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Why extremely low calorie diets won’t work

Extremely low-calorie diets not only deprive your body of necessary nutrients, they also cause muscle loss. Even worse, overweight people, who repeatedly use extremely low-calorie diets inadvertently train their bodies into permanent obesity.

Reducing the intake of calories to 800-1,200 calories per day – below the body’s essential energy requirement to maintain vital functions – causes your body to cannibalize its own muscle for fuel. Muscle must provide up to 45 percent of the energy deficit. If the deficit in essential energy is 500 calories per day, then up to 225 calories will come from muscle break down. At four calories per gram that’s 56 grams or about 2 ounces. Four weeks on such a diet can result in a loss of 3.5 pounds of muscle. Fat is not a very metabolically active tissue. Muscle, on the other hand, is a very metabolically active tissue, constantly consuming calories. Even standing motionless, opposing muscles are in constant dynamic tension to hold up the skeleton. When active, muscle is responsible for burning up to 90 percent of the calories eaten every day.

Rapid fat loss alerts the body to defend its energy reserves. The body immediately increases the quantity and activity of a fat storage enzyme, which collects fat from your bloodstream and stuffs it into fat cell reserves. Not only do you store more fat, but that enzyme also reduces your body’s ability to burn fat – a double whammy. The body burns more muscle to make up the deficit while storing more fat.



And it doesn’t stop there. The continued loss of muscle slows metabolism even further. Simultaneously, the appetite grows progressively more ravenous. This little fat storage enzyme – working overtime – is so efficient that a person can regain six weeks worth of fat loss in 10-12 days.

What’s worse, the body doesn’t regain lost muscle – only fat. The net-result is an increase in body fat and a loss of muscle, further reducing the body’s ability to burn fat, setting up a vicious cycle resulting in further weight gain.




Saddest of all, low calorie diets cause so much muscle loss that overweight people who use them repeatedly inadvertently train their bodies into permanent obesity. These people have so little muscle left to burn fat – and their bodies are so efficient at storing fat – that they have to eke out existence on 1,000 calories per day. Otherwise, they will gain fat. Remember, rapid weight loss means rapid weight gain.

Why the weight loss industry pushes low calorie diets

The weight-loss industry continues to push low calorie diets for two reasons. First, they know low calorie diets cause rapid weight loss – both muscle and fat. Rapid effects are essential for continued sales. Customers want the weight off now. They think the faster the better.

Second, the commercial hook within the industry is that rapid fat loss means rapid weight gain. This translates to repeat business.

The physiology of it has been known for 50 years. Ask yourself the following question: “Why do people in America spend $45 billion per year on weight loss and yet keep getting fatter with each passing year?”

At the turn of the century less than 5 percent of the population was overweight. Today, over 65 percent of the population is overweight. The non-solution is an extremely low-cal diet. The long-term solution remains the same: regular exercise and moderation in eating both in terms of content and amount.

As a general guideline, for the weight you want, eat 11 calories per pound of body weight for a female and 12 for a male. Just be sure that your weight goal is realistic and if you have any questions or medical concerns, check with your physician to be safe.

Mike Carville is the general manager of the South Yuba Club in Nevada City.


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