What Are the Dangers of a Very Low Daily Calorie Intake?

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Food provides your body with the energy it needs to perform all of life’s basic functions, from breathing and pumping blood to more complicated movements and tasks. Even in a state of rest, your body is constantly working. Case in point: your body uses most of its energy stores while resting, which is why it’s important to replenish those stores by consuming enough calories each day.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a person assigned male at birth should consume between 2000 and 2800 calories per day, whereas a person assigned female at birth should consume between 1600 and 2400 per day on average. Any diet that contains 800 calories a day or less is considered a low-calorie diet. While unhealthy fad diets might lure folks into visions of ultra-quick weight loss, an 800 calorie diet can pose serious health risks, especially if it’s not prescribed by your doctor. 

In some cases, doctors prescribe low-calorie diets to patients, but, unlike the folks behind fad diets, a medical professional will ensure that there’s not only a legitimate, urgent need for the diet, but that the patient will receive all the nutrition and support they need while following the regimen. 

Here, we’ll delve into the ways a very low-calorie diet can be unsafe and unhealthy as well as some more realistic alternatives when it comes to weight loss goals. 

1. You Won’t Get the Nutrients Your Body Needs

Your body needs nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein, to stay healthy day-to-day and in the long term. For example, you need calcium for bone health, potassium or magnesium for heart health, and fiber for gut health, to name a few. Without enough calcium, you put yourself at an increased risk for bone diseases and fractures.

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Without enough potassium or magnesium, your heart rhythms could become irregular, you could experience heart palpitations, or you could have a stroke or heart attack. Too little fiber can lead to constipation, unhealthy blood sugar levels, and even colon cancer. With a diet of 800 calories a day, it’s almost impossible to get all the nutrients your body needs.

2. You’ll Feel A Lot More Sluggish

A very low-calorie diet will cause your body to go into survival mode. This means your muscles will start to break down for their stored glucose to get your body the energy it needs to function. Even if you work out, your muscle mass will likely decline, giving you less strength for movement of all kinds.

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Furthermore, without consuming enough calories per day, your metabolism starts to slow down in an effort to conserve energy. This will also cause you to feel a lot of unnecessary fatigue.

3. Your Overall Quality of Life Will Probably Decline

Very low-calorie diets can cause a slew of different negative side effects that are not only bad for your health, but uncomfortable. Most likely, you will always feel hungry and extremely fatigued. You may also experience constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, stomach cramps, headaches, dry mouth, and hair loss. 

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Very low-calorie diets can also lead to an eating disorder. For instance, extreme calorie-cutting can trigger spiked hunger levels, leading to binge eating. Most would probably agree that the pain and discomfort that comes with an 800 calorie a day diet alone make it not worth pursuing. 

4. Your Mental Abilities Won’t Be As Sharp

Your brain needs a continuous supply of glucose to function normally. Without it, your mental prowess will begin to lag. Glucose isn’t the only thing your brain needs either. Nutrients are also necessary to keep it running correctly.

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When you put your body through a very low-calorie diet, your starved brain could easily forget how to do basic tasks like cooking an egg or turning on a lamp. Your ability to focus on anything from a simple conversation to a television show to your work will also decline.

5. You’ll Increase Your Likelihood For Gallstones

One of the most common serious side effects of an 800 calorie a day diet is gallstones. This happens because your body will begin to break down fat to get the energy it is missing, which, in turn, causes the liver to secrete higher-than-normal levels of cholesterol.

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When that high cholesterol combines with bile, gallstones can easily form. Gallstones are common for people who are rapidly losing weight. They cause a significant amount of abdominal pain and can even require surgery.

6. The Weight Loss Typically Does Not Last

A meta-analysis of 29 studies (see Resource Links) found that low-calorie diets helped people lose weight in the short term. However, that weight loss usually did not last long-term.

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The reason for this is simple: once you stop the diet, the weight comes right back. Because an 800 calorie diet is not even remotely sustainable for health reasons, steer clear of it, as it won’t even give you the results you want.

Alternatives to a Very Low-Calorie Diet

An 800 calorie a day diet is dangerous and unsustainable. Instead, if you want to lose weight by cutting calories, there are several, much safer alternatives.

Try Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating where you have periods when you can eat and periods when you cannot. It doesn’t matter what you eat during your eating times. The only restriction is when you eat. Some of the most common intermittent fasting cycles are 16-hour and 24-hour fasting periods. The 16-hour fasting cycle allows you to eat for eight hours each day. The 24-hour fasting method is done only twice per week.

Fasting was a part of human evolution; back in the hunter-gatherer days, limited access to food sources meant that people went for day without eating. As such, humans evolved with the ability to function without eating for longer periods of time. Intermittent fasting has become a popular way to lose weight, and studies have shown it to be safe and effective as well when done properly. Be sure to consult a nutritionist or medical professional before starting a fasting regimen. 

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Try a Slightly Higher Calorie Count Per Day

The 800 calorie per day diet may be unsafe, but upping your daily calorie count just a tad is not generally considered dangerous. There are many easy-to-follow 1200 calorie diets and 1200 calorie menus around, and the 1200 calorie diet is within the standards of health safety for many folks. The 1400 calorie diet is another great option for people of all genders. Overall, researchers have found both the 1200 and 1400 calorie diets to be safe and effective ways to lose weight. So long as you consume enough nutrients each day, restricting your calorie count can be done safely.