Low calorie diet: 12 health risks to consider

Let's say it right away: Any low-calorie diet that makes you eat less than 1,200 Calories a day carries risks to your health.

Unfortunately, when you want to lose weight quickly, you are often tempted to drastically reduce your caloric intake. But too drastic a low-calorie diet is neither good for the body nor for motivation.

A few words about calories

In nutrition, calories are the energy we get from food. There is moreover a confusion in the manner of indicating this measurement. If you read an article that talks about a 1500 calorie a day diet, you're wrong. You should normally indicate calories or Cal (with a capital C) or Kcal (kilocalories) when talking about food. Because if you only eat 1500 calories, you have the appetite of an anorexic sparrow, and even then…

The body needs this energy to function, but consuming too much of it makes you fat. Conversely, one must create a caloric deficit to reduce weight. There is no alternative to this scientific fact called thermodynamics.

When you take in fewer calories than your body needs for energy, it is forced to make up the difference by burning body fat.

What is a low calorie diet?

Low Calorie Diet and Calorie Density
Calorie intake by type of food

As you have no doubt understood, any dietary rebalancing that allows you to create a calorie deficit can be called a low calorie diet.

That being said, diet isn't the only way to get you there. Indeed, you can create a deficit by following one or more of these 3 rules:

  1. Eat less (reduce portions)
  2. Favor satiating, low-calorie foods among fresh fruits and vegetables (see image)
  3. Exercise to burn extra calories

But you have to be careful. While a moderate reduction in calories absorbed will allow you to lose weight permanently, very low calorie diets have harmful consequences which I will discuss below. And they're also not the best at helping you lose weight in the long run.

What can be described as too draconian a diet?

It is generally recommended for women to eat no less than 1,200 Calories a day and for men no less than 1,500 Calories a day when they want to lose weight. You should at least eat this to reduce the risk of nutritional deficiency and potential health problems.

That being said, it's still too little in my opinion for most people because feeling hungry is often a problem. It's normal to be hungry from time to time, and it's very healthy. But being constantly hungry becomes an unbearable suffering.

That's why I recommend that you learn to recognize foods with low caloric density and high satiating power.

Do low calorie diets work for weight loss?

Yes, they can help you lose weight, but just because dieting helps you lose weight doesn't mean it's healthy. They can help you lose weight in the short term, but they are not long-lasting. 

Food is the fuel that gives you energy. When you eat too little compared to your real needs, you are hungry, you are tired and you do not have the energy necessary to carry out your daily tasks, and even less to play sports.

In fact, people who follow this type of diet have a harder time maintaining their weight loss over time. It makes sense because if you're always hungry and exhausted, chances are you'll end up giving up trying. And as numerous studies show, 85% of people who dieted returned to their original weight within a year. Some even have more body fat than before.

Not to mention that if you eat too little, you also lose muscle mass. This phenomenon further accelerates the recovery of extra pounds since we know that muscles consume calories, even at rest.

This is why it is better to choose a slightly deficient diet with sufficient energy intake accompanied by regular exercise, 5 times a week. The objective must be to succeed in creating a deficit of 300 to 500 Kcal per day without suffering. This will allow you to lose 2 kilos of fat per month without feeling hungry if you follow the 3 rules outlined above.

It may not seem like a lot, but it's enough for most overweight people, since they can get rid of 24 pounds in a year. Of course, those who are obese can aim for a larger deficit, but you still have to choose a sustainable pace. The good news is that gaining muscle at the same time speeds up the elimination of fat stores.

Now let's talk about the dangers of a low calorie diet...

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12 Health Risks of a Strict Calorie Diet

Low calorie diet risks

Low-calorie diets aren't just hard to follow. They can actually hamper your efforts and lead to serious health issues. Here are some problems with this type of diet:

1. Slowing of metabolism

It's a fact, consuming too few calories pushes the body into survival mode. In this case, the body slows down the burning of calories in order to preserve its fat store. It is a way for him to prepare for a possible famine.

Ultimately, this natural phenomenon complicates weight loss. What's worse is that your metabolism may remain sluggish even if you resume a more calorie-dense diet, which will only accelerate your weight gain.

This is one more reason to favor a moderate deficit that meets the majority of your energy needs, accompanied by weight training sessions. That way, you won't experience the yo-yo effect of most diets on the market.

2. Fatigue and dizziness

Have you heard of basal metabolic rate (BMR)?

The body consumes calories for its basic functioning, even if you are sleeping or watching TV. It needs energy to run the brain, heart, respiration, digestion, cell and muscle repair, etc.

And if you consume less than your MB needs, you will start to feel weak or exhausted. You may even feel dizzy or lightheaded, as not eating enough can lead to dehydration and low blood sugar.

3. Decline in immunity

Drastically restricting calories increases the risk of infection and disease. This applies to viruses and immune weakening is even worse if you have a high level of physical activity.

For example, one study found that athletes in disciplines that place a heavy emphasis on body leanness were almost twice as likely to have been ill in the previous three months. This is due in particular to the efforts made on their diet to keep their muscles lean.

NOTE : The effects in people who do not exercise, however, require further research before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

4. Lack of energy to exercise

If your body doesn't have enough energy for its basal metabolic rate, it will have a hard time finding it for a workout. Drastic calorie cuts induce hormonal changes that encourage your body to limit its energy expenditure as much as possible.

Even if you do a session, your body will do everything to save as many calories as possible instead of burning them for energy. As a result, you may have trouble reducing your body fat by playing sports.

It is therefore better to find a point of balance between your daily nutritional needs to stay healthy and a sufficient deficit to lose fat in a sustainable way.

5. Fertility issues

Too much calorie restriction also affects fertility. This is especially true for women, as the ability to ovulate depends on hormone levels. Specifically, an increase in estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels are required for ovulation to occur.

Interestingly, research has shown that HL levels depend on the calories available in the diet. Studies show that reproductive function is suppressed in women who consume 22-42% less calories than they actually need.

Signs of a fertility problem can include irregular menstrual cycles or missing periods.

6. Muscle wasting

When the body receives fewer calories than it needs, it compensates by removing triglycerides from fat cells. It is a virtuous process if one follows a balanced diet. The problem is that when the caloric deficit is large, the body can start drawing energy from muscle tissue. And that's not good at all...

Muscle loss isn't good in general, but it's especially bad if you're trying to lose weight or maintain your ideal weight, because muscle burns more calories than fat, including at rest. In other words, muscles are your allies in losing fat and maintaining a healthy weight.

7. Nutritional deficiencies

When you eat, you also consume essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. A strict diet often creates a lack of micronutrients, setting the stage for possible deficiencies that can affect your health.

For example, if you do not consume enough calcium such as that contained in cottage cheese, nuts, fish, dried fruits and seeds, you increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

8. Gallstones

Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile that form in the gallbladder. They don't always cause symptoms, but they can be painful and often the only way to treat them is to have them surgically removed.

They are more likely to form in a person who loses weight very quickly, such as on a low-calorie diet. Although studies are still needed on the subject, it seems that rapid weight loss leads to changes in the way the body metabolizes fat, which could trigger these stones.

9. Appearance of nausea

Nausea is often associated with overeating or a drunken night out, but it can also happen when you're not eating enough. Acid can build up in an empty stomach, and this can trigger nausea. This can also be a common side effect of gallstones (see point 8).

In addition, certain nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of vitamin B12 present in meats and fish, can affect the digestive tract and cause nausea.

10. Constipation or diarrhea

Sorry to talk on a scatological topic, but there are a number of reasons why low calorie diets can cause problems in this area. A diet low in fiber or not drinking enough can lead to constipation.

Additionally, a deficiency in vitamins like B12 can lead to either constipation or diarrhea.

11. Unsustainable long-term weight loss

Most people find it difficult to stick to a low-calorie diet for long. It's just too restrictive to follow for long. In addition, you risk triggering eating disorders in you if you hold on.

You must be lucid, even if you are very motivated to lose weight. Constantly facing physical discomfort, constantly resisting hunger (including when others are eating next to you) or depriving yourself of your favorite foods are unbearable constraints in the long term.

And in the context of a resumption of a classic diet after months of deprivation, there is a good chance that you will quickly lose all control and regain the pounds lost after so many sacrifices.

12. Bone fragility

Consuming too few calories can weaken bones.

This is because calorie restriction can reduce estrogen and testosterone levels. Low levels of these two reproductive hormones are thought to reduce bone density and lead to bone breakdown.

Bone loss is particularly serious because it is often irreversible and increases the risk of fractures.

How to calculate your calories to lose weight

low calorie diet

People trying to lose weight should eat about 500 Kcal less per day than they actually need. This is the rate to lose 500 grams of body fat per week or 2 kilos per month. This still represents 24 kilos per year!

Results won't be as quick or dramatic as you'll get from a very strict calorie-restricted diet, but this approach will increase your chances of long-term success and good health.

Not sure how many calories you should eat to lose weight? You can make an approximate calculation of your needs by:

  1. ​Calculating your MB using the formula Mifflin St Jeor
  2. Determining how many calories you should eat with a free calculator

​These numbers are based on factors such as your height, weight, age and gender, as well as your daily activity level. Of course, this is only an estimate, but it's a good starting point and you can adjust according to your feelings.

To make things a little easier at first, you can use a calorie calculator like the free app FatSecret and write down what you are currently eating. It's often a good revealer for those who feel like they don't eat that much 😉

A healthy diet rather than low calories

Of course it can be important to lose weight to improve your health and feel better about yourself. But not by doing anything!

The most sustainable diets for successful weight loss emphasize a variety of nutritious foods and rebalancing rather than completely rejecting certain nutrients. It is always possible to eat wholemeal bread or potatoes while losing weight. Finally, the important thing is always the total calories at the end of the day.

You have to find the right balance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats according to the kilos to be lost, and not because it is a fad. Ketogenic diets with zero carbohydrates or those that prohibit lipids have all shown their limits over time. Similarly, high protein diets generate other undesirable effects.

There are much more natural and enjoyable ways to get rid of fat, regardless of age and physical condition. Moreover, the results are much more obvious when we focus on a set of methods that add up rather than a radical change. Know that a small calorie deficit over several months produces more weight loss than a large deficit over a few days or weeks.

This is why I have put together a program based on a set of effective techniques based on the most recent scientific research to help you lose weight permanently without starving yourself. Click on the link below to discover this dietary program which has already helped more than 500 people to reach their ideal weight:

Low Calorie Diet: Conclusion

Low calorie diets of less than 1200 Kcal for women and 1500 for men are generally not a good solution for weight loss. they are difficult to follow and can have health consequences.

You need to get rid of your body fat in a healthier way by creating a deficit of around 500 Calories a day. This will allow you to lose 500 grams of fat per week, and up to 1 kilo if you follow a fitness or bodybuilding program in addition.

If you are obese and think a low-calorie diet might help you lose weight, first speak with a qualified healthcare professional to develop a nutritionally safe eating plan. This will also allow you to have medical monitoring throughout the process.

So, are you ready to lose weight?

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