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    You Ask, I Answer: Low Calorie Diets

    What would you say is the minimum substantial amount of total calories you should eat to lose weight?

    Are 800 calorie diets really that bad?

    I was told that if you eat below 600 calories, your body goes into starvation mode.

    But if you stay from 600-1000, then you’re guaranteed weight loss?

    I just want to figure out what I’m doing wrong and fix it.

    I recall you saying that’s the wrong way to go but then why do so many dietitians and weight management centers recommend this ?

    — Janie (last name unknown)

    New York, NY

    Low calorie diets (those going below the minimum daily recommended intake of 1,200 calories) are a terrible idea.

    I take issue with the entire concept of a “diet.”

    If you go on one, you will inevitably go off it. And then what?

    Most likely, old habits return — along with the weight you initially set out to lose.

    What I recommend is a metamorphosis towards improved dietary patterns and relationships with food.

    I want to point out that this should always be looked at as a work in progress, and a process that isn’t consistently moving in one direction.

    An emotional setback or particularly stressful time, for instance, might have you reverting to old dietary patterns or seeking out high-calorie, sugar-laden comfort foods.

    Not surprisingly, in a society where we are basically told that if we do not get what we want in 7 days or less we might as well resign ourselves to the fact that we are failures, this thinking doesn’t exactly dominate the mainstream media.

    Instead, people are told that in order to lose weight, they must:

    Believe that food does not make them fat (The Secret)
    Not eat brown rice and chicken in the same meal (Suzanne Somers)
    Get a colonic every 2 days (Kevin Trudeau)
    Drink a hideous mix of maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper (Hollywood fast).

    And so on and so forth.

    If any dietitian, weight center, or book recommends that you eat less than 1,200 calories a day, RUN – do not walk – away.

    Going below this figure poses several problems.

    From a weight loss perspective, metabolism slows down (especially since the thyroid gland slows down production of thyroxine, a hormone that plays a major role in metabolism), lean mass is lost, and muscle tissue is broken down in order to create glucose.

    So, when you return to your normal caloric intake, you will undoubtedly gain weight because your body is no longer as efficient at burning calories.

    Going below 1,200 calories is also problematic from a health perspective.

    With such low caloric intakes, it is extremely difficult to obtain necessary nutrients from food, including fiber, calcium, iron, and potassium.

    Sure, there are always supplements, but healthy compounds like polyphenols, lignans, and certain antioxidants are exclusively found in foods, not pills.

    What always strikes me as odd is that many times I see people who normally consume 2,500 calories start a 1,200 calorie diet overnight.

    Completely unnecessary.

    If that person were to simply slash 500 calories each day, they can enjoy 2,000 calories on a daily basis and kick-start weight loss.

    You mention not knowing “what you are doing wrong.”

    I am assuming you are having a difficult time losing weight.

    I do not know your individual circumstances, but by reducing your caloric intake (say, by 300 calories each day) and increasing your physical activity, you should begin seeing slow, steady results.

    If this is not the case, I recommend having your thyroid checked by an endocrinologist.


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