Extremely Low Calorie Diet

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Question:

I want to lose some fat. Is it OK to eat 800-1000 calories a day? I know this is a low intake, but I don’t intend to stay there forever.

Answer:

Nothing is wrong with eating 800-1000 calories a day for a stretch. It’s very effective for weight loss.

After you’ve reached the desired weight loss, you can switch to eating your maintenance calorie level. You’d have to figure out what that level is, and the simplest way is to add back a few hundred calories at a time, and see how your body responds.

Just remember that when you’re lighter, your daily calorie requirement is naturally lower than when you were heavier; so don’t over-shoot when you switch to maintenance.

Despite what many people will tell you about eating 800-1000 calories per day (harmful, bad for your metabolism, yadda yadda), it is perfectly fine for a period in which you’re trying to lose weight/fat. Just make sure you include resistance exercise to maintain muscle mass.

Two studies show subjects on 800 calories per day for a 3 months can still build appreciable muscle mass, and experience no ill health effect (Donnelly, 1993; Bryner, 1999).

Don’t let the neo-experts spew the same recycled warning that extremely low calorie intake is bad for you. They’ve heard it from somewhere else and are trying to recycle it to you.

Used temporarily, extremely low calorie intake has been proven to be very effective for weight loss and concurrently safe. At completion of the weight loss, however, switch to maintenance intake — which is lower than the level that had caused the weight gain in the first place.

Keep it in a healthy perspective. The average person can’t eat 800 calories forever, but for those wishing to lose fat, eating 800 calories for a definitive stretch of time can be very useful.

Intermittent fasting makes short-term extremely-low-calorie intake and maintenance calorie intake simpler.

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14 Responses to Extremely Low Calorie Diet

  1. KellyD says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Johnny. It should answer a lot of questions that many of us have, especially for those of who eat one meal a day and don’t wish to overeat just to achieve some particular number.

    Eight-hundred to 1000 calories is what I can comfortably eat in one meal if I’m eating healthy foods. When eating out, all bets are off. I’m talking General Tso’s chicken, lol.

  2. Chris says:

    Well said Johnny. Would it make sense to eat the majority of
    those calories when your body is primed to use them optimally i.e. pre and post workout?

  3. Kristin says:

    thanks for this very upfront article Johnny! what would be a short period of time? a couple of day? a couple of weeks? months? i know you say one can eat a LCD until they reach their goal weight. but is this a point where it would be harmful to continue to eat so low? would you suggest one eat LCD for a month or two? then maintence then back to LCD? almost like zing zagging? thank you

    • Johnny says:

      HI Kristine,

      You can certainly do a very low calorie diet for a certain period of time — longer with extra body weight, shorter with less — without adverse health effects. Once you’ve lost extra weight, then there’s really no reason to stay on the VLCD. Switch to just a maintenance calorie diet, whether through eating the typical Western dietary pattern or through intermittent fasting.

      Intermittent fasting can teach us how to manipulate calorie intake in the face of the overeating that comes from celebration, holidays, birthdays, etc.

      Our intake is not static — if it creeps up, bring it back down. If it explodes upward for a period, then bring it low for a period.

      Best,
      Johnny

  4. I’m currently doing a version of the Protein Sparing Modified Fast which is around 800 calories a day mostly all protein (150g for me a day) in order to maintain lean muscle mass while on it. The more weight you have to lose the longer you can do it but you should have refeeds every once in awhile to keep hormones like leptin up. I recommend The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook (a little pricey at 39.99 but I found it worth it) by Lyle McDonald for those interested in an extended PSMF which is different than Intermittent Fasting.

  5. Turling says:

    My understanding, although I have no specific studies to reference, is that ultralow calorie diets also slow the aging process and may be part of the key to living a longer life. Apparently, the more food one eats, the faster cells tend to breakdown in the body. I wish I could remember where I read that. (Knowing me, it was probably here.)

    • Johnny says:

      Yes, Turling, increased longevity is strongly associated with decreased calorie consumption across a wide range of animals, and there’s good indication that this may also occur in human, too.

      In numerous studies of human subjects using calorie restrictions and intermittent fasting, it is shown that numerous health markers improve. You have to believe that this has a direct effect on longevity.

      But what’s most important is not so much how many more years of life, but how much life you put into those years. Being healthy while you’re still alive is a good thing.

      Best,
      Johnny

  6. Greg Linster says:

    Glad to have you back on the blogging scene Johnny! I find my maintenance caloric level is much lower than I initially had thought. I’m looking leaner and feeling stronger than every before using IF and body-weight exercises only. I couldn’t get this lean when I was doing crazy amounts of aerobic work for triathlons.

    Cheers,
    Greg

  7. Al says:

    Regarding you last sentence: “Intermittent fasting makes short-term extremely-low-calorie intake and maintenance calorie intake simpler.” Exactly HOW does IF make calorie control simpler? I mus not be grasping this “simple” of the whole concept. Is it because all of your meals are bunched together or something else? Thnaks!

    • Johnny says:

      Simple, Al. For short-term extremely low calorie intake, it’s natural that you have to be in control when you eat. IF makes it simpler (though not necessarily easier) because you eat fewer meals, which essentially means you have to be “in control” fewer times in the day or week. If you eat 3 to 6 meals a day, those are all meals for which you must practice this “control,” which means you must have this control ALL DAY long, instead of just for a shorter periods of time.

      Plus, when you’re doing IF, you remove the ambiguity of eating. There’s no potential for eating this or snacking that. You just don’t eat. That adds to the simplicity.

      Control is control. You need it for extremely low calories, no matter what. But when you IF (or “turn off the valve”), you only have to worry about this need for control within a much smaller window.

      Plus, if you IF, you probably don’t have to count calories — another reason things are simpler. If you maintain control during the feeding windows, you are pretty much guaranteed to have a calorie deficit.

      It sounds really simple, because it is.

      Best,
      Johnny

  8. Al says:

    I think my problem is th control part of the equation. I think if I:

    1) eat (mostly) wholesome foods
    2) not stuffing myself (I assume this is the “control” part)
    3) using IF (I like your version best – 8 hour window)

    …..then I can see how a calorie deficit is guaranteed. Thanks!

  9. thesplitpindiary says:

    Thanks for an insightful no-nonsense article! There is so much conflicting information and opinion out there about low calorie diets, their affect on metabolism and weight loss, but I find that in order to lose weight, it’s really the only thing that works. Obviously I combine low calorie dieting with a fairly close control on what comprises those calories too. And I agree, doing it until goal weight is reached, then slowly introducing an extra hundred calories here and there until the maintenance intake can be determined is best. No one calorie figure will work for everyone, and the most common of all diet mistakes is to say ‘great, goal weight reached, back to normal’. Which obviously means, immediate re-gain of all weight loss.

    I’m in a restriction phase, I’ve got about 16lbs to lose still (started with 20 to lose, so 4 down last week!) and as soon as I’ve lost the other 16, I’ll be very VERY cautiously adding in more calories. No junk food!

    —–
    Recipes, meal plans, weight loss: thesplitpindiary.wordpress.com

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