7 Things to Know About the 500-Calorie Diet

A 500-calorie diet is an extreme form of a very low-calorie diet (VLCD), which requires you to drastically reduce the amount of food you eat usually to a maximum of 800 calories per day.

VLCDs use meal replacements like drinks, shakes, and prepared food bars instead of meals for at least two meals a day. VLCDs are meant for people who are very overweight and have been unable to lose weight after trying many diet plans.

They can be dangerous and require medical supervision. Read on to learn more about the risks and goals of the 500-calorie diet.

Part 2 of 9: Medical Supervision

1. Don’t Do It Alone
A doctor will prescribe a 500-calorie diet if they’ve decided that it’s critical you lose weight. They do this by weighing your general health concerns against the risks and potential complications of drastic calorie reduction.

If your doctor hasn’t recommended a 500-calorie diet, don’t even think about it. A diet like this has risks and precautions associated with it. It should always be conducted under medical supervision. Keep reading to learn about the 500-calorie diet and the concerns associated with it.

Part 3 of 9: 5:2 Diet Plan

2. The 5:2 Diet Plan
Some people use a 500-calorie diet as part of the recently popularized 5:2 intermittent diet plan. Under this plan, you eat a balanced Mediterranean style diet for five days of the week and then limit yourself to 500 calories per day for the other two days. The “fasting” days are usually non-consecutive.

There is very little evidence to support the benefits of 5:2 intermittent dieting. It has even been suggested by the University of Maryland Medical Center that intermittent fasting can actually increase weight because people tend to overindulge on their non-fasting days.

Part 4 of 9: 500 Calories

3. How Much Is 500 Calories?
You can get an idea of how much (or how little) 500 calories is when you consider the calorie count of popular foods. The USDA calculates two handfuls of peanuts or a slice of pepperoni pizza as about 250 calories. An apple contains fewer than 80 calories, while two pieces of fried chicken contain about 400 calories.

You might also want to consider how many calories you burn in a day. According to the Harvard Medical School, a 185-pound person burns 72 calories by just sitting in a one-hour meeting.

Part 5 of 9: Well-Rounded Diet

4. You Still Need Nutrition
One of the problems with a 500-calorie diet is that it places no limits on the fats and carbohydrates you consume. A serving of chocolate pound cake and a glass of milk adds up to about 500 calories. But that so-called meal doesn’t even come close to giving you the nutrients you need, even if you’re just sitting in a meeting.

Regardless of calorie count, a well-rounded diet includes fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Being healthy is about a lot more than just a number.

Part 6 of 9: Deficiencies

5. Danger of Deficiencies
The greatest dangers associated with a 500-calorie diet are related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can lead to many health problems. In fact, most people cannot meet their vitamin and mineral requirements if they eat less than 1200 calories per day.

For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, if your diet lacks the mineral zinc, which is found in pumpkin seeds and beef, you can suffer hair loss.

Low iron intake can lead to anemia, while chronic low intake of calcium and vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis later in life. If you don’t get enough of the vitamin niacin, found in tuna and dates, you could be at risk for heart attack due to clogged arteries. Always consider the full nutritional makeup of the foods you eat, not just their calories.

Part 7 of 9: Muscle Loss

6. Muscle Loss
A 500-calorie diet can also put you at danger for muscle loss. Sharon Palmer, RD, dietitian and author of “Plant-Powered for Life” points out, “Once your body has consumed your fat reserves, it begins to burn healthy muscle.”

At first, muscle loss may seem like you are losing more weight, but keep in mind that not all weight is bad. In order to keep your body healthy, you need to be able to build muscles. A healthy diet burns fat, not muscle.

Part 8 of 9: Metabolic Changes

7. Metabolic Changes
Another health risk to keep in mind when considering a 500-calorie diet is that your metabolism will change when you reduce the amount of calories you eat for a long enough period of time. Severe calorie restriction for prolonged periods of time will lead to a slower metabolism, leading to fewer calories burned. Also, when you lose weight, you then need fewer calories to maintain your new weight than you needed for your original weight.

Dr. Mindy Haar, Ph.D., RD, CDN of the New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions says, “Many people think that they can stick with a diet for the short term, lose the weight, and then go back to eating the way they were before. But if they do so, they will regain weight until they reach their original weight.”  Oftentimes people lose both fat and lean mass but regain primarily fat, which is how diets can wind up making us fatter in the long run.

Part 9 of 9: Takeaway

The Takeaway
A 500-calorie diet should only be conducted under a doctor’s close supervision. Though you may lose weight, you are at risk of malnutrition, which can cause many health problems. Healthy weight loss includes getting a variety of nutrients from varied food sources, limiting food portions, and burning more calories than you eat. Stick to that approach to get the pounds off and keep them off.