Eating 1000 kcal vs cutting 500 kcal for weight loss
Clinical Nutrition • • 1 minute to read • By Dr Akshay Alawani, INFS Faculty
Author- Dr Akshay Alawani ANutr, Faculty Head, INFS
Weight loss is desired for various reasons, and different types of interventions can be used to achieve that. However, any method can help lose weight as long as it helps maintain a sustainable energy deficit. In short, by eating less or spending more, an individual forces the body to use its tissues for fuel. This article will discuss and compare the effectiveness of two well-known methods to approach deficit.
- Flat 800/1200 kcal diet
- 500 kcal deficit
Flat 800/1200 kcal diet –
In this approach, known as ‘Very Low-Calorie Diet (VLCD)’, an individual is prescribed to consume an 800-1200 kcal diet. It is a choice of intervention in scientific experiments and medical cases where patients need relatively quick weight loss for the management of their chronic conditions. For example, a well-known DIRECT trial used this strategy to induce weight loss in several subjects, and diabetes remission was reported in many cases. In addition, almost all patients reduced their blood glucose and other health markers.
Though effective, 800-1200 kcal prescription has some obvious challenges. Firstly, it is hard to cover all the necessary nutrients in a limited caloric allowance. Secondly, it can be tough to follow as the steep deficit may raise the hunger level. Finally, this strategy demands more care and attention than several other weight loss approaches through lifestyle change. So, there are precautions necessary for its implementation.
Such a strategy should be executed under expert and medical supervision. This way, the experts can ensure adequate intake of nutrients. Plus, frequent counselling and consultations by professionals are usually achievable in only experimental and medical settings. It is also necessary to recognise that the VLCD is mainly used for a short term of 12-24 weeks. Afterwards, the energy allowance is always increased.
This strategy is predominantly successful in individuals with chronic disorders because their goal is health and longevity oriented. For example, their efforts are towards improving their metabolic profile and successfully tackling challenges associated with their medical condition. Compared to those motivated for external reasons, dieters with such ‘health oriented’ goals are reported to achieve long term and greater success in the weight loss journey. Another solid reason behind the success of VLCD can be the motivation it brings with quick weight loss- a good and steady weight loss pace is proportional to dietary adherence.
500 kcal deficit –
It is often termed the ‘standard approach to weight loss as this is a recommended strategy by many health organisations. In this approach, an individual eats approximately 500 kcal lesser than their weight maintenance needs.
It is a widely used strategy and has been shown to induce significant weight loss over 12-24 weeks. Unlike VLCD, it is pretty easy to ensure optimal nutrient consumption in the 500-kcal deficit method as the energy allowance is optimal. Additionally, this also helps in achieving better satiety in the diet. Furthermore, the approach is also easy to comprehend and comparatively straightforward to self-implement.
Despite these benefits, like any other approach, individuals who lose weight with a 500-kcal deficit approach also struggle to maintain their weight in the long term. Surprisingly, this ‘balanced’ approach has failed to show high adherence levels in several experiments. There can be various reasons behind why individual responses vary.
Being the most recommended weight-loss method, the majority of dieters opt for the 500 kcal deficit approach. However, as a significant proportion of dieters lose weight for aesthetic or external reasons, they may not be strongly motivated to adhere to restrictive eating. Similarly, the slow but sustained drop in weight may not be enough to motivate repetitive dieters. Due to various reasons, such a population is already struggling to lose weight, and slower weight decline may fail to improve dietary adherence.
To conclude, the intensity of the energy deficit affects the pace of weight loss and the dieter’s convenience. Individuals’ adherence to the prescribed energy deficit will vary based on their previous experience with lifestyle interventions, motivation source, and their perception of progress. Before implementing a particular energy prescription, a coach or dieter should consider all these factors. Though there is no straight answer, with some right advice and reflection, you should be able to make a balanced decision.
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- Lean, M. E. et al. (2018) ‘Primary care-led weight management for remission of type 2 diabetes (DiRECT): an open-label, cluster-randomised trial’, The Lancet. Elsevier Ltd, 391(10120), pp. 541–551. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)33102-1.
- National Health Service (2019) Cut down on your calories - NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/cut-down-on-your-calories/ (Accessed: 14 July 2021).
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