Losing weight safely means balancing protein, fat, and carbohydrate with every meal and snack. You'll feel fuller longer as your body takes its time digesting the food. There is no perfect method for weight loss, but it helps to have a guide.
If you need some help making your meals and snacks balanced, a dietitian can help you create a plan that fits your lifestyle. Also, you can look at the nutrition facts label to figure out the fat, carbohydrate, and protein in foods.
In the table, find your gender, age, and activity level.
|Physical activity level|
|Gender||Age (years)||Sedentary||Moderately active||Active|
|Very young boys and girls||2–3||1,000–1,200||1,000–1,400||1,000–1,400|
*Pregnant or breast–feeding women have different calorie needs.
Very low-calorie diets
Use extreme caution with a very low-calorie diet (VLCD). You are starving your body. VLCDs generally are not recommended. Regaining weight is almost certain, which is damaging both physically and psychologically. If you need to lose weight, it is better to lose weight slowly. You will be more likely to lose the weight safely and keep it off.
Although initial weight loss is greater on a VLCD than on a low-calorie diet, in the long term about the same amount of weight is lost in both types of diets.2
Diets this low in calories (less than 1,000 calories a day) generally do not provide enough nutrients for good health unless the diet is specially prepared. You will need the assistance of a health professional. A diet that does not have enough vitamins or minerals can lead to serious, potentially fatal health problems.
These diets are not recommended if you have heart problems, blood clotting problems, bleeding ulcers, liver disease, kidney disease, or cancer or if you have had a stroke. If you are older than 50, you will need frequent monitoring by your health professional to be sure you are losing fat and not muscle.
People on these diets often feel tired or have constipation, nausea, or diarrhea as a side effect.
The most common serious side effect is developing gallstones. People who are obese are more likely to develop gallstones than people who are lean, and when a person who is obese uses a very low-calorie diet, the chance that he or she will develop gallstones becomes even greater. People who lose a large amount of weight quickly are at greater risk than those who lose weight more slowly. Studies have shown that people who lose more than 3 lb (1.4 kg) a week are at greater risk for gallstones.3 But you can take medicine that helps prevent gallstones from forming.
The following are the changes your body goes through during a VLCD:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.
- American Gastroenterological Association (2002, reapproved 2008). AGA technical review on obesity. Gastroenterology, 123(3): 882–932. [Erratum in Gastroenterology, 123(5): 1752.]
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). Dieting and Gallstones (NIH Publication No. 02–3677). Available online: http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/gallstones.htm.
Last Revised: October 21, 2011
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