Very Low Calorie Diet

Are you thinking of going on a very low calorie diet (for example, Lipotrim, LighterLife, Optislim)?
If so, the following are ten crucial questions you should consider before starting such a diet.

Q. Are you aged between 18 and 65?

Very low calorie diets are not suitable for infants, children and adolescents because this type of diet interferes with normal growth and development.

These types of diets are not recommended for elderly people because they are more vulnerable to adverse health effects that may accompany rapid weight loss.

Q. Are you pregnant?

These diets are not recommended for pregnant women. The drastic weight loss associated with their use would harm the baby developing in your womb.

Q. Are you breast feeding?

These diets are not recommended for women who are breast feeding. The drastic weight loss associated with their use would adversely affect breast feeding.

Q. Are you obese (i.e. more than 3 stone or 19 kg over your ideal weight)?

Very low calorie diets are based on total food replacement, leaving a substantial calorie gap, which will lead to drastic weight loss. Such diets are used as a medical treatment programme designed for obese patients only. Such individuals will have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 and above, in other words these people have more than about 3 stone or about 19 kg of weight to lose to reach a healthy body weight.

People who are not obese are at greater risk of adverse health consequences if they lose weight rapidly because fatness levels help to preserve loss of lean muscle tissue during the severe calorie restriction imposed by very low calorie diets.

Q. Have you been unsuccessful using less extreme weight loss diets before?

Very low calorie diets should only be used by people who have failed to lose weight using less restrictive diets involving the adaptation of normal food intake. Most obese people do manage to lose weight successfully but have great difficulty in maintaining the weight loss.

Q. Has a medical doctor assessed that you are suitable for this type of weight loss programme?

A medical assessment is essential to ensure that you do not have a medical condition that would make this type of diet unsuitable for you. You should not follow this diet if you have heart, liver or kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gout or porphyria. If you suffer from depression or other psychological conditions you should not use a very low calorie diet because of possible effects on mood. Finally, you may be on medication which needs to be adjusted due to the effects of the very low calorie diet.

Q. Are you being supervised by a medical doctor while following the very low calorie diet?

Continuous medical supervision is essential to ensure you remain healthy while following the very low calorie diet and to advise when you should need to increase your calorie intake (stop relying on the very low calorie diet as a sole source of nutrition). It is recommended that the initial assessment procedures are repeated after every 10-15% reduction in weight.

Q. Is a dietician involved in your weight loss programme?

A qualified dietician will work with your doctor in ensuring you meet all of your nutritional requirements while on the diet and will be crucial in helping you manage the change-over from the diet back to normal foods. When you stop following the very low calorie diet you will need expert advice and support on how to change your usual eating habits so that you do not regain all of the weight loss and to reduce your risk of ill health. There are health risks associated with weight loss and weight regain, sometimes referred to as yo-yo dieting.

Qualified dieticians, such as members of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, have the special training in the science of nutrition to design a plan around your lifestyle that will safeguard health and ensure you do not regain the weight you have lost on the very low calorie diet.

Q. Is there a limited period set down for following the very low calorie diet?

Expert Panels assessing very low calorie diets have recommended that they are used for periods of no more than four weeks. Their repeated use is also not encouraged. However the use of very low calorie diets have been used in a small number of studies for longer periods but all individuals were very closely monitored by medical specialists.

Usually there is a period of drastic energy restriction (the total replacement of food with the very low calorie diet) for a period of up to four weeks. This is followed by a re-feeding phase and a maintenance phase. A medical doctor and a qualified dietician should be involved in all three phases.

Q. Are magical claims or high pressure salesmanship involved in any part of the very low calorie diet?

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Resist strong pressure to buy something; instead, take time to consider the ‘magic cure’ in the context of these questions and only lose weight the healthy way.


Last reviewed: 18/3/2009

Latest Surveys/Press Releases/Reports 

Online Information Centre

HACCP Legislation