  • Tina

    I have been following the bettermd plan for 8 weeks and have lost 32 pounds, I highly recommend it! It is great to have someone to do this with! I walk almost everyday for 1 hour, but that is the extent of my exercising. I buy my food from bariatric choice. You can search either name to get the web address. Also, try miracle noodles….no cals or fat. They are different, but they are good.

  • ME

    So I’ve been on this diet since april 3rd. I am 124 pounds right now. I have went so terribly off this diet this weekend due to 3 family partys with lots of junk food! but no worries i am goin back on my diet tomorrow, i gained 2 pounds due to my 3 day slip! but it’s summer for me, and I plan to excercise a lot more now! some advice for people-if you go off track during the day don’t give it up the rest of the day and eat even crapier-everyone makes mistakes, but you can always recover from your slips. don’t give up. I went from a size 13 to a size 7 pants. it’s great to be able to fit into jeans without problems.

  • Janealane

    Hey,
    In response to Hanna’s post on may 6th. I would suggest that you switch the timing that you eat. In stead eating your big meal later eat a bigger breakfast and then the snacks for lunch and dinner. This will help your metabolism speed up during the day and you will burn more. Also, drinking something like V8 is a great way to get your veggies and it is low cal. A great breakfast that I love is the Fage greek yogurt with strawberries. It has a good amount of protein and tastes great. Another tip is that if you work out in the evening try to eat some protein afterward (I like a hard boiled egg) and then do not eat anything till the next day. Your metabolism will be burning those stinky cals all night. I am currently 139 and would like to be in the 115-120 range. If anyone has any tips let me know! Thanks and good luck to everyone!!

  • tanya

    i lost about 25 pounds in 2 months when i ate less than 800 calories a day. it was hell. i maintained this weight for about 1.5 yrs, but gained it all back. im now at my highest weight 🙁 and looking to lose it again..a healthier way so i dont feel so deprived

  • ME

    i have been off my diet for awhile now. but…i have watched what i ate and watched my portions. i have gained maybe 1 pound in 2 weeks(which is due to my occasional desserts i’ve been craving like hell) but i’d like to say if you’re going to go on this diet make sure you get medical supervision or take good vitamins i noticed after about 2 months into the diet i started bruising REALLLY easily everywhere(mostly on my legs) i can’t think thats healthy:/but good luck to everyone-it is a success if you stick with it.

  • chels

    you should never eat less then 1200 calories a day. EVER. losing weight takes time and and very hard work. you need to eat 5-6 healthy meals a day and exercise at minimum 3 times a week. cutting your calories to 500 a day will OF COURSE make you lose weight. so will not eating at all. its not just about how you look its also what your doing to the inside of your body. being over weight destroys your organs and health. so does starving yourself. 500 calories is not healthy for anyone. you need to talk to a doctor so he can slap some sense into you.

  • tracy mculloch

    sounds great but need set menu or food becomes an issue.ive tried all classes for weight loss but just cant count points etc ad am 5 stone over weight thanks HELP

  • jackie flynn

    I have been doin the lighter life diet which is similiar to the canbridge and done under medical supervision. You also go for counselling. i have tried every diet you can think of and this is the only one i can work with. its not for everyone but its definetely the one for me. People try to scare monger without reading the actual facts. this diet is done with monthly medical checks. i have lost 8 stone and will shortly be going on to the management programme. i would definetely recommend this programme.

  • SS

    I have been on this for 3 weeks and lost a total of 13 pounds. I am on 900-1000 cal a day. Weekdays: 1 protein bar a day, 3 protein shakes a day with 2% = 160 cal each, 100g of lean protein, 1 fruit a day, 3 vegetables a day. No butter or oils, just herbs and seasonings. Weekends I add 1 slice of whole wheat toast, and cut out 2 of the shakes and the bar and add in another 100g lean protein with another vegetable. But I seem to be at a pleateau or stand still. I work out 5x a week, medium intensity, Wii Active, about 25 minutes a day. SO FUN! I am now 5’1″, 184 pounds. I did a body fat test online with various body meaasurements they asked for and I got a 27%. Can anyone help me? I am also hypoglycemic so I have to eat every couple hours, but this weight loss has helped that alot! 36 years old!

  • SS

    Oh yea, I take a Centrum Forte, Caltrate, Vit E, 1000mg of Omega 3 daily!

  • sandy

    The 800 vlcd is working for me. Losing 2.5 lbs a week while maintaining a proper high fiber (more than 20g) and high protein diet, and exercising 3 days a week (strength training mostly to get that sculpted athletic look). I feel energized throughout the day. Stay away from sugar, eat plenty of veggies and in order to keep fiber in your system, buy some Metamucil Clear & Natural..keeps you from craving foods and controls your blood sugar levels.

  • penny hammonds

    hi,i have lost alot of weight but now i think i am stuck.with the start of the new year i want to lose some more.the vlcd sounds great to me.can you give some tips.i look so forward to doing this.

  • Shannon

    Update: I have one year of maintaining my weight. I started VLCD low carb on Sep 18, 08. Lost 60lbs by Mar 09. Last June I was at 140. Today (May 2010) I weight 145. I’ve inspired two people to consider VLCD. One, female, joined the same weight loss center I joined which is supervised by a nurse. I was surprised that one, male, is doing the same diet at a local hospital.

  • instantlock

    PLEASE PAY ATTENTION : Even if you are under professional supervision, make sure you are taking necessary amounts of nutritions (vitamins, minerals, aminoacids and lipids). Only counting calories can ruin your health. You MUST have this free open source software CRON-O-METER , believe me, it ROCKS, nothing like it. If your VLCD does not achieve recommended amounts for all (never does-1200cal. is minimum for that) you will need some multi vitamins. Over the counter one-a-day, centrum are not good (fake), google it if you want to know really good ones.

  • nancy

    I have non diabetic hypoglycemia and desperately need a low calorie diet that will meet my needs as far as food is concerned. I hope someone can help me. thank you nancy