What Are Low Calorie Diets and Are They Right For You

Years ago almost all weight loss diets were low calorie diets. With all the different kinds of diets available today we may need to ask what low calorie diets are, and if they really work.

In order to lose weight you have to burn up more calories than you take in. Most people do this by controlling their eating and increasing their physical activity. With a low calorie diet you control your eating by counting calories. You determine how many calories you should consume each day, then you limit your intake accordingly.

How Many Calories a Day?

For women who are inactive, nutritionists recommend 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day. For inactive men the range is 2,000 to 2,200 a day. Add 600 to 800 calories if you are very active. These numbers are for the average adult, and can vary according to your age, current weight, medical condition, and weight loss goals. Because your caloric needs may differ from the above, it is a good idea to consult a doctor, nutritionist, or dietician before you embark on a serious weight loss diet, especially if you have a chronic medical condition or take medication.

Medical professionals generally recommend slow and gradual weight loss for people who want to lose weight. Slow and gradual means one pound or a pound and a half per week. Many people can do this by consuming 500 fewer calories a day. People who are very overweight may initially lose weight more quickly.

How to Count Calories

Once you set your daily calorie limit, you have to count calories to make sure you stay within that limit. You can find out the calorie content of foods from calorie books and from online calorie counters. A typical online calorie counter lets you search for each food in question and gives you the calories for various forms of that food. It will tell you, for example, that one small (2 ½-inch diameter) apple has 53 calories and a large (3 ¼-inch) apple has 116 calories. Peel that large apple and you skin away 12 calories. Some online calorie counters also give nutritional information: the large apple has five grams of dietary fiber, which is 21 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for dietary fiber.

Calorie counters also give you information on prepared foods. Taking baked beans as an example, you learn that a half-cup of canned vegetarian baked beans has 119 calories, while the same amount of baked beans with franks has 184 calories. As you can see from this example, the information you find in calorie counters can help you make calorie-wise food choices. How important are those franks in the beans? Can you do with them?

You can also learn the calories of processed foods by reading the food labels. When comparing foods make sure you take the size of the serving into account. If the label on one jar of peanut butter says one serving has 188 calories and the serving size is two tablespoons and another type of peanut butter has 101 calories per serving with a serving size of one tablespoon, which is lower in calories? The kind with 188 calories in two tablespoons is lower in calories than the kind with 101 calories in one tablespoon. It can be tricky, so read labels carefully.

What Foods Are You Going To Eat?

On a low calorie diet you can eat anything you want as long as you do not go over your daily calorie allowance. If you want to eat two Burger King Double Whoppers at 900 calories each, technically you can on a low calorie diet, but that’s it for the day. Of course, that’s not a good idea because you will be hungry, you won’t meet your nutritional needs, and you will be so miserable you will quit dieting. So, while you can eat whatever you want, keep in mind that a well-balanced diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein is your best bet.

On the other hand, you do want to include foods you enjoy in your diet. You need to be thinking about a diet you can maintain for the long run, not just something to endure for a few weeks or months. So include foods you like, maybe just in smaller amounts.

Weigh and Measure Your Food

You must weigh or measure every food you eat and write down the calories. People who count calories often keep a small notebook with them and write down what they eat during the day. At the end of each day they figure out the calories. Experts recommend against guessing or estimating because it usually results in exceeding your calorie allowance.

What are Very Low Calorie Diets?

Doctors may recommend very low calorie diets (VLCDs) for people who are moderately or severely obese. VLCDs use special meal preparations. Unlike over-the-counter meal replacements, which are meant to replace one or two meals a day, these meal preparations are usually intended to be the only source of calories.

Because the calorie allowance for a VLCD is so low, between 800 and 1,000 calories a day, it can have serious side effects, including slowing down the metabolism.  When the metabolism slows down, so does weight loss, plus the body starts consuming the lean muscle you want to keep. No one should go on a VLCD without the ongoing supervision of a medical provider.

Maintaining Your Weight

Now that you know what a low calorie diet is you can think about whether it’s right for you. Whatever method you use to lose weight, keeping the weight off means changing your habits. In addition to consuming fewer calories you may need to exercise more and make other changes in your lifestyle. Some successful dieters find they need to eat smaller meals and eat more often. Maybe you need to eat your main meal midday, stay away from the food table at parties, or swear off desserts. Use your weight loss period to examine your eating habits and discover what you can change to keep your weight where you want it.