Is a very low calorie diet right for you?

Reducing calories and carbohydrates can have huge benefits for your weight and health. 

Two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese – and the numbers aren’t getting any better.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of serious medical issues, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and other chronic conditions.

So losing weight can play a big part in improving your health.

The challenge of losing weight 

But it’s no secret that losing weight isn’t always simple.

Many weight loss programs focus on changing habits, such as eating more healthy foods, cutting down on portion sizes and getting more regular exercise.

But if you’re facing health issues, a few simple lifestyle changes may not be enough.

You might need to think about other ways to help you manage your weight quickly, such as a very low calorie diet (VLCD).

What is a very low calorie diet?

Sometimes referred to as a low energy diet, a VLCD is a low carbohydrate, high protein diet that replaces all meals with prepared formulations – think shakes, soups, desserts or bars.

You get all the nutrition you need, including protein, vitamins and minerals, with a total intake of no more than 800 calories a day.

A VLCD program may be appropriate for those with a body mass index (BMI) over 30, or over 27 with certain health conditions.

To find out your BMI, take your weight in kilograms and divide it by your height squared (for example, 80kg divided by 1.75 x 1.75).

How does a very low calorie diet work?

VLCDs aid weight loss by reducing both carbohydrate and energy intake.

Restricting carbohydrates allows the body to use its own fat stores as energy, in a process called ketosis.

It’s vital to preserve lean body mass while losing excess body fat, so it is important to ensure your VLCD gives you enough protein.

What are the benefits of a very low calorie diet?

Studies have found that VLCD programs can help manage obesity effectively, with weight loss averaging about 1-2.5kg a week when all three meals are replaced each day for up to 12 weeks.

In other studies, weight loss with VLCD programs have been shown to improve health outcomes in people with conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

It’s important to check with your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist before starting a restricted diet, to make sure it’s the best option for you.

What are the side-effects of a very low calorie diet?

As with any dietary changes, it can take a little time to get used to a very low calorie diet.

As the body transitions into ketosis, minor side effects may include fatigue, hunger, lack of concentration, nausea and headaches.

Some people find they are more sensitive to cold or more irritable, and may experience some halitosis, hair loss, constipation, muscle cramps or menstrual disturbances.

Side effects are generally mild and usually improve within a few weeks.

So you want to try a VLCD. Should you see a dietitian? 

Yes, in a nutshell. A dietitian is best placed to advise you on not only the nutritional values of food, but how to get the most out of your dietary intake.

They can also help create a personal dietary plan that will help you stay healthy inside and out, and keep your weight loss on track.

This post is brought to you by the OPTIFAST VLCD team.

Optifast VLCD is a food for special medical purposes for the dietary management of obesity. Must be used under medical supervision. Optifast is unsuitable for pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding. Please speak to your healthcare professional to see if the program is suitable for you.