Very Low Calorie Diets: More Harm than Good?

There was a time when I was desperate to lose weight. I was about ten kilos (22 pounds) heavier than I am right now and it was all due to stress. I was miserable in my life, having a hard time at work, going through a personal and spiritual crisis and living thousands of miles away from my family and friends.

I wasn’t comfort eating a lot, at least it didn’t feel like it, but I felt as if my whole body was holding on to every calorie I consumed as a sort of protection mechanism. My body seemed to swell up like a balloon and I felt blobby, unattractive, uncomfortable and unlike myself.

Drinking milkshakes to lose weight – are you serious?

I was living in Perth at the time, in Western Australia. There was a new weight loss craze that was all the rage, the Tony Ferguson shake program. You know the drill: I had to pay a membership fee (for god knows what reason) and get weighed in at my local pharmacy by a woman who was more overweight than me. By a long shot. Then I paid an exorbitant amount for a bunch of disgusting powdered milkshakes that I was supposed to drink twice a day.

Basically, it was a VLCD – a Very Low Calorie Diet and I have come to loathe these. They always do the same thing to me: you’re fine on day one, day two is a struggle but you somehow manage, and by half way though day three, you’re so enraged with hunger that you consider eating your coffee table. You have a small ‘snack’ that turns into a binge, then that throws you off track. After that you feel as if you have ruined the whole diet. Then you feel miserable again, and the cycle of pain continues.

So what is a Very Low Calorie Diet?

VLCDs were initially developed for patients who were about to undergo surgery and who had to lose a lot of weight quickly. There are studies that show they improve glycaemic control and promote substantial weight loss in obese patients with Type 2 diabetes. But there are other studies that show that they can be dangerous and cause gall stones. VLCDs usually provide a patient with between 600 and 800 calories per day.

I personally think they lead to problems such as binge-eating. I know that sounds extreme, but anything that is unnaturally restricted very quickly will be uncomfortable for the body, and your body could rebel. Slow weight loss does take longer, but it’s so much more worthwhile.

Do VLCDs cause binge eating disorder?

So for my money (and this is only my personal opinion) I would stay away from VLCDs like OptiFast, OptiSlim and Tony Ferguson. I think that they are expensive (those icky shakes can cost five bucks each), unhealthy, unsocial and ineffective. The one good thing I will say about the Tony Ferguson program is that they have a great website and a terrific community, which I think is much more beneficial for those seeking to lose weight.

What do the experts say?

Pierre Dukan (the creator of the Dukan Diet) also believed that VLCDs can lead to binge eating disorders, and I have to say from personal experience, they may not give you an eating disorder, but they might mess up your mind and attitude to food if you already have issues in this area. How can drinking a packet of powder twice a day be the key to health, vitality and well being?

So what weight loss techniques work for me?

I have done lots of strange things in my life to lose weight, including fasting. I have found that the only things that really seem to work for me are:

  • Regular meals, not skipping meals
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Small portions
  • No snacking, or limited snacking
  • If I have a craving, I go with it, but only have a bit
  • If I over indulge one day, I restrict the next


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