To someone who is desperate to lose weight, a 500-calorie-a-day diet can be appealing because it promises significant weight loss in a short period of time. But unless they're prescribed and supervised by a doctor, extremely low-calorie diets are unhealthy and potentially deadly. And as if that weren't enough of a deterrent, consider this: they may actually cause you to gain weight in the long term.
A Healthier Way To Lose Weight
Increase your daily calorie limit from 500. If you're on a 500-calorie-a-day diet, stop it immediately (unless you're doing it under medical supervision.) In general, men should consume at least 1,500 calories a day and women should consume at least 1,200 when trying to lose weight.
Learn how weight loss works. The science behind weight loss is simple: burn more calories than you take in and you'll lose weight. Cutting calories can help you lose weight, but the other major factor in weight loss is calorie-burning through physical activity. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you cut 500 calories a day you will lose about a pound a week, as 3,500 calories equals one pound of fat. Add calorie-burning activity into the equation and you could easily lose two pounds a week. One to two pounds a week is an ideal, safe rate of weight loss.
Build muscle. One of the dangers of a low-calorie diet is that you will grow weaker and your muscles will shrink (atrophy). While you might look skinnier, you won't be healthier and you could end up gaining weight in the long run as you lower your metabolism. Muscles burn calories and fend off fat. So if you're losing muscle, you're losing your ability to burn calories efficiently.
Avoid "starvation mode." When you eat too little, your body thinks you are starving it and goes into what is called "survival mode" and begins hoarding fat to use for energy in case of "famine".
See a dietician or talk to your doctor. Either of these medical professionals can put you on the road to healthy and long-lasting weight loss through exercise and the correct food choices. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight does not happen in a week, it happens through a pattern of behavior over a lifetime.
In some cases, however, a doctor may recommend a Very Low Calorie Diet. VLCDs are designed specifically for people who are severely or morbidly obese and wish to lose a large amount of weight quickly. VLCDs allow a patient to consume between 400 to 800 calories a day. These diets often include special supplements to make sure the patient has enough protein and vitamins to meet nutritional needs. Patients on VLCDs visit their doctors regularly for tests to ensure that the diet is working safely.
Get smart with your calories. Not all calories are created equal--some are great for you and some are terrible. A 2,000-calorie diet is the standard for a person of average weight, but drinking 2,000 calories worth of beer or eating 2,000 calories worth of candy won't meet your nutritional needs. But consuming 2,000 calories worth of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken, fish or soy will meet your nutritional needs.